Junior golf tournaments are full of great competitors, so developing a solid golf mental game will give you an important edge. While there is no consistently perfect “golf state of mind” – often referred to as “in the zone” – there are certainly small steps you can take to help you focus on the golf course.

Junior Golf Hub likes to remind everyone that “perfection” doesn’t fit in a golfer’s (or anyone’s) vocabulary. The game is always changing, and having the ability to mentally adjust is the key to succeeding on the golf course. Granted, discipline and hard work during practice is always a key factor, but adding mental golf training is an x-factor in making you a contender and growing your confidence – even if you didn’t have the best of scores that day.

Below are five golf mental game tips that will keep you focused yet relaxed, both while competing and navigating the college golf recruiting process. In fact, a junior golf mental coach may tell you that most of these lessons learned for the golf course can apply to other areas in life.

1. Be Aware of Your Thoughts and Re-Frame Your Self-Talk

The foundation to any golf mental training is becoming aware of yourself and your thoughts. Just like you become self-aware of your movements throughout a golf swing, you can notice thoughts that do and do not serve you.

Talking to yourself as you would a friend, with kindness and respect, will go a long way in keeping you composed and confident on the golf course. If you notice any negative self-talk, gently remind yourself to view the situation positively.

Here are a couple examples:

  1. Negative: “I’m a bad golfer.”
    Positive: “I learned a lot from that round and now I know what I need to focus on during my next practice. One score doesn’t define me.”
  2. Negative: “I can’t believe I missed that putt!”
    Positive: “I did a great job sticking to my pre-shot routine. Now it’s time to focus on my next tee shot.”

2. Breathe and Stay Present

A large part of speaking to yourself with kindness is resetting your mindset after a negative experience. Breathing and meditation are great tools to practice both on and off the golf course.

By staying present on the golf course, you can truly focus on each shot as they come and release any tension associated with the past or future. For example, if you’re about to hit a 5-iron and are really sticking to your pre-shot routine and visualization, you’re not thinking about a past 5-iron shot that didn’t go your way and you’re not worrying about where this shot is going to end up. 

You’re confident that you’re giving this shot your utmost attention and will accept the outcome because you’ll be ready to attack the next shot with the same enthusiasm. The same analogy can be applied to the college golf recruiting process: take it one tournament at a time and control what you can, just like you do with your practice, coach communications and academics. Everything else will fall into place.

3. Avoid Comparison

Comparison can be one of the most dangerous vices in junior golf. Constantly comparing scores or junior golf rankings, distance off the tee and more doesn’t serve you as you work your way to college golf. Yes, having a realistic appreciation for your game allows you to wisely choose your path and even your college division, but comparing yourself to others day-in and day-out will only wear you down.

No matter who you are, you are a unique person with a ton to offer. You may not be the longest driver, but you may have an amazing short game. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses because perfection is unattainable. Keep doing the best you can and don’t feel disappointed when someone else gets into a tournament you want to play or wins before you; keep focusing on yourself and trust the process.

4. Bring Your A-Game

It is rare to be “in the zone” and even rarer (note: impossible) to stay there every round. Some days, you’ll feel like a beast off the tees; others, you can make every putt. If they happen to be on the same day, great, but more likely than not, you feel more confident about a certain part of your game.

That’s what we call your “A-Game” – note what feels good in your practice leading up to a junior golf tournament and even during your warm-up. This current strength, whether it be your iron game or your wedge control, will be a huge confidence booster because you know that you’ll be hitting greens, making up and downs, whatever it may be, and the rest of your game will support that strength. Lean on it that day.

5. Celebrate All Victories – Not Just Your Golf Scores

At the end of the day, you want to cherish and lean on the positives and learn from the negatives each round. It’s important to make the positive memories take up more room in your brain, so after each hole – or even each shot – take a moment to reflect on what you did well.

It could be as simple as sticking to your pre-shot routine before a shot or remembering to eat a healthy snack to keep your energy levels properly fueled. It doesn’t have to be outcome-related. All of these victories, big and small, add up and grow your confidence.

Some days, your score may not line up with your happiness, but there’s no need to let a number have that power over you. Golf is a very long process with lots of highs and lows. Having a strong golf mental game will help you stay consistent throughout it all and demonstrate to college golf coaches your composure, resilience and positivity.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these golf mental focus tips and are beginning to understand how important the role of golf psychology is in your game. Making improvements in any of these areas will not only help you feel good about your game, but it can also ultimately help you save shots.