The Mental Game

The Most Important Golf Techniquehappy golfer

The most important golf tip you’ll ever get will not be about your swing. It will not be about the latest equipment. It won’t even be about getting your clubs fit correctly. It will be about the number one factor that effects how well you play… your attitude.

Everyone agrees that golf is a mental game. But vary few really think about what that means. Everyone would rather try that new driver or work on that hot new swing technique. The fact that the average handicap for all golfers has not gone down in the last 20 years tells me that the newest equipment and the scientific research and launch monitors evaluating our swings has not done a thing to improve our games.

What if I told you could take five strokes off your score in your next round without changing a thing about your equipment or your swing? You’d say I was crazy right? And believe me the change you need is not easy to do. It takes a serious look in the mirror.

Our Ego And Our Natural Self

One of my favorite books about the mental game is The Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallway. In it he talks about the different parts of our personality and our mindes. He calls the part of us that judges our actions Self 1. Self 1 is the part of us that decides whether a golf shot is good or bad, whether we swing correctly, and takes all the credit when we do well. When we do badly Self 1 just blames us.

Gallway says there’s another part of us at work. He calls that part Self 2. Self 2 trusts that we are capable of performing a task. Self 2 just let’s us do what we do without judging.

When we walk for example, Self 2 is in control. We’ve walked so much that Self 1 doesn’t need to get involved. It just stays out of the way and lets us walk while Self 2 in in control.

Golf can be more like that too. A one foot putt generally doesn’t create much tension and Self 1 stays out of the way. But give us a 5 footer and Self 1 is all over us suggesting all the ways we can blow it. Our tension level goes up and we are full of doubt… especially if we’ve got a couple of bucks on the line.

Our self talk plays a big part in our tension level. Positive thoughts help us relax and do our best and negative thoughts do the opposite.

I once heard an Olympic swimmer say during a interview, “Winners think about what they want to happen, losers think about what they don’t want to happen.” I’m not so sure it’s that simple but I know we all have negative thoughts about our performance and need to learn to manage them.

Be aware of Self 1’s bag of tricks. Our Self 1/ego wants us to do things we’ve never done before. It hopes to prove that we are better than we actually are. It judges every situation and outcome. It lives on hope for the future and on the failures and successes of the past. Yet it doesn’t really trust us to pull it off. It’s quick to blame us when we fail and it won’t let us forget. That’s just how the ego works.

Confronting our ego/Self 1 thoughts is the first step in learning to play within ourselves. Leaning to notice them—and let them go is the trick. We can always make the choice of not responding to the ego if we want to. There is another choice. There IS a part of us that can pull off that great shot. Self 2, our natural self, has many talents and abilities. In reality that IS the part of us that pulls off any great shot, the part that does all the work—if we just let it.

Letting Self 2 Hit the Shot

Letting Self 2 hit the shot is a matter of Trust and Acceptance. Trusting that Self 2 CAN hit the shot and Accepting whatever happens is the key. When we surrender to whatever happens we free the body to do it’s best. Our ego/mind becomes quiet. We can concentrate on the target and the shot freely. We can let the moment happen. We may not always pull the shot off but we are giving it the best opportunity to happen. We are allowing a great shot to happen by our acceptance.

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The KISS Principle on the Course

Golf is a difficult game, maybe the most difficult. But somehow, that’s what draws us to it. The challenge of trying to hit that 3 iron 200 yards over water makes us all quiver in our boots… but also thrill with the possibilities of what that shot could feel like.

We’ve all hit great shots from time to time — that career shot when you make perfect contact and it goes farther than you ever dreamed possible — and straight to the target. Those Perfect Shots are the ultimate moments in the game and keep us coming back over and over, trying to recreate that feeling. We spend lots of money and time trying to get back to those all too rare moments. If you are a beginner, perhaps those shots are few and far between but all it takes is one those great shots to get us hooked.

Where Do Great Golf Shots Come From?

Where do those shots come from? Why can’t we do them more often? These are the questions that drive us all nuts yet keep us coming back for more.

When we hit a great shot more than likely that success was caused by a bunch of factors. Our minds were probably relaxed. The clubface contacted the ball in the sweet-spot with the clubhead moving towards the target. Our body was tension free and the contact with the ball felt smooth and effortless. We’ve all hit a great shot and say to ourselves, ‘how did I do that?’. Sometimes it feels that YOU were not involved with the shot. As if someone else had hit. That somehow the Golf Gods had taken over and hit the shot for you.

There is a sense of surrender during shots like that. We surrendered our minds to the moment. Trusted our higher self to pull it off. Maybe we had just hit 10 bad shots in a row, become totally frustrated and stopped trying. Suddenly it appeared. We had thrown in the towel, so to speak. That moment of surrender freed the mind of Self 1’s expectations and instructions. It freed the body of it’s tension.

So how do we hit more good shots? Do we have to reach that frustration level every time before we finally let go? No, but we can let go from the start. We can let go of every shot before we hit it. I’m not suggesting we stop trying. That would be useless and not the point. We must let go of Self1/Ego’s control and trust Self 2 and our body to hit the shot successfully. Trusting puts us in a frame of mind that allows a great shot to happen.

So how do we learn to trust the shot? Like anything, it takes practice. This is the part that’s so hard to recreate on the range. The factors of water, out of bounds, peer pressure, what happened on the last shot, the lie conditions, are really impossible to duplicate on the range. Learning how to trust is something you have to face on the course. On the course each shot situation is unique. You may never have had that exact shot before, or will again. You must face the here and now on each shot and decide to trust it.

Picking the Correct Shot

A big part of what creates our tension level on the course, and lack of trust for that matter, is our shot selection. An “easy” shot creates much less tension than a “hard” shot. It’s always easier to trust a shot we’ve hit successfully many times before. As a beginner you may not have had enough experience to have any trust. m,

So what is an easy shot versus a hard shot? That’s up to us. We know by that feeling we get in the pit of our stomach. If we choose to play a 200 yard shot over water with a club that we haven’t had much success with, we feel a knot. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that the chances of success with that shot are very low. But many of us still choose to play that shot. Why? Well, we realize that the rewards of pulling off a career shot like that are great. The Self 1/EGO will be very proud. We will have a great memory and maybe impress our friends to boot.

But what happens if we fail? We have to face humiliation and shame from Self 1, the ridicule of our playing partners not to mention a bad score on the hole. The next time we have a similar shot our tension level will be even higher. What’s a golfer to do?

  • Live in the present moment
  • Accept the result
  • Let the past go
  • Lower expectations without lowering your goals

These are the keys to a great attitude on the golf course and success with the mental game of golf.

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