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7 Golf Mental Mistakes To Avoid Before A Competition

7 golf mental mistakes

 A successful round of golf is often determined hours prior to stepping to the first tee.  What you do in the hours before the start of a round has a great impact on your performance.  Unfortunately, too many golfers pay little attention to this critical period of time and fall prey to bad mental habits that set themselves up for negative results.

Most golfers are unaware of these negative mental habits and how they can ruin their golf performance well before they step on the first tee.

There are seven common traps golfers fall into in the hours preceding a tournament… Seven things you must never do before a competition. By becoming aware of these seven mental pitfalls, you can develop effective strategies to navigate your way toward a successful round of golf.

7 Things to Avoid Prior to a Round of Golf

 Focusing on your weaknesses

Some golfers become preoccupied with a part of their game they view as a liability. Maybe you have been working on your putting accuracy from ten feet.  You have probably been working on that aspect of your game because it caused you to add several strokes in previous tournaments.  You think if you can fix this part of your game, you will shoot better scores.  But focusing on weaker components of your game rarely improves your score.  Focusing on weaknesses generates anxiety and chips away at your confidence.  By the time you approach your first tee shot, you are praying that you are not faced with a ten-foot putt on the first hole. The only way this is good is if you really have time to work on your weaknesses and you do the work in the days and weeks before the competition Don’t try to do this as you warm up before your round. it’s too late.

Focusing on your strengths will help you compete with confidence.  Confidence enables you to bounce back from unfortunate shots, unlucky bounces and bad reads while staying focused on how you want to play the next shot.

In the hours before the tournament… stay focused on what you do well!



7 golf mental mistakes before competition

Putting too much pressure on yourself

Many golfers ratchet up the pressure by placing excessive demands or expectations on their performance.  High expectations for performance and focusing on the outcome only serves to “stress out” golfers.  When you say things such as, “I need to shoot -3 under today” or “I can’t double-bogey this round,” you unintentionally place undue pressure on yourself.

It is only natural to want to play your best, but don’t burden yourself with the weight of excessive expectations.  To play your best, you will need a clear, uncluttered mind and a focus on the present moment. This may seem counter-intuitive to some golfers who believe that having expectations will motivate them to play well and compete. It’s a very slippery slope to set scoring expectations that only leads to frustration and poor play. The best attitude is one of quiet confidence that you can play well and win while understanding that you can’t fully control the result on any given day.

In the hours before the tournament… do a mental house cleaning and get rid of those strict expectations that create frustration when you don’t meet them. Eg I should not 3 putt. I should not hit it out of bounds. I should not double bogey. etc , etc…..


Worrying about the competition or your pairing

Your potential playing partners can be a source of anxiety for some golfers.  The possibility of playing against rivals, friends, golfers you have never beaten or highly-ranked opponents can create tension and anxiety for golfers.  This is a waste of your precious energy you need to realise that you have no control over who you play with or against. It’s pointless being concerned about anything that you can’t control.

There are a lot of elements outside of your control.  Focusing on things you cannot control creates an anxious environment that is not conducive to playing your best golf.  You can control what you do and what you think.  You can control what you focus your attention on. Golf tournaments are the perfect time to be self-centered and focused on yourself and your  pre-round plan.

In the hours before the tournament… focus on the things you can control!  EG Your pre-round warm up and what you say to yourself as you head to the first tee.



Focusing on the tournament too far in advance

Prolonged over-thinking hours before a tournament can transform a golfer into a nervous wreck.  Over-thinking often initiates the fight-or-flight response and sets into motion a host of physiological processes (increased adrenaline, tense muscles, slower digestion, etc.) which will end up leaving you physically and mentally tired before the start of the competition.

While you can’t really stop yourself from thinking, you can purposely distract yourself from unhelpful thoughts about the upcoming competition.  It is a matter of changing the mental channel.  Do not allow your mind to be idle, find something to occupy your mental space other than golf-related activities such as homework, reading a book, listening to music or playing a video game.

Getting the game out of your mind before you arrive at the course is a great way to stay mentally calm and physically relaxed.

