I recently played a round by myself at a beautiful mountain course in Kimberley, British Columbia, Canada. Mostly we play golf with friends or pleasant strangers but on this day, the course was quiet and I pretty much had it to myself. I was still nervous on the first tee – old habits die hard, I guess – but after that I was able to focus on my swing and think about my game better than I had done in months. Moreover, I think it was a much better practice session than I would have had working on my game at the range.
Are you “in the zone”?
There are many websites (just Google: mental, golf) and several good books that discuss the mental aspects of the game of golf. A couple of books I have looked at recently are: The Inner Game of Golf by W. Timothy Gallwey and Zen Golf : Mastering the Mental Game by Dr. Joseph Parent. These books have a lot of messages in common such as: “Stay in the moment” or “Don’t let negative or conflicting thoughts creep into your mind.” They remind us of what we all know and yet find so frustrating: we are capable of producing fine shots but we don’t do it all the time because we keep getting in our own way.
I am sure you have experienced overthinking a shot, trying to steer it rather than trusting your swing, having too many swing thoughts, not feeling confident about your club selection but swinging anyway, or thinking about the score and how important the outcome of a particular shot is rather than focusing on the shot itself.
Playing alone gives you the chance to quiet many of these mental demons because they seem less present when no one is watching and the pressure is off. I tried breathing deeply as I lined up long shots, thinking only about what my senses were experiencing – the feel of the club head, the breeze, my lie, the target, even a visualization of what the shot should look like. Having this level of focus seems impossible in the rush of a normal game and ironically it seems irrelevant at the range where so many of us play great.
Does it work?
The results were interesting… I played about seven shots better than I normally do and most importantly finished in less than three hours. Preparing myself better for each shot didn’t mean taking longer to hit it. Keeping the ball in the fairway helped my speed of play, too.
Having the physical skills of a guy like Dustin Johnson would be wonderful but it isn’t in the cards for most of us. No matter what equipment we buy, we will never hit it as far as the pros do. The body shape of many Champions Tour players reminds us however, that great golfers are not necessarily all built like Camilo Villegas (and most of these guys never were built like him in their prime either!). Getting the best out of our own physiques is where the mental aspects of this great game come into play. I wonder how much more we would enjoy our rounds and how much better we would play if we spent a fraction of our practice time improving our mental game rather than trying to compel our bodies to hit 300-yarders at the range?
I would encourage you to go to the library or bookstore and give these “mental” books a chance. If you feel odd trying the techniques out in public, do what I did and find a time when you can test them solo on the course. It is worth the effort.
We always enjoy your comments so if you have a particular focusing tip that works for you, let us know.