How many times have you muttered 'I always play this hole badly'? Performance psychologist Matt Shaw explains how improving your mindset will make you a better player

Positive thinking for golfers is something with which many of us struggle.

I’m not usually one for betting, but I’m confident that most people reading this would have at one point thought, said, or heard the following statement: “I always play that hole badly.”

Thinking about facing that dreaded hole again and how it got the better of us last time is something we all do even though we know we’re not supposed to. In many ways, ‘future thinking’ can be great, but thinking negatively about that hole, before or during competition can be destructive at the best of times.

So, why do we do it, and how do we stop it?

From talking to a majority of the golfers I work with, there seems to be a couple of reasons as to why they think of certain holes as ‘bad holes’. One explanation is that it was their most recent ‘bad hole’.

Another reason may be that it was their worst ever hole, so it sticks in their mind more. This then means that when they make decisions about how to play that hole again, they rely on this negative information to guide their thoughts about how they approach that hole going forward.

If a golfer starts to think about themselves playing a hole badly because of their past experiences, then they are more likely to do so in the future. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Believe it or not, imagining yourself playing badly will most likely lead to you playing badly.

This sort of thought process leads a golfer to shifting their energy away from what they need to do to play the hole well and thrive, but instead starts them thinking about how to just survive. To combat this, here are five simple tips to use on the course…

positive thinking for golfers

1. Positive thinking for golfersRecognise and reframe

Most golfers know by now that the way they speak to themselves is so important. But the question I face most often in my consultancy is: How do I stop thinking like that and think something else?

The first thing to do is to realise it is happening, then call a stop to it. Instead of then trying to distract yourself, you should think of something both positive and helpful.

Thinking positively will help you feel more confident and thinking about something helpful gives you a guide on what you need to do to play your best golf.

2. Positive thinking for golfers: Know what you want

It goes without saying that most golfers set themselves goals. However, what can be even more helpful is creating a criteria of what you want to achieve during your round. For example, number of fairways hit or greens in regulation.

This should be specific to you and what you need to do to play well. By doing this you stop thinking about what lies ahead on the course and you start thinking about what you can physically do to achieve your best.

3. Thinking positively: Don’t dwell, reflect

Lots of golfers think they spend time reflecting on what happened on the golf course. However, in a lot of cases, what they are doing is dwelling; simply replaying negative moments as appose to thinking about what to do because of them.

To avoid falling into this trap golfers should ask themselves arguably the most important question from performance psychology: What will I do differently next time?

By asking this question, golfers can stop dwelling on their mistakes and instead start thinking about what happened and how to improve next time.

4. Positive thinking for golfers: Picture the process

Lots of golfers speak about visualising what they want on the course. Seeing something in our mind before we act allows us to feel more comfortable in challenging situations and it helps us feel more confident and in control.

While visualising, golfers should consider what emotions they will be feeling, physical parts of the task, their skill level and timing.

However, the message here isn’t that whatever you see will be what you will do. Instead the message is, if you see what you want to do, including each step of the process, you will be more prepared to do it.

5. Positive thinking for golfers: Bigger picture thinking

While playing a hole well might be important to you in that moment on that day, in the bigger picture of your golfing progression it only plays a small part.

If golfers remind themselves of this, it stops them from having such an emotional response when it comes to playing certain holes.

Try one of these five easy tips and you will find your attention shifting away from the times you have played poorly towards ways you can start to play better. By using these tips you will become more aware of whether you do always play a hole badly and if you do, how to be in a better place to conquer it next time. Remember progression isn’t always as quick as we might like. As one of my golfers once said: “Golf is like a long game, the longer you play it the better it gets.”

About Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw is a performance psychologist at InnerDrive who has worked with highly-skilled amateurs and tour professionals. InnerDrive’s team of sport and performance psychologists have been helping elite athletes perform at the top of their game, and even win medals for Team GB at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics. On top of their one-on-one coaching and workshops for golfers, coaches and parents, they regularly produce resources to help every player improve their mental game. Visit their website or follow them on Twitter.