Bobby Jones once said that golf is played "on a five-and-a-half inch course … the space between your ears." And most avid golfers will tell you that they lose just as many strokes in their minds as they do on the fairways and greens.
One of the reasons for this is the amount of downtime one spends on the golf course. According to instructor Darrin Gee, only about 3 minutes of the 4+ hours it takes to play a round of golf are spent swinging the club. It would stand to reason that the inner workings of our mind during that time will have a real impact on what we do when it comes time to actually hit the ball.
Below are four strategies for improving your mental game and hopefully lowering your score.
1 – Do not think about results. Just about any avid golfer has probably had the following experience. During a particularly good round that they begin looking at their card and computing what they will have to do on the next hole or holes in order to break 80, shoot the round of their life or achieve some other goal – only to find themselves suddenly imploding.
Nothing can screw up your game more than thinking about what you need to do or focusing on your score. Golf is a fickle game and the more goals you set – particularly while playing – the more you tende up and sabotage yourself. Thinking about a score never helped anyone. So, discipline yourself to not count your strokes until you are at the turn, or better yet, in the clubhouse. You will be more relaxed and, as a result, play better golf.
2 – Think less before you act. When people say golf is a thinking man's game or that it's cerebral (as Jones did) they believe that means that the more you think the better off you are. That could not be further from the truth. While it's important to analyze your options and decide a course of action, lingering over such decisions is destructive for the average golfer. The more they think the tenser they get, the more perfect they try to become with their shot. And trying for perfect is the surest way to drive one out of bounds.
Instead try this: when you approach your next shot make a plan, trust your instinct, get yourself set and simply hit it. Do not stand there for a minute and think things over. Do not hover over your ball. Do not take extra practice swings. Sometimes John Daly is right. You need to grip it and rip it, even if it's only to save yourself from yourself.
3 – Be present. During the 3:57 minutes you are not swinging a club think about something other than golf. Enjoy the nice day. Feel the sun on your face. Stop and look at a bird, a tree, some flowers or even the grass. The best way to make walk "a good walk spoiled" is to spoil it by obsessively thinking about your game. And the less you think about it while you are walking or riding around the course, the more mental energy you will have when you get to your ball and need to hit the next shot.
4 – Remember the good, forget the bad. One mistake golfers make is that they distrust their good shots and holes, believing that they are aberrations, while hanging onto and believing the worst when they triple-bogey or slice one into the woods.
Instead, do the opposite. When you are playing well, stop. Take in the feeling. Experience everything about the moment. Feel as completely as you possibly can and let that feeling last as long as possible (although do not try to recreate it – that's a mistake).
And when you triple, avoid the hole-to-hole hangover that becomes a string of doubles and triples because you either think you're doomed or are trying to make up for the way you screwed up by crushing your next drive. The way to do this: do not take in the moment. Simply move on. The hole is over. There is nothing you can do about it. So forget about it and begin afresh with your next shot.
Golf instructor Les Bolland of SwingGolfUSA says that you should not go out and try to hit good shots, but instead to have good swings. That is great advice. Forget about results and you'll be shocked at the results that will follow.