The mental game of golf is often overlooked. It’s a lot more fun to crank drivers on the driving range with your friends than it is to work on your concentration skills. Unlike most sports though, the mental side of golf has a huge impact on how you score.
Have you ever been beaten by someone who has a terrible swing before? If you have then that’s why. Let’s have a look at some things you can work on that will improve your score without changing anything about your swing.
Create a game plan
This is quite fun once you know how to do it. Think of it as studying before a big test, but it’s for golf, not calculus. You would never go into an exam without studying, right? Well, those times you did study I bet you got a higher grade because of it.
Creating a game plan is all about exposing the golf course’s weaknesses and highlighting your strengths. If it’s a long course, and you are not a long hitter then you will want to find all the spots on the course you can hit to.
Prepare yourself to be hitting some long irons or even hybrids into greens by identifying the best places to miss. You may have to lay up on a couple of par 4’s so find the perfect yardage and the best angle to access the green.
Coming up with a strategy isn’t about ‘attacking’ the golf course. Your best scores will come when you learn to ‘manage’ the golf course. If you can get a yardage book beforehand then use that to jot down some notes.
I know this isn’t the most glamorous of suggestions, but it works. Read any book by Dr Bob Rotella for a different perspective on golf and how to approach the game. He talks a lot about how to bounce back from a bad shot or a bad hole. He has worked with the world’s top golfers and has direct insight from them on what they are thinking.
If you are looking for something more entertaining, then go for a biography of a golfer. Reading about what happens ‘outside the ropes’ for these professionals will show you how different they are when it comes to playing and practising.
Read about the older generation like Bobby Jones or Byron Nelson. See how they managed to shoot such low scores without the use of a driver or any kind of shot tracer technology. Try to think more with the artistic side of your brain rather than the logical side.
Drills to practice your mental game on the golf course
- No flag golf. If you get a chance to play by yourself (or with someone who wants to participate with you) then ask the group ahead of you to leave the pin out after they are done putting. Now when you approach the green you will have no idea where the hole is. This will force you to aim for the middle or the fat part of the green all the time. It will also force you to pick a target on the horizon which usually results in a much smoother swing since your brain knows you will never actually hit it far enough to hit that target.
- Worst ball. I’m sure you have played a scramble tournament either organised through your work or through a local pub in the area. This is where you and your team all hit your tee shot and then select the best one to play your team’s second stroke. Worst ball is the opposite.
While playing by yourself, hit two balls off the tee. Be honest and play your second shot from wherever the worst of the two tee shots ended up. Then from there, hit two shots again and take the worst shot from there. When you get to the green, you will have to sink two putts in a row to record your score. This practice routine is again used by the world’s best players. You will find that it puts more pressure on each shot, especially if your first shot is a goo3d one, you will have to duplicate it to take advantage.
Drills to practice your mental game on the driving range
- Work on your alignment. All too often a golfer is misled by the results of their shots. If you are pulling the ball is it because you are pulling the ball or are you just aimed the wrong way. Most people will assume it’s their swing and checking their alignment doesn’t even cross their mind. When you’re on the range always lay two clubs down. One club will represent your target line and in a perfect world, it will go through the middle of your ball all the way to the middle of your target. For this drill, the club has to be laid either just inside the ball or just outside. If you normally slice the ball place the club on the outside of the ball. For people who hook, place it on the inside of the ball. The second club will represent your body line and be placed at your toes. These two clubs should be perfectly parallel at all times. This will ensure that your brain and your body are on the same page. Again, you see pros working on this all the time on the range. At the end of the day, it’s a lot easier to adjust your alignment than your swing.
- Practise your putting. Being confident in your putting will take the pressure off the rest of your game. No longer will you be thinking so much about your 30-yard pitch shots because you know once you’re on the green, your putting will take over. All of a sudden 10 and 15 foot putts are makeable. It’s more fun playing golf when the cup looks like a hula-hoop.
What to do next
As you can see, while golf is a very technical sport, the most challenging part about it is the mental game you play during an 18-hole round of golf. A lot of how you’ll score has to do with what mental exercises you have done to prepare for your round.
With these tips, you can comfortably prepare for your next round while sitting on your couch and hopefully shoot your best score every – or at least have a very enjoyable time on the green.
Tommy Williamson did his degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in mental health and well-being.