When it comes to our attempts to shoot lower scores, us golfers generally accept that building a better golf swing will take a lot of practice and patience, but how much time do we spend on developing a sound mental game?
You'll likely have heard the famous Bobby Jones line:
"Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course - the distance between your ears".
With that 100-year-old golf quote from one of the game's greats ringing in our ears, we've gathered a collection of tips to help you turn your mind into the 15th club in your bag.
No technical thoughts
How often have you been standing over the ball with many swing thoughts spinning through your head? With so much golf instruction available these days, you can quickly go down the rabbit hole and become muddled in your thinking.
The best approach is to keep things simple and not talk or think about the technical aspects of your swing. Trust and believe in the swing you bring to the golf course on the day, and if things don't go as planned, find some practice time during the week.
Continuously fiddling with the golf swing has ruined many a round and fixed very few.
Visualisation is Key
Visualisation is another area of focus when you're going through your pre-shot routine. It's one of the absolute linchpins of your mental game. If you can't visualise the success you seek, how can you be expected to achieve anywhere close to the desired outcome?
Before you step up to address the golf ball, make sure you have a picture in your mind of the shot you want to hit.
Play Your Own Game
Ego can destroy your golf game very quickly. There's no need for you to keep up with the other golfers in your group, and you must learn to play to your strengths.
If your lower-handicap playing partner is pulling driver on a particular hole, don't feel embarrassed that you're standing with a 6-iron. You know your game and if you think the conservative play is the right one, then go with it.
Similarly, don't spend too much time looking at anyone else's swing in-round. As a general piece of golf etiquette advice, pay attention to where the ball is going, but trying to pick up tips from how they are swinging is of no real use.
If a well-meaning playing partner sees you struggling and has some general course management tips for you to consider, then you might want to take notice. On the other hand, unsolicited golf swing advice is probably best ignored.
Have a 'Go-To' Shot
Sometimes it can seem like a round of golf is getting away from you, and you might feel powerless to intervene. When things aren't going your way, the feeling of a sweetly struck golf shot can be just the tonic to help you get off the bogey train. That's where your go-to shot can help.
Whatever the club, whatever the shot, the boost of confidence you'll get from that crisp strike will be the shot-in-the-arm your round desperately needs.
Think Box / Play Box
Quite often, when we play golf, we consider ourselves as being in direct competition with our playing partners, or perhaps even with the course itself. In reality, we are actually battling ourselves.
The best way to win that mental joust is to have some sort of pre-shot routine and structure your on-course play into two boxes: the THINK BOX and the PLAY BOX.
When you're in the think box, you're standing behind the ball and consciously making decisions. You'll use your Hole19 app to get an accurate distance and account for key hazards. You'll also factor in the wind, make a club selection and choose a target in the distance as your focus.
With all the brain work done, it's time to become automatic as you address the ball. There must be total commitment and zero technical thoughts. The only thing left is going ahead and putting your best swing on the ball.
If you feel any element of doubt, step back into the think box and go through the process again.
Curb your anger
Given golf's challenging nature, it's likely that stress, frustration, and anger will appear at some stage - usually after hitting a particularly horrible shot or maybe even when you've caught a bad break.
Becoming too emotional is a surefire route toward poor decision-making and your round potentially spiralling out of control.
So how do you curb your anger? Well, that takes us to the next tip...
Practice positive reinforcement
We are all our own worst critics on the golf course, and we're accustomed to sabotaging our game through frustration and a general loss of focus when things don't go our way.
The fact is, how we react to adversity is a conscious choice. We can actively choose to draw upon positive memories, recalling great shots from previous rounds and the emotions we felt after posting our best ever score.
If you can stand over the ball and tell yourself that you've hit that shot many times before, it will enable your subconscious mind to take over and play the shot from memory.
Keeping old scorecards is also a great way to practice positive reinforcement post-round. You could even go a step further and create a notebook - perhaps on your phone - where you jot down the key information from the best shots you've hit and the lowest rounds you've posted.
In general, anything which gets you into a habit of thinking only neutral or positive thoughts on the golf course will translate into a more enjoyable round and eventually lower scores.
Stay in the Present
Golfers are often told to 'stay in the present', but what does that really mean? Being present means focusing on the task before you - or the shot before you in a golf sense. It means playing one shot at a time and not letting your mind wander backwards or forwards. Of course, we don't want to be wallowing in the past, but looking too far ahead can be just as detrimental.
Thoughts about posting your lowest score if you par the next three holes can cause you to lose focus. Similarly, struggling to shake off the nasty three-putt on the previous green means you're not stepping up to the golf ball with a clear mind.
You might rush your pre-shot routine, or you might skip it altogether. Or you might angrily rush your swing and slice it on to another continent. None of these options sound great to us.
Breathing techniques can be useful in bringing you back to the present. If you can turn your focus to regulating your breathing it can help clear the mind of negative noise and revert your focus to the next shot.
Find Peace at the Golf Course
Dr Bob Rotella has many mental game tips which will make you a better golfer. One, in particular, caught our eye because it can be true for many of us here at Hole19 HQ. It centres around finding peace at the golf course and turning it into your sanctuary.
Too often, we can arrive at the first tee riddled with nerves. Even before we get to the first tee, our heads can be filled with what-ifs, worst-case scenarios and self-fulfilling prophecies.
Try to make the golf course your happy place away from the stresses and strains of your everyday life. It can help remove the obsession with your score and toward the rewarding experiences golf provides that can often go unnoticed.
Feeling confident? Click Here for our tips on how to make the most of our practice time at the range, and combine these articles to really improve your game.