 Before the tournament… stay busy and find activities to distract you from unhelpful thinking. Ideally, you want to do things that set you up to feel happy confident and relaxed. Perhaps a favourite song or a funny u tube video. Be in control of how you spend this important time before you compete.

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Wondering if you did enough

Some golfers question their level of preparation prior to a tournament, “Did I practice enough?  Did I work my technique enough?  Have I checked out the course conditions?”  By the time you get to the golf course, you are a mess second-guessing everything you did the week before.

You must accept what’s done is done.  You can’t turn back the hands of time.  Worrying about what you did or did not do, the week before the tournament can only detract from your performance.  You always want to tell yourself that you are ready to play great golf now, no matter your level of preparation. You can also take a wait-and-see approach.  Each tournament provides useful feedback on what can be done differently or better.  After the tournament is over, you can assess your level of preparation and adjust as necessary.

In the hours before the tournament… know that you have everything you need to perform well today and be grateful for the opportunity to play the game you love.


Thinking what could possibly go wrong

Playing the ‘what if’ game is a sure fire method to mess up your game.  The ‘what if’ game is like dancing in a minefield; every step you take increases the amount of pressure and anxiety you feel.

Thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong causes your mind to simply believe you do not have what it takes to succeed.  Negative self-talk and self-doubt will sidetrack you from the task at hand.  It is impossible to succeed if you are focused on avoiding failure.

You will be more at ease if you have a plan for the tournament, trust your plan and trust your ability to adjust the plan if necessary.

In the hours before the tournament… refuse to buy into the negatives and instead, invest in trust.


Ruminating about last year or last time

Many golfers go through a ‘déjà vu’ experience when playing, especially just after a bad round or on a course where they previously performed poorly.  These golfers think they will play poorly in the current tournament because they played a bad round at their last tournament or the last time they played on that course.

Since you are not a fortune teller, you need to stop projecting, predicting and expecting poor play.  Just because something happened in the past doesn’t ensure that it will keep happening.  The past does not have to repeat itself unless you allow it.

In the hours before the tournament… mentally replay your personal highlight film rather than indulge in watching a horror film of your worst golf moments.
If you have had a bad golfing experience on a certain golf course you may want to take some time to visualise yourself playing the course well in the days leading up to the competition. 


It is critical that you understand the impact and importance of what you do in the hours preceding a tournament.  Consider the time leading up to a tournament as your pre-warm-up.  This is the time to get yourself into the best state of mind to succeed.  Whatever seeds you sow prior to a round of golf, you will reap during the tournament.


 good golf attitude

ACTION DRILL:  The One Thing You Must ALWAYS do before a Competition

The key to moving yourself in the right frame of mind to compete is to have a plan… not just a game plan for a tournament but a pre-tournament plan.  This plan should ease you into your warm-up prior to the first hole.

This pre-tournament plan shouldn’t be a minute-to-minute schedule of everything you will do leading up to the first hole.  Think of this plan as a contingency plan.  A pre-tournament contingency plan is merely a matter of preparing for mental disruptions and distractions.  Just as a pre-shot routine is critical to help minimise distractions prior to a shot, your contingency plan helps manage distractions before a tournament.


Things to consider for your pre-tournament plan:

  • How will you stay focused on your strengths? One strategy is that you could create a tournament strategy that takes advantage of the things you do well.  Another thing you could do is write a list you three biggest strengths as a golfer and keep it close by for when you need to reference those strengths.


  • What will you do if you start feeling pressure? Have a couple of tried-and-true relaxation techniques that can rid your body and mind of excessive tension.


  • What constructive activities can you do to occupy your time? There are lots of things you can do to get your mind off golf and pass the time.  Pick 2-3 activities that put your mind at ease and lighten your mood.


  • How will you combat the ‘what ifs’? One strategy is to imagine the feelings you had after a tournament where you pleasantly surprised yourself.  When you relive good experiences and positive emotions, you elevate your mood, improve your ability to focus and put yourself in a more effective mindset for competition.


It is important to have the right pre-tournament plan to focus your mind and program your body for successful execution.

How will you choose to spend your hours before your next tournament?



To further understand how your mental game affects your golf performance, why not take the mental game assessment.

mental game assessment

Its free and only takes 4 minutes to complete



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