Golf Mental Training

By Brian Hill

Golf presents a mental challenge as well as a physical one. Hitting a bad shot is embarrassing, and the fear of failure is something all golfers--from PGA Tour pros competing in major events to amateurs playing a Saturday round with their buddies--must cope with. Golfers must learn proper swing technique and train their minds to focus on positive results--and block out fears--in order to realize their potential for good scores.

Learning to Relax

A golfer’s nerves are put to the test right away when the round begins, and they feel “first-tee jitters.” As anxiety builds, golfers hurry their swing off the first tee, usually with poor results.

The first step to coping with this anxiety is to realize it is universal and normal. Stage actors and other performers learn to make use of the nervous energy that pre-show anxiety produces to deliver their best, most focused performance.

For golfers, one good technique is to deliberately perform all tasks as slowly as possible, from walking to the first tee, to taking the driver out of the bag, to addressing the ball. Taking slow, deep breaths also can lessen the effect of the jitters.


Top golfers know the first step to hitting the ideal shot is imagining what that shot looks like--the path it will take to the target. When a pro takes a practice swing, he is designing the ideal swing he wants to use on the actual shot.

Throughout his illustrious career, Jack Nicklaus has employed a method he calls “going to the movies,” as he explains in his book “My Golden Lessons.”

Nicklaus imagines the ball reaching the target, then works backward and envisions the ball in flight to the target, then imagines the set up and swing required to produce the desired result. When he is ready to swing, his mind has trained his muscles what to do.

Focusing on Smaller Targets

Game improvement requires developing better accuracy--hitting shots that are more precise. In the book “Breaking 100, 90, 80,” golf instructor Janet Coles suggests that players learn to focus on ever smaller targets as a method for improving accuracy.

If the fairway is wide, imagine it as being just a narrow strip and aim for that area. This discipline also helps you focus on the target, not the bunkers, trees, or water hazards on the hole.

Forgetting the Bad, Remembering the Good

Better players learn to quickly forget a bad shot or a bad hole. Walter Hagen, legendary golfer of the 1920s, taught himself to accept the fact he was going to hit a certain number of poor shots. He expected them, and did not overreact when they occurred.

When you hit a particularly good shot, file that memory away to recall when you are faced with a shot that you are worried about, such as long iron shot over a pond. Your previous success can help you build confidence.

Starting Fresh

Divide the 18-hole round into six segments of three holes. If you score poorly on one segment, tell yourself that the bad patch is over and you have a fresh opportunity to play better on the next three holes. The same technique applies when you play a bad front 9. Treat the second 9 holes as a brand new match.

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