It always seems that when we hear a golfer talk about playing well they will sometimes say that they were “in the zone.” Sadly for me I can honestly say that when it comes to golf I have never been, “in the zone.” I think if there were a zone, for me to get in over the course of the 4+ hours it takes to play golf, I doubt I could stay in that zone for all 18 holes. This likely explains why I am such a lousy golfer.
We hear this description as sometimes an athlete describing the game slowing down so that they could see each action sometimes before it even happened. Or we often hear it described as the athlete getting out of their own way. I have heard golfers explaining that they could see the line of the putt before they hit it. Whatever your description, the funny thing about golf is that it rarely lasts for long. We may be able to play a few weeks or a few months well but that bad round is out there waiting for us on the horizon. We all know it. I heard it described by a friend of mine as “when you are playing bad you think it is never going to end, and when you are playing well you are just waiting for it to end.”Certainly golf has an enormous mental component. In most sports you can rely on your instincts of reaction. In baseball you react to when the ball is thrown, in basketball you look at the hoop and shoot. In golf the ball just sits there, and there is a bunch of time to think about the shot you are about to hit. It is my feeling that golf requires as much if not more mental focus than any sport out there.
I recently played in a three-day tournament. The first two days I played really well. I was making good decisions, going through my mental process for each shot, and nothing felt rushed. On the last day we were in contention and even though the pace of play was slower than the first two days, I felt rushed most of the day. I was not going through the process I followed the first two days and I played pretty poorly. It was not my swing; it was purely a mental thing.
After this I started researching what is out there for the mental side of the game. Wading through the information on the mental side of golf is not very easy. Many people suggested the Bob Rotella books. While I like what he has to say, I am not sure it is all that helpful in getting me into the zone or getting me to play better. In fact some of what he says I disagree with; I think he is a bit too caught up in hitting the wedges tight to the hole and feeling lukewarm about your long irons.
I researched GOLF54 and read their book “Every Shot Must Have a Purpose” but I’ll be honest and say that I never finished it. The book was too convoluted with sections that were unnecessary or weren’t terribly helpful. Again I like some of the concepts but the book was not all that well written which may or may not be their fault. I studied a few more including “Zen Golf” and “Fearless Golf,” but I don’t feel that many of them are going to help me coming down the stretch of a golf tournament as I want.
After all of this, the thing that has helped me the most is the simple concept that the ball does not care how I feel. The physics of the club impacting the ball has little to do with what I had for lunch or my mental approach. This way I understand that if I make a good swing the ball will do what I want and the rest will take care of itself. I still believe in what most of the mind gurus say about staying in the moment. It is so easy when you are on the golf course on the 15th to start thinking about what you are going to tell your buddies about how you played, or see yourself holding the trophy. I think one has to try their best to avoid that. But even still with that, all that matters is the club head and the ball.
I don’t mean to downplay the mental side of the game. Many of the guys on tour rave about the help they have gotten from mental coaches. Guys like Davis Love III has stated many times about how Dr. Rotella saved his career along with many others. I think the key is finding out what works for you.
I think that most anyone who has played in tournament golf has likely peaked into what is out there on the mental side of golf instruction. I would like to hear from each of you what your experience was, what worked what didn’t. I think this is a bit of an open space right now.
Photo credits: © Sam Greenwood.