Mind games in golf


Mind control advice on the course: How to let your performance matter… but don’t make it matter too much

This piece is written for Today’s Golfer by Karl Morris, who has worked with major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell. For more about him, go to  http://www.themindfactor.com/

Golfing legend Sam Snead once said: “Good golfing temperament falls between taking it with a grin or shrug and throwing a fit.” I’m sure most of you can relate to that. If you don’t care about a bad shot, there is no motivation to improve.

But if you do care, how do you stop that lack of contentment developing into frustration, unhappiness, and even anger? When golf starts to mean too much to you – the “throwing a  fit” end of Snead’s scale – you are going to put yourself under a huge amount of personal pressure.

Each time you head to the course, you’ll feel a desperate need to prove yourself with scores… and feel very down if you don’t manage it. For these people, their score can become all-consuming, the end of the world. They have trouble separating their self worth as a person from their performance as a golfer. It ends up affecting them personally, so their balance of perspective is skewed towards golf meaning too much.

While playing under this kind of pressure is typically detrimental to performance, it should be noted that some golfers can and do respond to it. As always, if something is working for you, keep doing it! The flip side of this is the grinning, shrugging golfer, the one who tells himself that making progress in the game doesn’t matter.

Again, if this is what fulfils you as a golfer, then great. But I’d urge you to be sure about this. I’ve come across many golfers who relegate the importance of trying to improve, either because they have tried and failed a couple of times in the past, or because they don’t want to confront some of the discomfort that comes on the improvement trail. These golfers are robbing themselves of the chance for the personal satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes with improving.

So clearly there is a Goldilocks zone here to be found, a balance where your gol ng performance matters to you, but it doesn’t matter too much. But how do you nd it? Back in 1981, Timothy Gallwey wrote one of the rst ever books on golfing psychology – the Inner Game of Golf. In it, he wrote: You have to shatter the illusion that golf matters, and then you have to build it back up again. This, I believe, is the key to striking this ideal balance.

If you are putting excessive pressure on yourself each time you play, it’s time to judge your golf by something other than score. So for one month, go out and play with enjoyment, not score, as the primary factor.

Give each round a mark out of 100 for how much you enjoyed it, and try to improve it on the next game. This will help you reset the balance. After all, if score is all that matters you’ll lose the connection with some of the reasons you took up the game in the rst place. After that month, play the game in a spirit of self-improvement, rather than comparative improvement.

In other words, rather than trying to be better than anyone else, see your progress simply in terms of getting better than you were. This stops you tying in your performance with your status in the game, and even your own self worth, while still giving you an incentive to improve.

If you’ve convinced yourself you’re happy to stick at a level when there’s a voice inside you that says otherwise, use the same motivation. Make a commitment to giving the game a go for 12 months. Accept there will be some setbacks. But as before, make the distinction that your improvement is important to you and not anyone else. Buy into the process of putting yourself to the test. Do this and you can work on your game with its value in a proper and healthy perspective.

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