What is the “mental game?” The mental side of golf is not a tangible thing we can put our hands on, yet so many people talk about it. Growing up as a junior golfer I didnt think mental toughness actually had an effect on my performance. As a young kid I didn’t see the benefits of being mentally tough. This is also because I lacked fear as a child. As a preteen I was completely ignorant to the countless negative possibilities of a poorly executed shot. As I grew older these consequences became clear to me. The importance of the mental side of the game became apparent to me when I experienced this enlightenment of negative possibilities. I have spent the last 10 years studying this topic ever since, along with studying under the pioneers of sports psychology, and finding great success through incorporating the knowledge I gathered. I’m going to break down some of the common mistakes most junior and amateur athletes continuously make, along with providing a solution to challenge yourself to improve.
I’m going to start off by throwing some facts out to you all. The National Science Foundation found that on average a person has around 12,000 – 60,000 thoughts per day. That’s quite a lot of thinking going on for something that on average sleeps over 8 hours a day. What’s interesting about those thoughts we have is that 80% of those thoughts are negative. Most of us aren’t walking around depressed and loathing life though. This statistic breaks your thoughts down through chemical changes in the brain. When you are afraid or nervous it will present itself on this statistic. The second part of this statistic is that 95% of our thoughts are repetitive. What this means is that we obsess over things that have value or meaning to us. Humans develop fears that are mostly unique to each case, then we obsess over them. These obsessions can cloud your mind and add so much clutter to your thought process that you are incapable of playing to your full potential. Usually certain situations trigger these negative thoughts that are unique to each individual. Maybe you hate the first tee shot of every round? I remember playing junior golf with a kid who would somehow find a way to hit his first tee shot out of play during tournaments, yet would still shoot around par with above average tee shots the remainder of the day. When I was younger I thought it was hilarious, but as I grew older I realized what his problem was. He was worried about the consequences of a bad shot and what other people thought of him. He would hit range balls for an hour before every round and about 30 of those shots were drivers. “I just wanna hit one good one before I go to the tee.” The issue wasn’t a mechanical flaw, he handicapped his ability to swing free and with intent through an unsure mind. As a competitive golfer you cannot be afraid of what the consequences are to your decisions. You have to make a decision based on the situation, commit to it, and then swing with the intent to execute the shot you planned. I see the MAJORITY of golfers in junior and college golf plan each shot with consequences in the back of their mind. For example, when I have 160 yards or less into a green from a decent lie in the fairway, I am going to aim within 2 paces of the pin every time unless I have a massive lead with 2 holes left. I made my decision and I executed the swing. I don’t worry about the bunker 8 yards short of the pin, or the water 5 yards left of the pin. I’m not planning to hit it there. In my head, that possibility isn’t even in the cards. Most amateur and junior golfers will play a casual round with their friends and hit it close all day long, yet when they get into a tournament they decide that they need to aim towards the center of the green all day because they don’t want to short side themself. Playing a casual round of golf with your friends exposes you to very miniscule amounts of stress. You have no hesitation or negative thoughts because there isn’t a consequence for a bad result. These players shoot very average rounds of golf in tournaments because they put too much stress on the consequence of a bad shot. As I said earlier, I don’t worry about the bunker 8 yards short of the pin or the water 5 yards left of the pin. Like I said, I don’t plan to hit it there. Rather than worrying about where I don’t want to hit it, I engulf myself into the process of executing what I want to do. This makes it impossible for me to beat myself. Most of you fail before the club makes impact with the ball. This is great news! It’s great news because this means you are at a high enough level to recognize that this is a hindrance to your success and you now have exposed a facet of the game that will improve your game faster than any swing change ever could. I had other friends who would play poorly in front of their parents, yet want to make professional golf their career. This always made no sense to me at all and I hope I can clear this problem up for any of you who have this issue regardless of who you play poorly in front of. I like to put things into a wider scope to help break down and rationalize these mental issues. The problem of being afraid to play in front of others never bothered me because I believed I was going to be playing in front of the world on T.V. Why should I be worried about if my parents, or friends are watching me play if I want to play in front of the whole world one day? It boils down to being comfortable in uncomfortable situations. A lot of people look like they are going to get sick when they are coming down the final stretch of a tournament with the lead. I argue that this should be the part you should enjoy the most. You are nervous because you care deeply about the outcome of this event, you want to win so bad. I would argue that most