The Mental Side

Going low …

Do you think it is a comfort zone issue? Do you feel nervous if you find yourself suddenly playing better than you think you should?
Do you feel some kind of choke factor?

How often are you 1 under after 6?
Let’s say you do this one in 5 rounds.

It could just be statistical probability.

if it’s a 1 in 5 you are one under after 6 and then another 1 in 5 you would do that again for the next 6 holes, then again to finish the round… that’s (1 in 5) times (3) or 20% times 3.
then really the odds of you posting a round of 3 under par would be about .8% odds in Vegas! lol… just under one in a hundred rounds.

I might speculate this could be the Dave Pelz argument. The mathematician, statistician’s look at it.

For me, I try to remind myself, that no matter how many under I am at any given time, THE BALL HAS NO IDEA! The physics don’t change because I just birdied the last three…

Of course if you are a mystically inclined, and believe in telekinesis energy fields and this sort of thing, then we could really be having another conversation about golf as the great spiritual discipline that could rival any martial art or yogi practice.

As your swing gets truer and more precise based on law… and putting as well… so will your scores.

Relax, keep making good swings, rolling good well struck putts,
and your days will come.

We all seem to have a comfort zone… with scores we are comfortable shooting. When we find ourselves outside of that comfort zone, we tend to push ourselves back into what is familiar. I think this has to do with our self image, and probably goes pretty deep into the world of psychology. When we are playing out of our minds, we tend to make bad swings to get us back in the comfort zone, then again, if we are playing horrible, sometimes we start playing better because we have finally surrendered to our “badness”, “it just can’t get any worse!” so we
find ourselves a bit more “to hell with it” and relax and just start to let go and often find ourselves making better swings than in those moments of uncontrolled frustration.

Here is something I like to think about if I start to feel I’m playing “too good”.

  1. The ball has no idea how many under par I am. The laws of physics are not going to change because I just birdied three in a row.

  2. Focus on making a good swing. This sounds obvious, but sometimes you have to “trick the brain”. If I start to feel nervous,
    the conversation in my head might go like this…

John, apparently you have decided it’s time to hit some bad shots after all these good ones… ok… I’m fine with that… there is a hazard right of the green, let’s just quit on it and put it in the hazard.

Now what I have essentially done is surrendered to the fact I am going to hit a bad shot… I have accepted the fact that I am going to make a bad swing and blow the shot, my round, whatever…
amazingly, I feel a bit relieved, even though I haven’t hit the shot yet.
Now there are two things I can do… one, I can just say, “we’ll since I know I am going to hit a crap shot here, I might as well just let go and try to make a good swing, because if I do what I am feeling, it certainly will be a bad shot… so let’s just make a good swing, because anything I do will be better than what I feel I am going to do thinking like this…

Another trick is to think about the hazard right of the green, concentrate on it… I mean your mind is going there anyway right?
So when I make my swing, I just focus on hitting it into the hazard, but right at impact, I switch the hazard to LEFT of the pin instead… inside my mind…

I have really pulled myself out of some brain freezes over the years with this one… by confusing the brain, you keep it busy… you fully accept the bad before it happens, then throw it a curve at the last second to neutralize the lopsidedness of the thought process…
In this case, two negatives make a positive. The Hazard right suddenly becomes the Hazard left… the brain often will split the difference.

It is rare that I use this technique, but in an extreme case of self doubt, I will do it…

For the most part I think of three things…

  1. Pick my target and shot shape…
  2. Visualize and feel the shot in the mind
  3. Commit then Execute
  4. Live with the results

Each of these could easily be 4 different chapters in a book… but it doesn’t really need to be that complicated.

