Golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one… Perhaps even more mental than physical. While anyone can smash a drive down the fairway or aim a putt in the direction of the pin, it takes a mentally strong golfer to make it to the top of their game.
But what are the most important mental skills for golfers to learn to reach the top 5%? What is it that truly sets the top golfers apart from others when the strategy, the gameplay, and the equipment are the same?
If you can master these 5 mental skills, you’re already on track to being one of the best golfers in your club, your friend group, your college, and maybe even your country. These skills are what great golfers are built on.
Practice these skills like you practice your drive or your short game. Your powerful drive or excellent chipping game can only take you so far—these mental skills are what will take you the rest of the way.
Focus is an underrated mental skill for golfers. The thing is, it’s not that hard to focus intently for a minute to 30 seconds before you hit your shot. It’s not that difficult to lose yourself in the moment as you prepare to hit the ball.
The part that is difficult is being able to do that on every single shot. With the average golf round consisting of 80 to 90 shots, that’s a lot more minutes of intense focus than just 30 seconds here or there.
Being extremely focused means blocking out all thoughts and occurrences that don’t relate to the upcoming shot at that moment. If you’re still annoyed with yourself for missing your putt on the last hole, you’re not focused on this shot.
It takes time to be able to let go of what happened last round, last hole, or last shot and focus entirely on the one at hand. You need to make a concerted effort to take 30 seconds before each shot to focus on where you want the ball to go, your stance, your grip, and your swing.
The good news is, that it’s easy to work on. Every single shot you play, take some time. It can be more than 30 seconds, or you can start with 15 or 20 seconds of focused attention.
If you struggle to remember to focus during rounds with your friends, it may be worthwhile hitting the driving range a little more often so you can practice alone. If you practice enough, it will become second nature.
Although every hole requires you to do the same thing—a drive down the fairway, getting to the green, precise putting—the truth is, golf can change from hole to hole, from shot to shot. The weather can turn, you could hit a wayward shot, the slope could work against you… The possibilities are endless!
The key to handling anything that comes your way and continue to play great golf is adaptability. Hit a bad shot? Don’t let it ruin your next one. Faced with an unexpected strong wind? Change up your strategy to work with it.
Being adaptable isn’t just a great mental skill to have. We’d venture to say it’s one of the most important mental skills for golfers to cultivate. If you aren’t adaptable, every little snag along the way has the potential to ruin your game.
If you are adaptable, though, you can take what comes and use it to your advantage. While others might lose their cool, you stay calm, cool, and level-headed when faced with annoyances or challenges on the course. Already, you’re a step ahead.
Confidence isn’t always built-in. Sometimes, you need to talk yourself through things as they’re happening! Nothing has the potential to ruin a round like negative self-talk. Tell yourself you’re a poor golfer, and soon you’ll notice that your shots reflect that sentiment. Obsess over not hitting a bad shot, and chances are you’ll hit a bad shot.
Positive self-talk might sound new-age and weird, but being able to be your own coach on the course is invaluable. The first step is becoming aware of your own thoughts during your game. Notice they’re more negative than positive? The next step is to start putting a positive spin on them.
“I don’t think I can make this shot” turns into “How awesome would it be if I made this shot?” “Everyone else is a better golfer than I am” turns into “Playing with these guys/girls are bound to make me a better golfer”. The more you do it, the easier it becomes!
Visualization gets a bad rap as it’s seen as some kind of new-age religious meditation ritual. But mastering this mental skill could do wonders for your game. In fact, many professional golfers and other sportspeople already use visualization to give them a boost.
The premise behind visualization is that your body doesn’t know the difference between doing an action in real life and visualizing doing that action in your head. Logically, it may sound like nonsense, but there’s research out there to prove that a focused visualization practice can actually have physical results—ie. Improved skills, strong muscles, etc.
You can use visualization as part of your pre-shot focus. But you should also spend some time outside of being on the golf course practicing this mental skill. Visualize hitting powerful drives or making tricky shots as you’re lying in bed at night. Make it as visceral as possible—try to feel the feelings that come with it.
Yes, having a healthy sense of competition can be a powerful mental skill! We don’t mean aiming to beat every person you ever play against at any cost—rather, we’re talking about competing against yourself to ensure that every time you get on the course, you’re better than you were the last time you played.
If you start to practice these mental skills and really use them in your game, you should notice a marked improvement in both your physical game and your mental game. Make it your mission to improve a little every time you play, and you’re already on the right track to winning.
About the Author
Jordan Fuller is a retired golfer and businessman. He still gets out on the course as often as possible to work on his game or mentor young golfers. When he’s not swinging the clubs, he’s researching and writing value-packed articles for his website, Golf Influence.