Golf Is a Mental Game: How To Stay Positive on the Course

Mariah Swigart Mariah Swigart
5 minute read

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improve your mental golf game

As you watch professional golfers on TV, you'll most likely catch a golfer lose their cool and explode in anger. What separates pros from the rest of us is their ability to express such emotion and then hit a switch to shut it out before their next shot. Golf is a mental game played on a golf course but also played between your ears. You can improve your golf score simply by having the right mindset!

Start with Self Talk

If you talk negatively to yourself, you can't expect to have a positive outlook on the golf course. Self-criticism can be detrimental to your mental game, and in turn, the way you play.  Instead, try replacing a negative thought with a positive. That may seem too simple, but it actually works. Leading psychologists use this approach to retrain their patients to automatically reject negative thoughts, and you can too. The only difference is that you can use it to improve your golf game.  

Save the Changes for the Range 

The golf course is not the best place to start breaking down your swing. There is a time and place to fix your terrible slice but working on your swing mechanics during a round is a bad call.  Mid game adjustments mess with your confidence and hurt your mental golf game. Instead, tell yourself one positive thing each time you swing and leave swing changes for the range before your next round.  

Rely on a Routine 

You may know the stress of standing over a 3-foot putt for par, or even birdie. Oftentimes, those high-pressure putts can lead to feeling insecure about your putting stroke. When you find yourself doubting your swing or your abilities, rely on a pre-shot routine to steady your mind. Improving your score involves a good routine, trust what you know, line up your shot, take a deep breath, and execute the shot with confidence. 

Stay in the moment

It’s important not to get caught up on a "blow up" hole, or the shot you just shanked. Don't add pressure by always thinking, “I need to put this on the green or there's no way I'm breaking 90 today.”  These thoughts are harmful to your mental golf game and ultimately ruin your mood, especially when you don't pull it off. Approach each shot with a fresh mind, holding onto only one or two thoughts during your swing, and remembering to enjoy the round. Play moment to moment within the shots you have to execute without being caught up on the scores you think you need to get on the hole. 

Respond, Don’t React 

We’ve all seen it, a player is utterly overwhelmed with their round and ends up breaking a club or walking off the course. These sorts of reactions are understandable. However, our goal is to enjoy the round as a whole, not give up (plus green fees are expensive). It’s important to be realistic about where your game is at. You can set goals for the round but keep them within the realm of your ability. When we set exaggerated goals for ourselves, we often end up frustrated and disappointed, rather than positive and noticing results. 

Responding to bad shots means stopping to assess what went wrong (if you know), then accepting the bad shot, and finally moving on to thinking about the next shot. For example, if your ball went into the water, but you realize that you were aimed wrong, then you can make a mental note to check your aim before your next shot. If you respond instead of react to a poor shot, it can be extremely beneficial to your overall mental golf game and the rest of your round.  

Set Goals 

As we mentioned earlier in the article, setting attainable goals will help you stay positive on the course. Goals can be a huge help to your mental and physical game. One goal may be to replace your negative self-talk with positive. For example, any time that you hit a bad shot, say one positive thing about the day. Statements like “The weather is beautiful,” “This beats work,” and “What a great course!” are all positive thoughts that can replace  negative thoughts and reactions to a bad shot. Come to the course with positive thoughts ready to use when you feel yourself starting to spiral into negativity. Also, set goals for your game that you feel confident in. It may be as simple as playing with no more than two balls in a round, or avoiding any 4-putts. You know your game and setting goals should be an exercise in what you feel is achievable to keep you positive, motivated, and enjoying your round. 

Accept the Progress 

Start with reflecting on the positives from the day. In with the good and out with the bad. Take the time to mentally solidify those great shots in your mind. Identifying the strengths of your round and your game will aid in keeping your mental golf game strong. Use positive thoughts to embrace the successes and move toward growth.  

Positive Persistence 

Finally, stay persistent when working on your positivity on the course. Don’t give up on the process. At home you can sharpen your mental strengths as well as your physical game. Study sound golf strategies and techniques you can use on the course and embellish your great shots and awesome golf days with friends over a few beers in the clubhouse. 

Practicing your positivity both on and off the course helps improve your mental golf game. Instead of throwing in the towel on your ultimate quest (breaking 90 maybe?), use these tips to stay positive and fall deeper in love with golf.

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