Nearly all of the top golf professionals now have dedicated golf psychology coaches to help them train their brains. I am not suggesting that amateur golfers go and hire a dedicated coach for this, but part of your golf training / coaching should be to work on the mental side of your game. As I said it can bring huge benefits and really help you perform well under pressure.
The luck of the Irish?
One week after the 2011 British Open, the Irish golf open was being played at Killarney. In it were three Northern Irish and one Irish major champion competing. Darren Clarke the current Open champion has stated that it helped his major win to know that Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy had all won majors before him. I’m convinced this gave him strong belief in himself.
Believe and you will achieve!
Belief plays an important role in our lives and if you believe you can achieve something then you will. This is never truer than when you are playing golf, but you need to train your brain to think the right thoughts at the right time. This is just one part of mental golf training, but a very important one.
Who was that famous car maker, oh yes Henry Ford ,who said “if you think you can or if you think you can’t you are probably right”. Powerful words and this has been proven time and time again. One of the classic examples was the 4 minute mile and Sir Roger Bannister. Scientists and doctors believed the heart would explode if anyone ran as fast as Sir Roger Bannister did. But, guess what? Sir Roger Bannister did break the four minute mile and his heart did not explode and a week later there were many runners that broke the four minute mile.
In golf we create these beliefs all of the time. I see this a lot when I am coaching golfers. They often say ‘I can’t play that hole or I can’t hit that club’, but this is simply not the case.
They would have played that hole well at times, but chose to focus on bad experiences instead. They would have hit that club well, but they chose to focus on bad shots they had with that club.
Another example is the circus elephant that is chained up. It is trained to have something around its foot and it believes that it cannot escape. After some time of conditioning the elephant owner only has to put a light rope around the elephant’s leg so it believes it cannot escape. As we all know, the elephant could easily break through the rope and escape to freedom but it doesn’t, because as I said before, it has been conditioned.
Train your brain to focus on success
In golf we need to focus on our successes just like Darren Clarke focused on Irish success – his mental golf training helped him do this. Of course this was not the only factor in his win, but it helped. He didn’t let negative thoughts enter his mind – and he did this very simply by focusing on positive thoughts.
Learn from your best performance
Here is a good mental golf training tip – next time you finish a round of golf cast your mind back to your three best shots and write them down in vivid detail.
Relive the shots and make them real in your mind. Also write down three things that you learned from your day out on the course. This is a great technique to help you move forward with your golf.
When you are faced with a similar shot next time you are playing, relive that great shot you played. As you build up more and more memories of the good shots you’ve played you’ll be able to recall great shots for almost every situation you find yourself in.
I am not suggesting you talk yourself into shots that are simply not achievable – you need to play within you own capabilities. But by focusing on positive shots you are far more likely to have a positive outcome, and you’ll enjoy your game a lot more as well!
In golf we have too much time to think – this can affect our emotional state
I’m sure you’ve felt some or all of these emotions on the golf course:
and probably many more…
The ‘problem’ with golf is that you have a lot of time to think about things between shots (which can make you even angrier) and your emotional state can have a huge affect on your golf swing. This is especially true when putting – the smallest change to your normal stroke can be the difference between holing a putt and missing a putt.
Take control of your emotions – test yourself now!
I have a quick test for you to prove that you can control your emotions. Simply SMILE for a few seconds and concentrate on how you feel. I’m not talking about a weedy little grimace – think of something that makes you really happy and REALLY SMILE.
How do you feel?
I’m sure you feel happy inside. The physical act of smiling releases endorphins that make you feel happy. In a similar way by thinking of the right things you can of course make yourself feel sad or worse still for golf – angry.
Outside factors can affect your emotions in golf such as what your competitors have done or getting an unlucky bounce, but I hope this simple test has proven how easy it is to control your own emotions.
The fundamental aim of mental golf coaching is to help you control your emotions
Hitting certain golf shots and thinking about them can affect your emotions. If you’ve just missed a short putt you are more likely to arrive at the next tee feeling frustrated or angry than happy! Having said that, positive emotions can have a bad impact on your golf too. If you’ve just made a birdie you often start thinking about winning the match. And this emotional state can of course have an impact on your next shot.
What should your emotional state be when you hit a golf shot?
The answer is simple – EMOTIONLESS. But it’s a difficult emotional state to achieve!
There is more than one way to breathe
You’re probably thinking ‘What does this have to do with controlling your emotional state?’ Stay with me and I will reveal all…
When you are born you naturally breathe with your belly. Most (or even all) of us transition to breathing with our chests as we grow. I say most… Some cultures in the Far East encourage children to continue belly breathing and for a good reason…
How do YOU breathe?
Here is another easy test to see how you normally breathe:
- Sit upright on a chair
- Place one hand on your stomach
- Close your eyes
- Breathe normally focusing on your hand
Does your hand go in and out as you breathe or up and down?
If it’s going in and out you are using your belly muscles to breathe – this is called ‘belly breathing’. If it’s going a little up and down then you are breathing through your chest – this is called ‘chest breathing’. If you are chest breathing it’s also likely that your shoulders are going up and down a little – far from ideal when trying to hole a crucial short putt.
If you’re still not sure how you breathe try standing in front of a mirror and breathe normally. If you see your shoulders going up and down a little then you are chest breathing.
Focusing on belly breathing to control your emotions
Focusing (and I mean REALLY FOCUS) on belly breathing will benefit you on the golf course in two important ways:
- Your emotional state will become neutral or ‘emotionless’
- Your shoulders will stop going up and down
Not only does this help when putting, but in all your golf shots when you need to control your emotions. Focus on your belly breathing just before you are about to start the stroke and keep focusing on it until you’ve completed your swing – including putts of course!
The aim of these mental coaching tips is to control your conscious mind and let your sub-conscious mind take-over. To do this you need to focus on something other than the actual task in hand – such as swinging a golf club!
Focusing on your breathing will really help you achieve this and at the same time help you control your emotions.
Ask yourself this question. What can I control on the golf course?
You must focus on what you can control. You cannot control the result. We can visualise our desired result, but we cannot control it. All we can do is perform the tasks that we can control to give us a good chance of producing the result we desire. It sounds like common sense when it is put like that, but when we get into the heat of intense competition we all feel the pressure in the same way McIlroy did to win the US Open.
When we get into the heat of battle we start to focus on what we cannot control
This includes the result or what the person watching us tee off is thinking or what our playing partners are thinking or the weather. These are just a few things we cannot control.
There are many things you can control, such as your routine or how committed you are to your shot or how committed you are to your decisions. Before you play, focus on something you can control and make sure you stay committed to that throughout your entire round. It is extremely difficult, because we all get dragged back into thinking about the result time after time.
I hear it time after time in sport. I have heard the English cricketer Kevin Pieterson talk about only concentrating on what he can control. I have heard Graham Henry the New Zealand All Blacks coach mention the same thing about his players in an interview. It is no mistake that these elite performers all have something in common. They think about what they can control and if they do that it means their chances of success increases whilst performing. I would urge you to do as they do.
I really hope this will help you perform better under all situations, but especially when emotions are running high or low. Let me know how you are getting on by leaving your comments below.