Often we think of sports as physical pursuits and as things that we do with our bodies.
After all we are running, jumping, hitting and throwing and generally exerting ourselves and this all requires physical effort from our bodies.
However sports are also an exertion for our brain, and when you consider that it’s our brain that controls our movements, then it starts to become apparent just how much of an impact it can have on our ability, especially if we fail to concentrate or if we’re anxious.
At the same time it suggests how useful it might be to train our brains to improve our golf games.
Becoming A More Disciplined Golfer
If more golfers applied a higher level of discipline to their game they would become more successful, shoot consistently lower scores and probably enjoy the game more.
Maybe – Maybe Not!
Although it never ceases to amaze me that seemingly intelligent people believe they can play golf to a reasonable level at will.
Of course, very few are able to do so and consequently an awful lot of unfulfilled potential prevails.
Many golfers are content to play mediocre golf, week after week, and then moan about it in the clubhouse. How sad is that when it could be so different with a bit of effort and discipline.
I fully accept that success is relatively unimportant to a minority of golfers but I am talking about golfers who WANT to succeed but maybe don’t know how to go about it.
So what are the disciplines they need to apply to help them improve their game and their feeling of achievement?
There are a few to deal with but with some effort it is surprising just how much solid improvement can be made.
Here we will look at some ways to Master the Mental Side of the game using some methods that sports psychologists use to help improve the abilities of athletes.
These are not in any specific order and should be looked at as a collection of things that need to be practised, refined and maintained.
Visualisation is a very powerful tool that practically tricks the body and the brain into thinking that whatever you imagine is happening.
This is a very powerful tool because it means you can then trigger changes in your body and hormones.
One example of this is simply using visualisation to practice your golf swing – and by simply imagining you are hitting the ball, your nerves will react as though you actually were, which will enable you to improve your technique, over time, without needing space or even a golf club to do so.
Furthermore you can also use visualisation to improve the power and effectiveness of a shot.
For instance if you image hitting it perfectly and imagine it soaring into the distance exactly where you want it to land, then this is in a way a ‘simulation’ and a simulation that your body can learn from.
Affirmations can help you to change your thought patterns, regarding a certain subject, which can help you to overcome feelings of anxiety, or nervousness, that may be crippling you when it comes to an important putt.
For instance telling yourself you have ‘all your abilities plus all the abilities of the opposition’ can help to flush you with confidence and make your aim that much truer.
Another useful phrase to repeat is simply ‘I can take all the time I need’ which can really enable you to relax into the shot and not rush and therefore make silly mistakes. Just don’t be too literal and become a slow player.
Clearing Your Mind
Sometimes clearing your mind can help a great deal too. It’s when we over think things and it’s when we start worrying that we become much more likely to mess up.
The secret is to concentrate on the ball and where you want it to go, but to also be serene in this concentration rather than anxious.
This comes with practice, but simply practising meditation – trying to eliminate the thoughts that run through your head when you’re in a relaxed state – can help to give you better control of your own unhelpful thought patterns.
Overcoming First Tee Nerves
Do you think there is a single golfer that has NEVER experienced first tee nerves?
I suspect everyone has, at some stage, been debilitated by the thought of hitting that opening tee shot. It’s nerves.
We all get them, it is normal but learn to turn nervous energy into positive Adrenalin.
We all get excited when we play well and the Adrenalin starts to rush.
But we need an edge so take some slow deep breaths to control the adrenalin rush and learn to play, and especially putt, with your nerves under the control of your head.
Commentators talk about the swing holding up under pressure. It is the person who holds up under pressure and controls the swing, so let’s condition the mind.
Sometimes a good way to calm your nerves, but also to make sure you don’t forget your technique, is to go through a check list.
This can be something along the lines of ‘relax’, ‘make sure your feet are pointing the way you want to go’, ‘check your grip’, ‘eyes on the hole’ etc.
By running through these criteria you can use them as a safety net and a crutch, but at the same time you will also not forget any of the things you’ve been taught.
Practise ( Doesn’t Makes Perfect)
Practice doesn’t make perfect it makes things permanent.
So make sure you practice the right things and focus on quality rather than quantity, and focus on target and routine.