Committing to the shot shouldn’t be that tough is you truly are able to live with the results…

One of my greatest lessons came at the New Zealand Open. I heard the starter announce Sandy Lyle to the first tee… he was playing in the group in front of mine… so I walked over from the putting green to watch him tee off, he had recently won the Masters… Sandy gets up and cold tops the ball off the tee… I mean it literally traveled less than 50 yards… just past the women’s tee box.
I watched him hit his second from the rough before the fairway even started. When I finished my round for the day and posted a respectable 72, I walked over to the scoreboard to have a look, and I saw Sandy had shot a 68…yep, with a bogey on the first.

I don’t think in my entire career I have ever topped a shot off the first tee… and I have never won a major, let alone several! If I get nervous on the tee, all I have to do is think about Sandy’s topped drive, and it reminds me how vulnerable we are as golfers, regardless of our skill level. I usually crack a smile, and then just think, let’s do better than Sandy did… and I usually do! lol

But back to commitment,
If it’s a full shot, I pull the club, take two looks at the target and hit it.
I try to let my mind go blank… or I might repeat something like “ball-target” several times, the last time “ball” starts the backswing
and “target” will be impact… just don’t let yourself spend too much time over it… unless you have great mind control.

I have always admired the guys that make it look easy.
In 87 SA Open I was paired with Bob Shearer and David Graham in the final round.
Bob would take no time over it at all, just step up, waggle a time or two and smack… David Graham was the polar opposite, he would make golf look like Chinese water torture…! I guess he came out of the Nicklaus school of golf surgery…. but I really loved the way Shearer played and his carefree relaxed “this is easy” look. Clearly he didn’t want to give his mind too much time to think about things.

I was playing with Jackie Nicklaus Jr one time, and he told me the story about his dad winning the Masters… Jackie was caddying for pop when they came to #10 at Augusta, and Jackie of course handed dad the driver, and Jack handed it back, and said, “let’s stay AGRESSIVE, give me the 3 wood”.

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Mental side of Golf- where to begin?

What makes one particular shot more important than another?..the answer should be nothing.

A scorecard has 18 slots for 18 scores and it doesn’t rank them in order of importance. They are all equally important.

So why does one shot take on more importance than another? …mindset-- expectation–pressure to perform–playing partners-- ego–ease of shot–toughness of shot–score–position in event–for par or birdie–

If we can master the fact that each shot is of equal importance and they all add up to one shot in the grand scale of things- it should all become a little easier to make a score and just add them up at the end

The great golfers have a QUIET mind-
There is always a lot of chatter going on in our heads- we just don’t need to listen to it all.
The ability to let all those thoughts and demons playing in our head just go through their motions is the goal. It’s easier said than done.

I always thought concentrating on something else was great. I mean how can you go out for 5 hours and put 100% brain power into the game of golf… If you shoot a score of 80, you probably only spend a total of 5-8 minutes actually addressing and hitting a shot, so what do you do for the other 4 hours and 55 minutes?
I don’t think you can think golf, golf, golf for that long at a time… and if you do it is probably detrimental to your golf game

Trevino talked his head off on the way around the course to keep his mind diverted- but when it was time to hit- his mind was ready. He did the surveying, chose the club, hit the switch and off he went. No wasted energy on things that MAY or MAY NOT even happen.
Try something crazy next time you are on the course-
Look at the trees as you walk or stand around and trace their outline in your mind like you are drawing a picture of the tree in your head ( I bet you have no pre conceived ideas about your next shot while doing that).
Try to sing a song or recite a book in your head while you are walking around ( I bet you will not be grinding on the next shot or thought until the time comes)
Try concentrating on your navel and do some nice long breaths— anything to get away from the task at hand for a moment.

If you have ever hit a shot to a green and missed the green- how often do you stick the club back in your bag and worry and fret and think about how hard this next shot is/will be etc etc all the way up to where your ball lies and by the time you get there you are already frazzled and giving yourself little chance to execute
That is wasted energy- the ball isn’t going anywhere… it will still be sitting right where you hit when you get there. So don’t be worrying about the next shot until you see the lie and can survey the hazards confronting you…
----------------------------- take a time out mentally on your way around the course and it will only benefit you--------------------

Great stuff Lag! I love the idea of tricking the mind coming into impact. The 17th hole at my home course gets me on the approach most of time if I’m under the gun… water just right of the green and the approach is usually anything from a 4 to a 7 iron. Inevitably I pull it left of the green for fear of the h2O, or push it into the drink… true “mental midget” stuff on my part.

