Improving your mental game
One of the biggest things I see that separates the best golfers from the average golfers is the mental game.
It’s an area of the game that I don’t think is talked about enough and something that I see as a weapon that can totally transform your scoring potential.
Today I am going to put 10 things out there that will hopefully get you thinking your way to better golf the next time you head out there.
1, Do not total up your score after 9 holes.
Think about how we have been conditioned to total things up at the end of something vs when we total things up halfway through. Think of it this way, you never take your groceries to the checkout halfway through your shopping, total it up and then reload it back into the shopping cart and then continue shopping do you?
So many times people have a great front 9 then fall apart on the back 9 because they have totalled up the score after 9 and then reset the mind to start again, this can work both positively and negatively as you then play differently on the back 9 depending on the result of the front 9!
Even worse is how many times I’ve heard this little gem after a player has started badly over the first 4 or 5 holes “ that's ok, I'll play better on the back 9” - Hmmm what about the remaining holes of the front 9!
Try instead to break the course down into 6 lots of 3 holes - setting yourself a realistic target score for each set of 3 holes before you start. Whatever happens, you won’t be far off of your target score and after every 3 holes, you start again. This is a much easier way to stay positive throughout the round.
2, You don’t need to concentrate the whole time you are playing golf!
If you find yourself getting mentally tired towards the end of the round and often finish badly, then you are most likely concentrating all of the time you are playing!
Try putting an imaginary 20 yard circle around the ball. You are only allowed to think golf thoughts while you are inside that circle. Outside of it think anything else apart from what you are doing golf wise.
This gives you enough time before the shot to get things like yardage, wind direction etc and also gives you time to reflect on the shot you have just executed.
Do this and you will feel mentally fresh until the end of the round and the drop of in the latter holes will be less of a factor.
3, Know your distances.
Working with students who own launch monitors it’s amazing how many do not know their exact yardages for all clubs.
I so often hear things like “7i is around 155-165” or I get told the very best strike distance. What’s important here is the average of your shots, not the best.
The best way to find your averages is to hit say 10 shots with each club, take out the best and the worst of those and average out the rest. This will give you a much truer representation of your yardages going forwards. Write these numbers down and attach them to your bag, range finder or keep them in your scorecard wallet.
4, Know your shot pattern.
If you hit 20 shots with a 7i do you know what your dispersion circle would look like, short/long, left/right?
Knowing this is a key factor when playing to difficult positions.
For example, if you are faced with a 7i shot from 160 yards with water on the right of the green and your shot dispersion left/right from that distance is 30 yards, (15 yards left or right of the target) aiming it the pin would therefore bring the water into play. However, if you were to aim 15 yards left of the pin you can pretty much guarantee that you a, won’t be in the water and b, won’t be short-sided if you do miss the green thus eliminating the chance of scoring a big number on a tough hole.
This is something that all tour players will do on a regular basis, when the pin is tucked they will (for the most part) aim into the centre of the green, the shots you see go close on that hole will be where they’ve hit to the edge of their shot dispersion circle.
5, Do your homework.
Most courses you play will have a page on the website that has an overview of the holes on the course. You can use this to plot a strategy before you go and play there.
An overhead view of each hole will give you an idea of where the best places are to miss and where not to miss. Let me clear something up quickly, knowing where not to miss is not negative thinking as long as you then form a strategy of where you DO want the ball to go instead.
For example, if there is OOB down the right off the tee, simply thinking “don’t go right” before your shot is likely to end up with your ball doing exactly the opposite and will go right because that’s the last place you thought about. Instead know that you don’t want to go right, tee the ball up on the side of the trouble (that way you’re automatically playing away from it) and pick a target down the left side of the fairway and focus on that target.
I suggest you print these off or get hold of a yardage chart and formulate a strategy before you go and play.
6, A bogey on some holes is a good score.
This for me is huge. Think of it like this, you are playing a par 4, 460 yards uphill. Your average drive is 250 yards total, leaving you approx 210 yards to the green. That’s likely going to be around a 3 wood/ 5 wood with a rough left/right dispersion of around 40 yards (20 left, 20 right) this would inevitably leave you with a very tough pitch from the rough over a greenside bunker. The smart play here would be to lay up at your favourite wedge distance, leaving yourself with a straightforward shot from the fairway, giving you the best chance of making a par but at worst it’s a bogey.
This leads me nicely to number 7.
7, Develop a favourite wedge shot/distance.
This really comes into play on short par 4’s and par 5’s. Rather than standing on a short par 4, reaching for a driver, trying to bomb it down there as close to the green as possible, or standing over the 2nd shot on a par 5 and trying to get it as close to the green as you can, think about where that shot is going to put you and what distance you’ll be leaving yourself for the next shot. If you are better from 80 yards than you are from 40 yards there’s no point getting yourself closer to the green. Another thing worth noting is that laying up to 80 yards will mean you’ll be hitting a shorter club to that lay up point in the first place - a 5i has a much tighter dispersion pattern than say a fairway wood!
8, Minimise the effects of bad tee shots.
This is where I see so many recreational golfers implode!
Hitting a bad tee shot doesn’t automatically mean you have to recover all of that lost ground in one shot!
Most of the time the ball will have travelled at least 150 yards from the tee box, even if you are on a 400 yard hole that only leaves you with 250 yards to go. Instead of reaching for the fairway wood and trying to gouge it out of the rough as far down there as you can, which so often leads to the ball going less than 100 and more often than not the ball going deeper into the cabbage. Think about dividing the distance you have left by 2 shots, in this case, it’s 2 shots of 125 yards. Suddenly that sounds a whole lot easier than trying to hit that 3 wood doesn’t it. Better still if you have the lie for it you could try to hit a shot to leave yourself that 80 yard shot which is your favourite wedge distance, but only if the lie is good enough.
Remember you should never need to hit a recovery shot from a recovery shot…
9, Stay in the present.
I’m sure you will all have heard this 100’s of times but the only shot you can influence is the shot you are about to play.
Thinking about that missed putt on the last hole, dreading the tee shot on hole 11 when you are only playing hole 9 will take you away from delivering the best swing to the shot that’s in front of you.
Remember to use that 20 yard circle that we talked about in point 2 but only think about the shot you are playing/have just played.
10, Play with a smile.
Remember why you are out there in the first place. Primarily to have some fun and get away from everything else right?
Playing golf has many wellbeing and health benefits, helping people improve self confidence, improve anxiety and depression, getting some vitamin D, it’s a social game and many of us have been in lockdown so getting out there with some friends is a thing to be happy about. You’ll be walking around 4 miles over 18 holes, burning over 1000 calories and it’s pretty much risk free.
I hope you find these useful and they save you some shots the next time you play.
As always thanks for taking the time to read this and please get in touch if you’d like to discuss this topic further or book a lesson.
Get out there, have some fun, play well and remember to smile while you’re doing it!!