Resist the temptation to analyse the bad shot in the middle of a round, leave that to the practise ground.
Avoid all mechanical thoughts in competition and go with what you have.
Monitor and record your practise sessions and aim to improve your percentage of good shots.
We use the putter more than any other club in the bag, so it makes sense to practice with that club the most.
Try and practise putting 15-20 minutes every day and watch your putting improve and your scores come down.
It’s obvious, if you can cut out the three-putts and sink some single putts and you will score better.
Play one shot at a time and stay in the present.
Only in the present – as you cannot change what’s gone on before, but you can control what is to still to happen.
Your Inner focus starts when you are 10 yards from the ball.
This old adage is the best so learn to do it.
Concentrate on your game and NEVER worry how others are doing. Just maximise your own talent.
If you don’t have one, create a simple pre-shot that you can replicate.
Keep it simple – visualise the shot; pick the smallest possible target; line up using intermediate target maybe 2-3 feet in front; practice swing; look at ball and swing.
Combine that with a game plan and stick to it – conservative strategy and cocky swing!
Knowing Your Distances
Know your EXACT carry yardages for full and half shots with each club.
How can you accurately select a club if you don’t know your distances?
Especially Try To Get Dialled in with your wedges
How many times have you heard that the low scores happen from the good shots inside 100 yards.
The short game is key and a good short game usually equals a lower handicap
When you are faced with a shot within 100 yards it is even more important to be able to control the distance of your shots.
Knowing your exact yardage with your wedges in this zone can really pay dividends.
By knowing your yardage with each of your wedges from a full swing down to even a quarter swing you can effectively use a rangefinder or course planner to assist you in getting the ball close to the pin.
Whats the use of knowing the exact distance to the pin if you don’t know how far you will hit it.
Any shot in this area between 20-100 yards from the green is commonly referred to as a pitch shot.
There are some key factors that influence how far the ball will travel when you play this shot.
These Factors are very variable so its not surprising how so many people get into a great position to score well on a hole and then ruin it with a lousy control of distance as they attempt to land it by the pin.
But instead they leave themselves with a very long putt or even another shot to get the ball on the green.
The three key factors that are influencing how far your ball is travelling are the length of shaft, effective loft on impact and club-head speed.
These factors are all influenced by our own actions so we are in complete control of each of them.
Changing one or any combination of these keys will cause the distance to change or even stay the same!
Lets imagine you play a pitch shot with a 56 degree wedge, place your hands down the grip just before they meet the shaft.
Then make a half swing back and accelerate through quite firmly with good conviction.
Lets say the ball travels 60 yards in the air.
Now imagine playing the same shot whilst holding the 56 degree club at full length, making a three quarter swing at a much slower pace throughout.
Potentially the ball could travel 60 yards in the air.
If you only get the chance to play at weekends and don’t practice your pitching as often as you would like,you need to be very consistent in your approach to the set-up for these shots.
Try to set-up so you only need to change one variable to change the distance.
There is no right or wrong way to attempt this but here are two modes of thought to dial in the distance.
Mode 1 – Keep the set-up the same but change the length of the back swing to dictate how far the ball will travel.
The speed of acceleration needs to be constant as a short back swing with a fast acceleration will send the ball a similar distance to having a longer swing but with a slower acceleration.
You can also try to have an awareness of how far your hands are traveling in your back swing.
For example you can imagine your hands travelling up a clock face as you take the club away from the ball. 9 o’clock being about hip height, if you want the ball to go further then swing to the 10 o’clock position and so on.
Mode 2 – Keep the set-up and length of swing the same but change the speed in which you rotate your body and club through the shot.
For example swing to the 10 o’clock position every time but swing through soft for a shorter shot or faster and with more zip to it for a longer flighted shot.
Either way try choosing a method, stick with it and experiment with different lofts.
The end result is that you will have a vast choice of options for achieving different yardages with the same method.
By using the same method you can start to develop a greater amount of consistency when pitching.
Ask your brain a specific question and it will come back with a specific answer!
So next time you are faced with a pitch shot ask yourself
How far do I need to swing back to generate that distance?
How fast do I need to swing through to generate that distance?
You will be surprised how accurate your answer will be, let your brain dial in the distance then just go ahead and attempt to do it!
