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Improving your Mental Game


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This topic exists for those of you looking to turn your 76s into 73s because of a mental lapse or two along the way, or for those of you who choke in competitions, or those of you looking to gain just a bit more of the small edge that a great mental game can provide on top of your physical skills.

I probably won't have much to contribute to this topic. I feel I play better under pressure. I don't even get too nervous.

But, since nobody took this ball and ran with it in the other topic, here's a topic specifically about improving your mental game, so that the 5% or whatever it contributes to your performance is not so often in the negative direction, and can be applied positively. :-)

Even if you're an extreme outlier with the yips or something, this topic/discussion is for you.

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Subscribing. Very interested to hear what people have to say on this one. Especially people who had issues and got to grips with them. Or any books that people have read to help with this stuff.

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Something Harvey Penick said, "Take dead aim."  From his Little Red Book, this quote isn't just talking about aiming.  It's talking about zoning in on the shot.  Take out everything, from trees to spectators to hazards.  Focus only on that shot once you step up to the ball.  Don't worry about the last shots or what you have to do after the one you're about to hit. 

You also have to learn to accept your faults and strengths when you play.  Acceptance is one of the first steps before you can improve and play better.  Accept what score you have.  Doesn't mean you can't try to make birdie.  It just means that whether you're playing lights out or crappy, accept it, move on, and "Take dead aim."

One other thing regarding pre-shot routines.  If you set up to the ball and something feels amiss, STEP BACK and re-set.  So long as your routine isn't a minute long, no one really cares when you have to re-set.  I've definitely had shots where I felt myself try to adjust something mid-swing because my set up was aimed slightly right of where I wanted, but I hit anyway.  It may only happen one time a round, if that, but it's super annoying when it happens.  Just re-set.

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- I think it's good to keep in mind that being nervous isn't necessarily a bad thing. Pros get nervous all the time and still perform extremely well. We've all hit great shots under pressure and hit horrible shots with nothing on the line.

- I don't know if this is true for everyone but typically my first inclination on what to do for a shot is the correct one. So if you do second guess yourself try sticking with the original plan.

- If I don't like the way a certain shot looks/feel uncomfortable I'll just pretend I'm making a stock swing on the range.

- One part of the mental game I struggle with is letting my eyes create doubt when reading putts. So kind of like the second one above, stick with the original read because I know it's more correct than what my eyes might be telling me.

- Don't get seduced by where the pin is. Center of the green is rarely a bad thing.

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There seems to be a lot of interest in either two sets of books on the mental game -- meaning they are probably the largest selling books in this category regarding golf.   You can read all the Bob Rotella books or those by Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott of Vision54.   The later set of books and coaches seem to be much more visible now.... and particularly with LPGA players.

Any thoughts on comparing and contrasting their two approaches?

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54 minutes ago, mvmac said:

- I think it's good to keep in mind that being nervous isn't necessarily a bad thing. Pros get nervous all the time and still perform extremely well. We've all hit great shots under pressure and hit horrible shots with nothing on the line.

I agree entirely. It's very easy on the range to just dismiss a shot that doesn't go where you want it to. Rake another ball over and hit it again. I also find that I've played some of my best golf when I've been nervous. I've played before where I couldn't swallow I was so nervous. My mouth was dry and I drank a bottle of water and my mouth was instantly dry again afterwards. That was a match I played at university in the quarter finals of the British Universities knock out. I was 1 up playing the 18th and the match was otherwise even, so it was on me. I wound up winning my match and we made it to the semis.

Also, one of the better rounds I've played in the last couple of years I walked on the range beforehand and I was warming up with my 6 iron. Going through my routine on each one. I was aiming at a green on the range and I missed it about 10 times in a row. Left and right. I think it lowered my expectations for the day and I wound up playing really well once I got out on the course. I made double on 17 and missed qualifying (US Mid-Am qualifier) by a couple of shots. The day was about 95 degrees and humid and I was exhausted, which is where the double came from. I couldn't play in the tournament anyway so I didn't mind missing.

One thing that I have found helpful is accepting that my shots are going to wind up in a shotgun pattern. I'm not shooting a rifle. I just have to aim in the spot that minimizes my expected score and then let the ball finish up where it may. I have found that takes a lot of pressure off. Expecting perfection is the enemy of many a potentially good round. Now I need to convince myself that that ideal aimpoint may occasionally result in a ball going OB or in water. And that's okay if it means more are in the fairway and in good shape rather than in bunkers or trees on the "safe" side.