Your comments about the comfort zone remind me of a golfing buddy of mine who was playing in a one day tournament here a few years ago. He’s a scratch player and has it 6 under thru 9, and then birdies 10 and 11. So he’s standing on the 12 tee box at 8 under par and admits later he is REALLY feeling out of his comfort zone. 12 is a downhill par 4, about 400 yards long with a street about 40 yards left of the fairway. He proceeds to drive 2 balls over the street, makes an 8, shoots 68 and wins by 2.


That’s a great story…

The mind can really do strange things to us…
there are a lot of books written about the subject, but one thing I can tell you all for certain…
having a golf swing that is pivot driven, where the hands and body work together rather than
throwing a set of dead hands into impact that will release independent of the pivot’s rotation
will make this game a whole lot easier…

Hogan was very clear that if you swing the club properly, there is no timing… and without that feeling
that we need to time the golf swing, is a lot easier on the mind.

I think about two great players… Nicklaus and Trevino…

Jack made golf look and feel difficult… as if it took great concentration to execute. Trevino on the other hand
quite the opposite approach… making golf look easy. When I look at their technique, I see Nicklaus with a lot of
timing elements, and Trevino with few if any… so I wouldn’t discount that having a rock solid golf swing can do
wonders for the mental side of the game.

Great advice 2masters I am going to try and think of each hole as a separate score and try and not worry about my next shot. Those are things that I don’t do now. I have a bad habit of thinking net score at all times and getting way ahead of myself or down on myself if I am playing bad. I also tend to get amped up over a bad strike and then proceed to make the next shot way more hard then it needs to be.

I think hitters could easily have a mental edge out on the course… certainly for me it did…

As a swinger, my ball striking was intrinsically tied to a body that was loose, relaxed, flexible, free
and oily feeling. Slow and smooth…

As a hitter, a firm grip, a tense muscularly loaded body, quick tempo, aggressive strike… all were more
welcomed sensations than not.

It seemed to me that the forces at work out there when you’re feeling under pressure are more in line with hitting
than swinging.

Having a solid golf swing can do wonders for your mental game…

Swinging always felt like a mental fight… while hitting seemed to embrace the back nine on Sunday.

Somewhere in the vague past I got the idea I could finally play golf peacefully and without inhibition, if and when I could someday develop a fairly reliable golf swing. You may already know that dream was a dead-end mind trap, a futile waste of precious time and meager resources all geared to first achieving a nebulous precondition, the fairly reliable golf swing. When I recently caught on to that foolishness I stopped waiting for the reliable swing to materialize. Instead, I intentionally evoked within me the peaceful, uninhibited spirit of the unencumbered child at play that I experienced long ago, and golf became the fun I had thought it would be when I first took it up. All I did to get there was to pretend I was really that kid again in my neighborhood playing field. OK, that depended on another precondition. I had to remember what peaceful play felt like, and to remember that required that I actually had a chance to play at something somewhere as a kid with no pressure before life became an avalanche. I am grateful to Mom and Dad for the early interlude, and thankful to Paulsygolf for the reminder evoked by his posting:


As Bob Dylan once said,

“someday, everything’s gonna be smooth like a rhapsody, when I paint my masterpiece”

I speculate he was poking fun at the concept of waiting for a better day to do what you need to do, or maybe he even believed it at a time. Sounds like you’ve figured out that it doesn’t necessarily work like that… good stuff…

… and since I can’t help my mind wandering from one song lyric to other connected ones, here’s one in the same vein from John Lennon

