How to perfect your mental preparation before a round of golf
One of the many reasons that we all love golf so much is that it is such a complex game with so many factors to take into consideration. One slight change or improvement to your technique, or your golf equipment could be the key to bringing your handicap down.
Every avid golfer spends hours on the driving range working hard to improve their golf swing and stance, or on the practice greens to perfect their putting technique. They also play around with the combination of golf clubs in their bag, and experiment with new types of golf clubs, adjustable weights, new grips and shafts, and golf gadgets along the way. They may try playing with players that are better than them, worse than them or an even match, lose themselves in online golf tutorials, and may even seek lessons from a golfing professional.
But that’s all the physical side of things, and often the one thing that is neglected when golfers are looking to improve their game is the mental preparations that could make all the difference. As all golfers know, golf is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one, so it’s important to pay attention to ways to strengthen your resolve on the golf course. In fact, most of the world’s leading golf players don’t just work with a coach, but also with a sports psychologist to help them hit peak performance.
We can’t all afford a psychologist to accompany us on our rounds, but that’s not to say there aren’t things you can put in place to keep yourself as mentally fit as possible. So, this article is dedicated solely to ways of optimising your mental approach to golf. We’re going to share loads of tips and tricks with you that could be just what you need to improve your game. (PS… we’ve got a whole section in our blog that’s dedicated to other golf tips and tricks that you’ll love).
So, let’s get stuck in…
It’s easy to get carried away with the finer details of mental preparations for golf, but let’s face it, there are some basic things that we all need to do before we start drilling down into the more specific aspects. The main thing is that we look after ourselves properly, on and off the golf course. That means making sure you’re getting enough good-quality sleep, maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet and getting lots of different types of exercise to keep your body fit and alert.
Without these fundamentals, you’ll find it very hard to get into the right headspace to nail a game of golf. So, if you find that you are constantly fighting a ‘mind over matter’ battle on the golf course then perhaps it’s time to take it back to basics and make sure you’re meeting all your mind and body’s needs for good mental health.
Preparing for a round of golf
Your mental preparation starts long before you arrive at the golf course. Take the time to pack your car with everything that you might need including your golf clubs, golf bag and golf accessories. Do this well before you are due to leave, so that you’re not in a rush and can head off at your own speed. Don’t forget to pack suitable golf clothing that will stand up to different weather conditions - as we all know, it can be blowing a hoolie on the golf course one minute, and the next it’s blazing sunshine. Wear comfortable golf shoes, and remember a jumper, coat, sun visor, water bottle and a towel - all good things to carry with you, just in case!
Knowing that you are prepared for your round of golf can stop you from worrying about things along the way, so don’t neglect this as you get ready for a game.
Make your way to the golf course in good time, ensuring that you’re arriving well before your tee time. That will give you a chance to get settled, and maybe even to hit a few balls on the driving range or the practice putting green to warm up.
On the course
Clear any obvious distractions straight away - for example, make sure your phone is not just switched to silent, but that it is also off so you don’t feel it vibrating in your pocket. Take time to get accustomed to the climate and the scenery around you. Take a few big deep breaths in and out, and stand up straight with your shoulders back. You might even like to try a few gentle stretches too, just to limber up your mind and body.
Just like your body, your mind needs a gentle warm-up too. Focus on the course, noting any hazards that you can see ahead of you. You could even try a little visualisation, which is a technique that many professional golfers use. Simply close your eyes, and see yourself hitting a ball from the first tee. Picture the hole you’re aiming for, feel the club in your hand and imagine your ball flying high and landing right next to the hole - or even right in the hole if you’re feeling particularly optimistic!
Know what you’re aiming for
Yeah yeah… you’re aiming for the hole - but that’s not what we mean! What we are talking about when we say ‘know what you’re aiming for’ is goals, targets, objectives… whatever you want to call them. It’s a really good idea to go into your round of golf with a clear idea of what you want to achieve from it. Have a target score in mind, and keep this front and centre as you progress through the game.
Any goal should be a SMART one - that is, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. When you’re setting your objective, make sure it meets all these criteria. Too easy, and it won’t challenge you, but too difficult or unrealistic and you’ll likely leave the course unmotivated and disappointed.
Having a clear goal in mind throughout your game helps you work towards achieving it, which brings overall focus and clarity to your game (and stops your mind drifting off between shots, too!). Hopefully, when you finish your round and smash your goal, you’ll be buoyed with a new sense of confidence and progress. And we all know how great that feels.