The thing that gets to me though is in matchplay, when I'm playing against someone I know, either because I know them personally or by reputation. If I think that they are better than me, I seem to be good at finding ways to prove it. Even if I'm playing really well and beating them, even comfortably, I'll start to fritter stupid shots. And I wind up in a dogfight that I shouldn't be in. I'd love to be able to bottle up that feeling and then throw that bottle into the deepest darkest ocean trench on the planet. I think it's especially painful that no one else ever seems to go through the same self doubt that I do. I didn't used to have this be a part of me. I'm not sure when it started. The strange thing is if I'm playing someone who is a lot better than me, I think I have a good chance to win (or better than I really do anyway). If I'm playing someone who is a shot or two better than me, I'll lose more than I should. If I'm playing someone who is five shots better than me I think I'll win more than I should. I think that's partly to do with my thought process. On the latter my thought process goes along the lines of "wow, this is awesome, I can beat this guy and what a scalp that will be". On the former it's more like "he's better than me. I should be losing, but I'm not. Time to right the ship" I never actually voice the last bit, but it's in there. I can feel it.

Last thing I want to say - when I was 16 (a long time ago now), I was playing in a junior knockout in February. It was about the third round and it was handicap. Playing the 10th hole, which is the number 2 handicap hole. Long par four dogleg to the right. I had missed the fairway and my second wound up about 70 yards short of the green in the left semi. I hit it on the green 30 feet away from the hole and a feeling came over me of absolute certainty that I was going to hole the putt. I knew it was going in, to the same extent that I knew I was on a golf course. It wasn't "oo, I feel good about this". It was an absolute. Ball was bouncing around all over the place on the way to the hole and it went right in the middle. I haven't had that feeling either before or since that one moment. That's one I wish I could have on tap.

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13 minutes ago, Ty_Webb said:

Now I need to convince myself that that ideal aimpoint may occasionally result in a ball going OB or in water. And that's okay if it means more are in the fairway and in good shape rather than in bunkers or trees on the "safe" side.

Slightly off topic, but...This confuses me. Shouldn't these statements be reversed? That your ideal aimpoint may occasionally result in bunkers or trees  plus fairways rather than in OB or water?

In my experience, even being in the trees (I'm there alot :whistle:) almost always I can advance the ball forward towards the hole to some degree. Rarely do I have to chip straight out sideways. I would rather be in the trees off the tee compared to in the water or OB off the tee.

Lets say there's a bunker along the left and water along the right of a green. hitting a lofted iron, maybe 8 or 9 iron perhaps into the green for my approach shot. I'd rather miss in the bunker than in the water. Up and down from the bunker gets me a 4. Out and 2 putt from the bunker gets me a 5. Up and down from a drop zone gets me 5, On and 2 putt from the drop zone gets me a 6. I would think that you'd want to aim far enough left that the water is entirely out of your shot zone.

Edited by klineka
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49 minutes ago, klineka said:

Slightly off topic, but...This confuses me. Shouldn't these statements be reversed? That your ideal aimpoint may occasionally result in bunkers or trees  plus fairways rather than in OB or water?

In my experience, even being in the trees (I'm there alot :whistle:) almost always I can advance the ball forward towards the hole to some degree. Rarely do I have to chip straight out sideways. I would rather be in the trees off the tee compared to in the water or OB off the tee.

Lets say there's a bunker along the left and water along the right of a green. hitting a lofted iron, maybe 8 or 9 iron perhaps into the green for my approach shot. I'd rather miss in the bunker than in the water. Up and down from the bunker gets me a 4. Out and 2 putt from the bunker gets me a 5. Up and down from a drop zone gets me 5, On and 2 putt from the drop zone gets me a 6. I would think that you'd want to aim far enough left that the water is entirely out of your shot zone.

If you have a 2% shot (so 1 in 50) that goes 20 yards right of your target, then aiming 21 yards left of the water may see too many balls in the bunker. The 6 2% of the time is worth removing 10% of your 5s. Aiming at the bunker would generally not be in your best interests. 50% in the bunker plus 50% on the green will likely give you around a 4.4 scoring average. 30% in the bunker, 65% on the green and 5% in the water might give you a 4.3 scoring average (assuming your bunker play isn’t very good). In that situation bringing the odd water ball into play will improve your scores. 

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I've always tried to maintain a sense of decorum on the golf course: no cursing, tantrums, etc...just accept what happens and move along.  Lately, however, I've begun to understand that I am sometimes really angry with myself.  It is necessary to be aware of that.  One poor pass needn't result in another; but often can if one does not accept that the brain is a bit scrambled on occasion.  Bad memories linger...until replaced by better ones.

