How to win the battle with golf's mind games

Golf Tips

Your brain can be your worst enemy on the golf course. Will Shaw explains how to use it to your advantage

There are few easy wins when it comes to improving your golf. However, one thing every golfer has in their control is how they think. Despite this being within their control, few golfers spend time thinking about how they think.

Will Shaw offers three swift tips to improve your thinking and golf performance…

1. Reassess negative thinking

A common misconception is that tour pros are emotionless golfing machines. Contrary to what you believe, elite pros do have negative thoughts. They experience a lot of doubt, when they are struggling, but also when they end up winning. Trust me, I’ve spoken to a few.

Why do you not hear about this? Well no one wants to be known as that worrier that stumbled across the finish line. It isn’t a glamorous story. Instead, a myth has developed that winning or great golf is impossible with negative thoughts.

Sport psychology research puts a different spin on negative thinking. Elite performers do have negative thoughts. However, they also have many coping strategies for dealing with these blimps in concentration. In essence, they find ways to get back to being focused as quickly as they can.

A key part of an elite player’s strategy is a robust pre-shot routine and a useful swing thought.

So with this is mind, try not to beat yourself up next time your mind wanders into thinking, “Wow, that is a big lake in front of the green!” Instead, focus on getting back on track.

2. Don’t think in negatives

Italian Open

If I say, don’t think about a fresh cup of coffee, what do you do? You think about a delightful cup of coffee. If I say don’t imagine the smell of coffee, again you will do the opposite.

The brain doesn’t process negatives when it comes to thinking. Yet, next time you play just listen to the amount of negatives golfers use. “Now, don’t hit this one right”, “I want to avoid that bunker”. By using phrases like this you will focus on exactly the thing you don’t want to think about.

I’m not sure if it is hard-wired into us, or a strong social force, but this trait is one to continually be aware of, and work on. I hear it frequently, even when coaching young junior golfers.

If you find yourself using this negative self-talk, swiftly replace it with a positive. Focus on where you want to hit it, rather than where you don’t. Pick small targets, trees and bushes to keep your aim down to a specific target. See the exact trajectory you wish your ball to take off on. These thoughts give your mind the best chance of achieving success.

3. Fill up your attention with usefulness

Pete Willett

Our attention capacity is actually quite limited. It can only deal with a few pieces of information at one time. To perform your best, you should aim to fill up this space in your head with useful stuff. A swing thought is a useful cue. However, if we develop our thoughts, we can take up more of our attention. This means less room for negative thoughts to creep in and intrude.

If you wish to think about your swing you could combine a picture of a position, with a feeling you associate with that picture. Such as, an image of a great impact position, tied in with the feeling of a crisp strike. You can extend this to include a key phrase such as ‘compress’. These same principles can be used to picture the flight of your shot, the sound it will make as it leaves the clubface. These multisensory cues will take up more of your focus, and help prevent negative thoughts creeping in.

Managing how you think is a journey. It constantly requires tweaks to keep you heading in the correct direction. Use the three points discussed here to make sure you’re on the right track.

Will Shaw is a performance coach to elite golfers and a lecturer in sport biomechanics and psychology. You can follow him on Twitter and visit his website

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