Shake off the shakes
One of the most common reasons for the much-feared ‘shank shot’ is a shaky, nervous hand and/or sweaty palms. (And if you don’t know what a shank shot is, check out our guide to golfing jargon and terminology).
Getting rid of the shakes is no mean feat once they set in, but breathing is key. Whenever we are anxious on or off the course, our breathing quickens and becomes more shallow, which in turn speeds up our heart rate. Maintaining a steady, normal breathing pattern even when the stakes are high is one of the most important things you can do to avoid the trembles kicking in.
Remember that nervousness and excitement are two different emotions that feel very similar, so if you feel the nerves kicking in, tell yourself that you’re not nervous, you’re excited. Reframing the feeling (both physically and mentally) is a great way to rationalise your thoughts and maintain equilibrium.
Listen to your body
Yes, this article is all about the mind, but your body and mind are so inextricably linked that it’s still important to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you feel anxiety creeping in, take it as a sure sign that you need to take action to calm yourself down.
We talked about reframing nerves so that you treat them as excitement instead of anxiety, but there are a lot of other ways you can use reframing to change your perspective and strengthen your mental mettle. Positive thoughts and affirmations can go a long way towards making you feel calmer and more together, so pay attention to your thoughts and try to reverse negative ones into positive ones. For example, if you’re thinking, ‘I already know I’m going to miss this shot’, then you probably will. Instead, try reversing your thinking so that you tell yourself, ‘I know this is an ambitious shot but I know I can do it’. This can be a very powerful technique for getting yourself into the right mindset to smash your golfing goals - try it out!
Stay in the moment
As with all things in life, you can’t change the past, and you can’t predict the future either. It’s a common problem for golfers to be thinking so hard about the previous shots that they’ve taken that they fail to focus on the one they are taking right now. So, whether your last shot was an absolute belter or a complete failure, let it go and focus on the here and now. Equally, don’t let your mind fast-forward to upcoming holes on the course and how you’re going to tackle them. Stay present, in the here and now, being mindful and paying attention to the moment that you’re in.
Always see the game through
If you’re playing a shocker of a round, it’s easy to become tempted to submit a ‘no-return’, and abandon your game. Don’t do it - see the round through no matter what, because there are always things to be learned and practised. Giving up halfway round will only add to your disappointment, and you never know, you might even be able to claw it back! Completing the round even when you were tempted to pack it in will still leave you with a sense of satisfaction, even if your score isn’t anything to write home about!
Routine is everything
When it comes to preparing for a round of golf, mental preparation is everything - so get into a routine. It looks different for every player, but perhaps your pre-round routine could look a little something like this:
- 5 minutes of focused breathing, deep from your diaphragm
- A mental body scan, paying attention to any areas that feel painful or tense. Consciously relax your shoulders, jaw, or anywhere else that feels tight.
- Practising regular gratitude has been shown to improve overall mental health and positivity. Name something you’re grateful for, such as the nice weather, or the fact that you have prioritised your health and wellbeing.
- Perform some visualisations - again this is different for everyone, but it can be you lining up a shot, carrying out the perfect swing or just hitting the ball squarely off a tee with that satisfying ‘ting’ that says you’ve played a blinder. Perhaps it’s even more ambitious - for example, you hitting a hole-in-one, or holding up a trophy, or even just completing a round. Whatever works for you is fine!
It can also be useful to have a song that you really love playing while you carry out your mental preparations - make sure it’s positive and upbeat and puts you in a good frame of mind. Having these little routines in place can be very helpful when you’re feeling nervous or anxious as you can just get stuck into your routine without thinking about it too much. These little go-to habits can transform your game, so they’re well worth putting some thought, time and effort into.
Have confidence in your equipment
Whether you’re playing with brand-new or second hand golf clubs, you’ll feel more confident on the course if you know that they have been well-maintained. Looking after your golf clubs is an important part of preparing mentally for a game, so take time to give them a little TLC before you head out. When you know you’re playing with good-quality, well-maintained golf clubs you’ll exude confidence on the course (and if you feel like treating yourself to a new-to-you driver, iron or putter to give yourself an extra boost… well, who are we to judge?!).
So then, that’s all our top ways to prepare yourself mentally for your golf game. What have we missed? All golfers have different tips and tricks, routines, mottos and even superstitions when they’re preparing themselves mentally for a game of golf. What’s your secret? Let us know!