If you want to see some videos of this check out our Short Game Series
Warm Up Before Your Round
It’s important to warm up before your round. Which means both your body and also with you hitting your clubs through the bag from wedges to woods.
If you struggle for time before a round here’s Rich to give you a few quick ideas on how to warm up before a round
Simple Course Management
To any golfer who plays to a handicap of around 20, there can be a bit of anxiety when they try to break 90 in a round.
All targets should be just out of reach so that you have to really stretch yourself.
Yet if you approach this goal in a practical manner and with a real sense of purpose it is perfectly attainable.
In other words, if you have a smart approach, you can do it.
On most courses a gross score of 90 represents playing bogey golf – one shot per hole over par.
That is perfectly reasonable and acceptable in club golf. But the mindset of most golfers is that of the ‘super-optimist’.
Many of us have parred all the holes on the course but we have never achieved it all in the same round. So why do we expect to do exactly that?
Similarly, there will be holes on the course that we have birdied – so we expect to birdie them every time we play them. How smart is that??
Let’s be realistic – a 20-handicap golfer will play some good shots interspersed with some bad ones.
Accept this as fact and when you play a poor shot treat the next shot as a challenge to minimise damage.
Don’t do what many golfers do – don’t beat yourself up and let one bad hole ruin a promising round.
Lack of mind control is a major reason why many golfers never progress to reach their full potential in the game.
Not only are they hard on themselves, they are also guilty of attempting incredible shots if they come off, but which usually don’t and only compound the misery.
What I am saying is when you are in trouble look for the solution which will cost you the least number of shots.
Is it not smart at the beginning of the round to actually ‘take’ the shot you receive at every hole and play the hole accordingly?
What I mean is treat the par 3s as par 4s, the par 4s as par 5s and the par 5s as par 6s.
At the level of an 18+ handicap golfer you will be lucky to avoid at least one seven on your card. If you do that’s great, but be realistic.
The worst feeling is the pressure you put on yourself by thinking that you MUST make a 3 at a par 3.
Sometimes you will, but there will be times when you will get a 5 or maybe worse.
So USE YOUR SHOTS and take the pressure off of yourself.
There is another option.
You can help yourself reduce your handicap by practising your putting every day.
Look at the pros.
Their best rounds come with the least number of putts.
Logical really isn’t it??
But you don’t become a good putter through accident, it is by design and that entails practise. I suggest to my players that they spend at least 30 minutes per day putting on whatever surface they are near.
Obviously grass is preferable but if you are in the office or at home then improvise using carpet for a slow green and wooden or tile flooring as ‘virtual’ fast greens. And practise 6-10 feet putts to a small coin. You will adjust to the speed of grass much quicker if you have experience of other surfaces.
It may sound crazy but it works.
The easiest way for a high handicap golfer to reduce his / her handicap is by improving their putting – FACT.
Here’s another fact – some days you will go out and play below your handicap and then you may get cut.
There is no reason to change the strategy, only to move the goalposts a bit – if you get down to 18, then set a target of 15 and use your 15 shots where you receive a shot.
If you still play to 18 then you have played to your handicap.
Is that not simple to understand??
Does it not take some pressure off of you?
When you then play to 15 you’ve actually played 3 shots below your handicap, so you get cut again.
But isn’t that what the game is about?
Many golfers complicate the game by thinking badly or not at all.
If you struggle to manage your way around a golf course, here’s a playing lesson on the course with Rich as he shows players how to break 100
Overcoming Poor Shots
Forget them until after the round. Similarly if any club is misbehaving(!) leave it in the bag and use an alternative club.
OK, so how difficult is that?
It is not difficult at all so there is no excuse for not applying these very simple disciplines to your golf.
If you look at all of our articles you will see a never-ending theme of practice, planning and preparation.
It has been said (probably by a cleverer man than me) that ‘Failure to prepare is preparing to fail’.
So prepare to put some discipline into your golf and see your results improve.
Golf is a game and is to be enjoyed.
I know it can be annoying and frustrating but that’s largely due to the expectations you put on yourself and the pressure you put on yourself.
So accept whatever shot you hit, enjoy the challenge, throw away your expectations and HAVE FUN.