The Psychology of Golf… Mind Tricks and Your Game

Editor’s Note: How true it is….Happened to me just last week in a club match play but in the opposite way. Fell way behind on the front nine… then started hitting pars – but it was too late. How can I beef up my mental game?

Golf is the greatest individual player sport in the world. There are many aspects to the game that really only one person you, the player, can control. To be a good player and really enjoy the game, it is important to be well rounded when approaching the game. Physical fitness and a relaxed smooth golf swing are only part of what any player needs to have a strong game. Whether you are a scratch golfer or a 15 handicap, maintaining a strong mind game as well is as fundamental.

How many times have you been on the course and been on a hot streak, hitting birdies and pars on the first five or six holes? The next thing you know, you blow your drive out of bounds and end up with a triple bogey on the next hole. And then it follows you to the next hole…and the next. You’re thinking about how upset you are that you were on your way to having such a great round. You’re dwelling on the past and cannot be changed. The next hole or two proves to be disastrous.

Before you know it, the front nine is over along with your round. But maybe you’re really only 7 or 8 over on the front nine and the break at the turn allows you the opportunity to regroup. You know you’re capable of better play, as evidence with the hot streak you had at the start. So what happened? Chances are, you allowed your mind to play tricks on your game.

Consider the example of a great up and coming PGA golfer from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Dustin Johnson. The young player has never won a major championship in his career. His opportunity presented itself in the 2010 U.S. Open. After three rounds of incredible play, Johnson was leading the championship. Going into the final round, the tournament was firmly in his grasp.

After a disastrous fourth round score of 82, and five over for the championship, Dustin Johnson played the worst round of any third round leader of the U.S. Open since 1911, when Fred McLeod suffered a similar fate. The question is what happened?

Of course Johnson’s physical ability and skill of play were capable of winning the U.S. Open. Do you think that being this close to his first major championship had an effect on his mental game? Was Johnson holding the trophy in his hand and mind before the round was over?

Dustin Johnson

Over the last decade of golf, arguably the most mentally tough player in the world has been Tiger Woods. We’ve heard it from other tour players, sportscasters, and fans. There is no doubt that Tiger Woods has some of the greatest golf skills of any player in the world, as well as the physical fitness and strength that many other players can’t match. So what makes him stand out from the field? His mental toughness. After all, look at all the majors he has won, and how long he has maintained a world #1 ranking.

Unfortunately for Woods, 2010 was a catastrophe (Tigerly speaking). Why? Public scandal and ridicule culminating in divorce during the golf season probably didn’t help. So even Tiger’s game was affected by his mental game? Many would have said say that it would have been impossible, even for such a legendary golfer.

Golf is a tough sport. It is challenging in so many ways. Should I lay up on the par 5, or go for eagle? Decisions, decisions. While it is wise to practice at the driving range and putting green, it is equally important to maintain the mental stability that will allow you to “shake off” a bad stroke here and there, and to keep your focus.

Whether you are playing in the club championship or a leisurely round on a Sunday afternoon with your buddies, how you approach the mental game of golf will greatly affect your score. So before you play your next round, make sure your game is well-rounded. Remember that mental stability is a skill too.

Amazon book

Going further on this topic, we recommend to check out by Dr. Joseph Parent who is the specialist in mastering the mental golf game.

Or reading one of his books: “Golf: The Art of the Mental Game (100 Classic Golf Tips)” (affiliate link).

Share your tips for a good mental game with us!

Image by ericjameswalsh (Flickr)

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If you enjoyed this post please leave us your comment below

Olivier September 21, 2010

Great article. The book should be a valuable investment to improve my game.

In a few weeks I will be in the Western Algarve for two days and looking to hit a few balls. I heard the courses there are beautiful. Anyone been there and can give advice on where’s the best club?


Bryan September 21, 2010

This is a concise and very true article on the mental strength necessary to play this great game


Tommy Priest September 22, 2010

Thank you Bryan, do you have any tips on how to keep the mental strength on top?


Bryan September 27, 2010

Yes Tommy, I do. Have fun while you play. I just played in our club championship this weekend. When I relaxed and started to just have fun doing what I always do, I played like a champ.


Tommy Priest October 10, 2010

Bryan – Have you read the Inner Game of Golf?


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