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@klineka, it's about your average lowest score, not avoiding an occasional OB at all costs.

Put another way… sometimes you've gotta step up and hit a shot, not chip your ball down the hole with an 8-iron.

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4 hours ago, mvmac said:

- Don't get seduced by where the pin is. Center of the green is rarely a bad thing.

Along these same lines, I think that old cliche that goes something like hit aggressive shots to conservative targets is a good one for me in some particular instances.  Often times when the shot is hindered by something - a tree, bunker lip, etc - I will choose a smart punch out but then not fully commit to it and allow myself to do something risky to try and get it just a little closer.  This lack of commitment or focus leads to a poor shot that costs me a stroke or more.

Another type of shot that is easy to get lazy on and lose focus is an iron layup on a par 5.  Even though "anywhere" in the fairway is going to be OK, if that is your mentality when hitting the shot then it will be easier to miss the "target" because you're not focused enough.  Pick the smallest target you can possibly find, and you might end up with smaller misses.

Commit to each shot fully.

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My only tips (for now):

  • Figure out what kind of golfer you are and embrace that.
  • Realize that, whether you win or lose or hit a good shot or a bad shot, it's just a game, and will likely not change your life one little bit regardless of the outcome.
  • Embrace pressure. Or "enjoy pressure." Same general idea.
  • Fake it until you make it. The mind responds to your physiology. Smile, even if it's faked. Learn to control your breathing, even if it's faked/forced.
  • Fall back on the simple concepts in LSW.
  • Trust your instincts.

That's all (I think) I've got.

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If you want to improve anything you need practice.  That goes for mental game like anything.

Mental game to me boils down to concentration when it’s needed.  Strategy in golf yeah that’s a very small part imo.  That’s pre shot and is for the most part very simple.

I made the mistake of practicing so hard on mechanics that I was conditioning myself to act mechanically.  I think that if you are working on mechanics you need that but it needs to be balanced.  Swing change is very very hard on the mind if you are trying to play through it.  Feels will be different...It’s very difficult.

Nerves...To me that’s a matter of putting yourself into situations that make you nervous as often as possible so that you acclimate.  Odds are they will always be there but if you have practiced concentration you start to find that stress and nerves exist to make your senses and focus sharper.  If you practice you may find that you can only play your very best with some of that.

Everyones mind has a little bit different belief systems related to their game and golf itself.  IMO many hold the mistaken belief that score equals mechanics or mechanical quality equals skill.

Ultimately the goal is hitting predictable shots.  They don’t need to be anything except predictable.  People’s talent varies widely.  

I think the biggest mistake I see widespread across internet golfers is that so many seem to spend a large majority of time on say mechanical range practice and hold the belief that their own mechanics are hopelessly flawed and that changing things will make it all better that they become unable to let go in the moment and focus fully on hitting the shots needed and scoring.  You don’t need high one yard draws every shot.

Imo the best thing is practice as you play if you are a practicer and working on the mental side.  I know everyone here will totally disagree but odds are I have a lot more competition experience in sport than most.  I’ll say it again,  concentration has many levels,  it is not a thing where you are or you are not.  If you do not practice it well and condition yourself to have higher odds of getting peak experiences through golf or any medium you will never have a clue what I mean.

If you condition yourself to be self conscious then self conscious will you be!

I wanted to add a brief link here because let’s face it in extreme sport it’s concentrate or get hurt.

They call it flow state and all now,  but to me it’s a depth of concentration and frankly in golf it’s not easily attainable if you are stuck in mechanics mode and self conscious forced movements

 

 

 

Edited by Jack Watson
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I kind of look at my own mental aspect in my game as also being educated about what pops up in front of me. What decisions I have to make to advance my next shot. Also knowing what I did wrong, when my last shot puts me in a bad spot. 

After that, it's having patience with my game. My patience has won me quite a few fun, tight matches over the years. Let the other guy(s) make more mistakes. Of course, I have lost some close rounds too. 

Quite a few of my best scoring rounds have been those that I just went out, and swung the club, with out much thought about my swing. Other decent scores have come while grinding it out. There are also those days where my game was not up to (my) par. I just grin about those scores, and move on. 

I have never been the type of golfer who feels pressure, or gets nervous while on the golf course. I'm the guy on the first tee, with a bunch of "scratch" strangers, who loves hitting first. It's a game. Games are fun. I'm quite comfortable with my game, what ever it is that day. 

Edited by Patch
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Expectations are a big thing. Most people have to high of an expectation for their golf game.

How a person reacts is based on that individual. Some do well when they get angry, they get more focused. Some do not. Some do well under pressure. Some do not. It's about realizing what works best and focusing on not letting it negatively effect their game.