“life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”…

Cheers… nice post…

Great post buddy…I’m sure we can all relate on many levels…

the “fairly reliable golf swing” almost made me spit up my beer (yeah it’s early, but I don’t care) since that is all I ever wanted…
Unlike so many others, I have never been terribly score oriented…in other words if I struck the ball well for the entire round (maybe never lost a ball ?)
I was happy, and damn the 3 putts! I realize one cannot compete with such a mind set, but I will work on that later.

re: child play I got pissed and broke a club about 6 months ago…it changed my golfing life/attitude (for the better)
for whatever reason, it’s not easy for me to have FUN, but we are all a work in progress and I smile more often on the course.

enough blabbering from me—great post 1teebox

What a great thread!

Once upon a time - when I had a handicap of 22 I hit a 77 round. 8 over par. After the front nine I was 5 ahead of my handicap and I said to myself that was so far ahead of plan - that it wuld be a great round even though I would loose it for a few holes. I never got nervous, the game stayed with me for the whole round and played back nine 3 over par. A very steady round for a 22 handicapper with 10 pars and 8 bogeys and basically very little drama.

It took several years before I beat that score again :mrgreen:

I’ve been one over par on three occations. Having the chance to beat par makes me nervous. I’ve been under par on front nine a number of times. That doesn’t move me. The nerves typically arrives somewhere in the middle of back nine if I am still playing against par. There is a real risk that I blow the round. It is usually the short game touch that disappears first. Then comes a bad T-shot or approach shat. And without the ability to scramble the score rises quickly.

The three rounds at 1 over I kept it pretty well together throughout the round. The last time I did it I didn’t get nervous either.

When I do get nervous I try to work with the nerves and not against them. That means hitting the ball hard harder, choose a low-risk game plan, and try to make every putt die in the hole - and not just get it close. I only wish I played that well more often because it’s a thrilling experience and with lots of lessons to learn.

It is very easy to see when someone gets nervous during a potential great round. It is when they hit their 6 footer 4.5 feet - for the very first time of the round. Sometimes they haven’t even acknowledged the nerves either. On the majors you can often see it on the putting stroke to those in contention too.

The best thing of course is to keep the nrves on arms distance. Once they’re there you basically have two options: Play with aggresion or play with fear. I choose aggression as the least of two evils. Distraction to get rid of the nerves has never worked.

I’m a tennis player before a golfer, and nerves are a big part of that game. When the pressure is on, you fear hitting through the ball with controlled abandon, and you can easily lose 6-0 6-0 to a worse player. I used to feel the pressure in competition, and especially when I reached finals were I would play about 25% below my abilities. I read the book “Winning Ugly” by Brad Gilbert and when I used some of the ideas in there my game improved significantly, including in the big matches. In this one final I was playing a guy I’d beat regularly in non-competitive tennis - he had a huge forehand and a weak back-hand that he was very good at running round - I would just pound his backhand and then with the court open play to his open fore-hand side. Anyway, in this final I’m down 6-0 2-0 !! I was having a stinker - it felt like there was a cloud over my head, I had those kind of nerves that take away all your aggression leaving you meek. I had the wherewithal to start using some of the techniques in this book I had recently bought. One thing to remember was that in tennis, the match is never over even at 6-0 5-0 - and sometimes the match can change just on one point or one game. I used Gilbert’s idea of singing to myself to relax. So between points, I’d walk with a spring in my step and sing “Come on baby light my fire” by the Doors. With people watching I was concious of singing under my breath and not out loud! I’d also smile as I did it and think of silly things to distract me. Anyway, I then won my first game, and fought to 2-4, and then to 4-5 and 5-6. Twice I had to serve to stay in the match and the Doors’ song got me through! I now started to believe that this song was going to do the job for me. I reached the tie-break at 6-6, where I was down 4-2 at the change of court, but I was now playing free tennis and no longer scared of the outcome. I was actually relieved that I wasn’t down 6-0 6-0 - the embarassment was a big issue for me. So now that I was calmer I won the tie-break, at which point my opponent was somewhat deflated, and I went on to win the final set 6-3, singing “Come on baby light my fire” all the way.