junior and college golfers try to “not” lose a tournament, rather than trying to win. Why is that though? Why would these players mentallly handicap themselves from further dominating the field? You cannot look at pressure as a scary thing or else you will never be able to make it in golf. Pressure is not a tangible thing that you can look at or feel. It isn’t the same as the physical sciences of pressure, the pressure we feel is in reality simply just emotion. The intensity and stress you feel is the amount you care. We can all go hit pitching wedges inside 15 feet all day long on the range, but when it’s the last hole of the National Championship and the chips are on the table, you better be excited to hit that shot. The way to combat these unsettling feelings is to make yourself aware of them and confront yourself. You have the lead of a tournament with 3 holes left to play, you are very nervous and just want to par in. You have to confront yourself and stand up to your own mind. You are the leader of the tournament, which means no one in the field has managed to play as well as you. Why should the story be any different now that you are in the final stretch? You’re the best, and you have a chance to accomplish something you care a lot about. So finish it off and leave no doubt. That’s how a champion thinks. They don’t worry about the consequences of failure because we aren’t planning to fail. There isn’t a single golf hole on earth that penalizes you for choosing the correct golf shot and executing it. Fear and doubt creeps into everyone’s mind, it’s what makes up 80% of our thoughts. The key is to confront your thoughts and start your process over again.
Most mental issues junior golfers experience stem from confidence and commitment. It’s a time period in your life that is pretty weird. Your body is constantly changing, you are juggling school, golf, college recruitment, and a social life, and on top of that you chose golf, the most bipolar sport ever created. There are plenty of reasons to lack confidence during this stage in your life. Something that helped me a lot was convincing myself that none of the other competitors trained as hard as me or was as blessed as I was. It is an arrogant way to think, but true confidence comes from you believing in yourself. Whatever you think or tell yourself, you have to believe in it for it to be true. I don’t like cliche phrases like “whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right.” I dislike them because they are overused. Most of the time when someone says something along those lines they have no merit to back it up. They are often people who choose to live a very safe life. I am pushing the idea of “true confidence.” I describe this as a belief that you deserve success. I truly believe that you will not experience success until you allow yourself to. You will only achieve something when you truly believe you are deserving of it. Most junior golfers will say they want to win an AJGA, but train like everyone else. You either don’t know what you don’t know, or you are delusional. You have to do things the majority of people don’t do. You have to train with a greater purpose and make your time count to a higher degree than you currently are. You cannot expect to achieve bigger and better things when you do the same thing as everyone else every single day. This is where finding a coach or program to develop all aspects of your game is so important. The Golf Performance Center is a perfect example of an establishment that can show you how to improve and give you ways to practice with a purpose. Once you put effort and time towards the correct things you will then have earned the possibility of having confidence in yourself. The awesome thing about golf is that you can find confidence in your game through many different avenues. At Golf Performance Center there is a process established where the physical fitness, mental, and swing mechanics are approached in an industry leading way. It’s no surprise that their players have such a high turnover rate to fulfill their dreams of competing in college. This is due to their process and approach to overall player development. This gives the player a new appreciation for their own efforts and allows them to have confidence in the time and focus they put towards their dream. The Golf Performance Center has personal trainers, sports psychologists, and swing coaches to put you on the fast track to achieving your goals. GPC will have you thoroughly assess your game to expose any weakness and then target it to turn it into one of your strengths.
The mental side of golf is one of the many reasons why golf is such a great sport. It isolates you with your thoughts and actions against a course that at times feels like it is fighting back. The more experienced your mind is on the course, the better you will become at filtering out the bad and focusing on the task at hand. Mental toughness tests you in many forms. For example, a poor iron shot doesn’t leave you an impossible up and down, it presents an opportunity to hit a remarkable recovery shot to save par. A snap hook out of bounds on your 10th tee shot of the day doesn’t mean you have a swing flaw, especially when you hit the other 9 great. You shouldn’t step up on the next tee afraid of hitting it left out of bounds again. You will only force yourself to block it right and presume that you now have a 2 way miss. No one is perfect at bat, people make mistakes. Mistakes are what makes us all human. I have hit thousands of horrible shots and I am going to hit thousands more, if I got upset and worried about every single one of them I would be exhausted. The key is to manage your mind and challenge yourself to create the best possible outcome with the cards you are dealt.