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One tip I picked up (maybe from Zen Golf?) was recording your "Anyways" shots. An "Anyways" is any shot you take where you say in your head "I'll just hit this anyways". Like "I should really go back to the bag and get my 8,  but I have my 9 iron, I'll just hit it anyways". Or "I really feel uncomfortable over the ball but I don't want to reset, I'll just hit it anyways".  I usually have a few of those shots a round and they never turn out well. Not sure why it's so hard to stop and do what you know you should do. 

The key is to be aware that you're doing it. After each shot, ask yourself if it was an "Anyways". On your scorecard, put a tick mark every time you have an "Anyways". Just doing this will make you more aware of when you do it. Which in turn will help you eliminate this issue. 

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14 hours ago, Jack Watson said:

I wanted to add a brief link here because let’s face it in extreme sport it’s concentrate or get hurt.

They call it flow state and all now,  but to me it’s a depth of concentration and frankly in golf it’s not easily attainable if you are stuck in mechanics mode and self conscious forced movements

I've been jumping and competing in skydiving for 30 years.  Frankly, the Red Bull guys come across as tools most of the time because they seem required to oversell the risk aspect of the hobby (they are selling a cliche image).  Though most are excellent performers FWIW.

Kind of a crappy ego stroking interview.  The below was the standard for years and years used by world champ teams.  Doc Rosalia actually had some good stuff.

2018-01-30 10_33_37-Amazon.com_ Mental Training for Skydiving and Life (9780970776303)_ John DeRosal.jpg

But it's hard to transpose the mental training of competitive skydiving (where 95% of the results come from preparation, visualization, etc) and execution was a team effort that needed to be automatic) vs golf where you have all the time in the world to get composed.  Even there, once we had realistic trainers (iFly, Skyventure) where we could spend more time practicing instead of visualizing, that's when the best of the best seriously started to score as never before and the focus moved more towards practice.

Golf is not a 'race' type of event, so the mental preps are very different.  In skydiving, mentally I need to be so relaxed in a way that time just crawls by (hyper focused due to extremely LOW arousal levels - we actually track our arousal levels and calibrate vs peak performance).  In golf, I get my best physical performance when mentally I'm a bit distracted from the effort in front of me (in other words - i have to get my head OUT of the game).  The mental aspects are almost polar opposites.

I'd say in general, if you want similarities instead of differences, a calm mental state is required, but applied differently - in that the mental training is visualization of the physical act, belief that this is reality, and then executing the physical as a machine when that's all processed.  Yes it has to be practiced.  I don't try to separate mental from physical - that's silly.  But I do consider mental to be a 'subset' of the physical result - a contributor, not a separate item.  And the better we get, the more automatic and invisible the mental part becomes.  As it should.

 

Maybe in golf it's worth tracking arousal levels also - record a round and estimate on a scale of 1-10 what level of stimulation one it at.  And then correlate that to performance.  Then try to be at whatever level appears to give best results....(I don't think this would pay off in golf as much......too many other factors skewing the analysis....)

 

Edited by rehmwa
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Frustration  - it doesn't alway cause poor results, but I'll often get to the point where I know the round won't be very good and I settle down and play to my ability - which is really all I want to do. I'm not sure how to improve this area but I'm working on it. In addition to helping me drop a few strokes, being able to keep the high expectations certainly makes the game more enjoyable.

1. Just accept the poor shots and enjoy the good ones. There are plenty of both.

2. Remember it's just a (difficult) game. Getting super-pissed isn't going to do anything.

 

Confidence - this plays a big role for me in the mental game. If I'm confident with a particular part of my game, it's easier to commit to the shot. I know that's kind of a cliché, but I think there's some truth to it. Club head speed matters for even short hitters like me. Trying to slow everything down and play too conservative never seems to help my score.

1. Maybe take a few more chances and accept the worst scenario beforehand. Maybe that would help eliminate or reduce any apprehension during my swing. Even if it does nothing for my mental game, it makes for good practice on the course. (How many penalties on one shot do you incur before switching to an easier club or shot?)

 

Focus - kind of the opposite of the previous issues is being so relaxed that I fail to put the right amount of thought into the shot. Such as, what normally bites me on this type of chip, for example. It's not common, but rushing an easy shot does happen.

1. While I put a fair amount of thought into the type of shot (target, club, following shot, etc.), I don't do much in the way of a pre-shot routine. Maybe it's time to start.

2. Don't get over-confident when things are going well. Stay sharp, or at least even-keeled.

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