So in conclusion, for me, distraction worked - it was distraction that gave me that feeling of not caring too much and freeing me up to play better tennis. I’m not sure this would work all the time, or if the pressure was on in golf… but for me, perhaps it’s the best way. I’m concious though that here at ABS we are learning a hitting protocol and so aggression may well be the best way to counter nerves, rather than trying to feel looser.

Great post Teddy Irons, I’m a tennis player before golfer as well, and I’ve read pieces of Gilbert’s book as well. Lots of a great advice from a player who maybe wasn’t quite as talented as other professionals of the era, yet drove many guys nuts with his mental toughness and strategic play.

Cheers Slice. Just think, I’m a footballer (Soccer player) before I’m a tennis player, so just imagine where that puts my golf game! :confused: I think some of the ideas in Brad Gilbert’s book remind me of good golf course management. Brad was about playing percentage tennis, or the kind of tennis that would annoy and frustrate opponents. He recommended the cross-court shot as the shot you should play most of the time, because it is the shot with the most margin of error (hitting over the lower part of the net, with a longer trajectory in which to do it). I liken this to what some say about hitting golf shots where we look for where we want our miss to go. I liked his warm up techniques as well. One was to try and read the writing on the tennis ball as it arrived, which ensured you got into position and were focussed in the warm-up. I’d love to read about techniques for getting ready to hit your first golf ball of the day, without any warm-up! I liked Gilbert’s idea of playing at 80% speed/power in the first game or two, and then take it up a notch later as it’s much easier to take it up a notch, than to have to take it down one - very true in golf as well, I think.

Much like your shadow you can never outrun true intentions! Ball striking has always been my siren call, although I know full well that precious few (even on tour) are true advanced ball strikers. The times I have buckled down to work on my short game etc. I have played my best golf in terms of scoring. I played a round in college shooting -1, hitting 4 greens! :astonished: It helped that the 2/4 were par 5’s in two (20ft eagle putt went down for me!) It was the lowest 2nd round score for the tourney. Tough track, rain and brisk winds. Funnily it was the only time I ever shot the lowest round free and clear. :unamused: I was hitting it like a gibbering idiot. so poorly in fact that I spent two weeks prior to this tournament working exclusively on the short stuff. I only ever hit balls to warm up! Years later you will find me week in and week out you on the driving range pounding seeds! Like Hogan I would be happier if they allocated points for fir/gir etc. :laughing:

It’s almost unfair bob isn’t it - one can have a great day of ballstriking and come home with the same old score. One of my more memorable rounds I got up and down for par 15 times and 3-putted the two greens I hit in regulation. It was a pro am too, the two pros were shakin’ their heads…

Don’t you think that a lot of the “mental” issues would tend to be resolved with a quicker pace of play.

If I was Sabbatini, I would have entertained the idea of just walking off the course. Probably wouldn’t have done it, but that’s how crazy slow play can change the inner-game for some players.

Maybe golf can become like “Australian Pursuit” stock-car racing…someone passes you and you’re done for the day. :laughing: RR

Great thread that I’ve missed and like reading it. One of the things I’ve been doing lately is watching a Moe Norman video where he talks about the mental side of the game and his approach. It’s probably stuff you can find in some self improvement book, but I guess I like the way Moe talked about it. One of the things I found out last year that took me 20+ years to figure out is that most golfers, even very good ones, play way too conservatively come crunch time. Not just with how they play the course, but how they approach swinging the club to hit a shot. It’s sort of like golfers (which included myself) want to hedge their bets out on the course. After awhile I just told myself that all that work I put into my game wasn’t done so I could hedge my bets.