Play better golf by avoiding these four common mind game misconceptions.
Competitive golf,” said the great Bobby Jones, “is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course... the space between your ears.”
“Don’t ever try to tell me golf is not 99.9 percent a mental game,” said Jack Nicklaus.
“I believe my creative mind is my greatest weapon,” said Tiger Woods.
Despite golf’s greatest players queuing up to validate the importance of the mind game – and despite a recent growth in acceptance – there remains a widespread general scepticism surrounding its value.
There aren’t many club golfers who, given a spare half hour, would use it training their brain instead of their swing.
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It must be said that much of the reason for this comes down to a series of persistent myths that dog the mental approach. These myths pull many golfers away from pursuing an element of performance that can make just as profound a difference to their scores as any technical swing change.
Here are four such misconceptions. See if any chime with you… and if a truer picture makes you think any more favourably about adding a more cerebral approach to your game.
Golf mind game myth No.1
Working on your mental game is admitting a weakness
For many golfers, the mind game echoes psychology in general as a tool for exposing and rectifying some perceived deficiency of character.
But the mind game is not about delving into your past, or searching for pathology. A much more accurate and healthy interpretation is of building skills, no different than learning the skill of being a better bunker player or longer driver.
Take for example the skill of staying present to the task you are performing. The human mind is constantly looking into the past or projecting into the future, but in golf the game requires you to be present to this task; otherwise you miss the clues the golf course is giving you to produce the shot.
Becoming more focused on the present is just one of a host of mental skills that can be trained and learned. It’s nothing to do with tackling ‘weakness’.
Golf mind game myth No.2
We can harness our minds
We are sold the idea that Tiger Woods goes into a bubble where only positive thoughts go through his head. And then, when we can’t find a similarly serene mental state, we give up on the notion of mental control.
The fact is, you can’t control your thoughts… and neither can the 15-time Major champion. The notion that you might make a mess of things, of topping it off the tee or shanking it ontothe road, can affect any golfer at any time.
But while you can’t stop these nasty random thoughts popping up, you can control how you respond to them. There is a big difference between believing your thoughts and simply noticing them.
Just because your mind conjures up the image of an embarrassing failure, you don’t have to go with that thought. Instead, you can do what Tiger or any tour pro does: notice the thought, let it pass, and refocus on what you have to do to execute the shot in front of you.
Golf mind game myth No.3
Positive thinking brings positive results
It doesn’t take most golfers long to realise that saying “I’m going to hole this putt” doesn’t work. But it does bring a feeling that you have nowhere left to go, and a disillusionment with the mind game.
The more useful approach here is to distinguish between positive thinking – which ultimately is a prediction of a future you can’t be certain of – and asking positive questions.
“What does a good shot look like?” and “Is it possible that I could hole this putt?” are examples of positive questions that put you in your most effective frame of mind, while making no rash forecast on what is about to happen that can so easily be proved false.
Golf mind game myth No.4
A steady state of mind will foster consistency in your golf
No, it won’t. Even the most stoic of golfers can shoot wildly different scores on consecutive days. Consistency is not within the gift of the mind game… yet many golfers still feel let down when their form drops, even though they have remained calm and focused.
Indeed, consistency in general is a myth when it comes to golf. You are a different animal every day; you’ve slept differently, eaten differently, you’ll be in a different frame of mind. Therefore, a far more useful mental skill is adaptability.
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Rather than cling on to what you had yesterday, ask yourself how you can make the best of what you have today. Tour players win tournaments not through their great play, but through how they manage their games on the one day in four where their form deserts them.
Adaptability is a state of mind; build your game around it and you’ll get the best out of yourself every day.