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8 Ways to Strengthen Your Mental Game in Golf

Published on 03/14/2023 · 7 min readGolf Expert Andrew Howard gives eight tips to try out next time you're on the course that will be sure to help you keep up a strong mindset throughout the game!
Andrew Howard, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Andrew Howard

Photo by Courtney Cook

You're on the first tee of a lush golf course. Bunkers are on both sides of the fairway and an out of bounds to the right. Your nerves are at a peak from surrounding distractions and friends waiting for you to make the first swing. You think to yourself, “Don't top it or hit it out of bounds.” If I can do that, I'll finish with a good score.

Does this situation sound familiar? A game plan and a solid pre-shot routine are pivotal to your success. It’s not just one golf shot. One of the most important things to successful play is what’s between your ears. Your mental game needs to be strong too, to face the challenges of golf.

Golfers! Here are tips to boost your mental play and get you in the mindset of always thinking ahead to the next shot. Each one is a new opportunity to do something great!

1. You Just Hit a Bad Shot

Photo by Bedrck

We all will hit poor shots from time to time, but it’s how we respond to a destructive state of mind that counts. Just like in life, if we fill our minds with negative thoughts and get down on ourselves, it’s difficult to do well or hit good shots in golf. And like life, golf is not a race. Especially if you are playing with friends to have a good time or improve your abilities.

Golf is challenging, and a full round is 18 holes. Every player faces frustration, happiness, and confusion during those holes. It’s okay to think about a poor shot or regret it for a time, but let it go. Easier said than done. But that’s the mental discipline the game requires to improve.

It’s no good to hold on to stuff that puts us in a bad mood. When you get like this because you aren’t playing well, your friends won't want to golf with you either. It brings the energy of the entire group down. Remember, you are out with your friends to have a good time and enjoy the great outdoors!

2. You Just Hit a Great Golf Shot

Photo by Lo Sarno

You're on a Par 3 and it's 170 yards to the flagstick. You take your 7 iron out of your bag and step up to the tee. Now you’re feeling like you’re in the zone and hit it to 3ft! The entire group is applauding and hyping you up for that great shot!

You’ve created a positive conscious thought in your mind you can draw toward future golf shots. Once we accomplish something, we have that "Yes, I can do it!" confidence. Use it as you prepare to hit the next golf shot. If we surround ourselves with positive thoughts and people, we are in a position for a greater chance of success.

3. Trouble Everywhere! Help!

You're standing on the tee of the Par 5 and see nothing but trouble. There is water on the entire left side and an out of bounds on the right. The pressure is on and you fear for the worst. You’re not sure you can do it because you’ve been slicing your driver all day. You hope you hit a good one to salvage your round.

Stop right there! Remember to breathe to release some of that negative tension. Hoping something good is going to happen isn’t enough. Nine times out of ten, it won’t because we aren't thinking with a rational mind. The negative thoughts from previous experiences interfere with our game.

It’s time to change your thought process and think positively on this tee shot of the Par 5. Since you haven't been hitting your driver as well as you'd like, hit with a club you feel confident with, like your hybrid or a wood. This way, you keep the ball in play and feel good about it before you swing away. You stand a greater chance for a better score on that hole too.

4. Build a Pre-Shot Routine

Building a pre-shot routine is one key to a successful mental game on the golf course. Go through the motions of your routine, but make it purposeful. On each shot, pick a target, aim at it and visualize it. As we do so, we paint a picture in our minds.

We need to think about it, for it to be possible. And it puts a positive point of reference in your mind, knowing you’ve already hit the shot well. Now do it again. It’s an important building block. Take a routine into existence.

5. Executing the Pre-Shot Routine

Photo by Ting Tse Wang

You are on the fairway 150 yards away from the flagstick. The pin is in the middle of the green. To the left of the flag are two greenside bunkers. It is a calm day with a light wind and you naturally fade the ball (right-handed golfer hitting the ball from left to right). You can hit a full 8 iron 155 yards, so you select this club.

Now pick out the tree in the background 5 yards left of the pin as your target line. Ignore the bunkers on the left and only focus on visualizing a left-right shot to this flagstick. Nothing else matters now. Your eyes are fixed on your target line as you approach the ball. Don’t break your focus because it allows other distractions to come into play, like the bunkers.

6. Readying to Hit The Shot

Now that you’re settling into addressing your golf ball, maybe you’d like to tap your feet or waggle the club a bit to get comfortable. The importance of a tension-reducing waggle is everything to ensure your grip isn't too tight when swinging. Here is a great example of what a good waggle could look like in your routine.

If you like moving around before the shot, don’t do it side to side when getting comfortable over the golf ball. It changes your alignment in the golf swing. Just tap your shoes and or move them vertically to maintain the initial position. Too much movement leads to confusion, poor accuracy and ultimately not hitting the ball on the target line.

7. Track Yourself

Tracking yourself might seem tedious, but it can do wonders. The hard part is getting into the habit of a thorough pre-shot routine and to trust it. Any easy checkpoint system ensures you’re executing the pre-shot routine each time. Follow the step-by-step processes below.

  • Select the right golf club for the distance and remember to breathe! (use a rangefinder to learn distances and yardage plates in the fairway).
  • Pick the target line for your ball and only focus on that. Keep your concentration! (a target can be a tree, building, etc. in the background).
  • Visualize the shot. Paint the picture in your mind. Hit it mentally before physically (will it be left to right, right to left, or a low shot, high shot?).
  • Address the ball and get comfortable (you have the confidence of visualizing an excellent shot, tap your feet, waggle your club, and fire away).

Bonus Tip: Don't be afraid to step away and repeat your pre-shot routine if your concentration is broken by outside distractions. Refocus and execute the shot with all your ability.

8. Don't be Focused All The Time

This might seem counter-productive, but it really isn't. Let go of the concentration in between golf shots and when waiting for your friends or playing partners to hit. You drain yourself mentally when you put all your energy and focus only on the round for four hours.

You aren't likely to enjoy the play either. Turn on your game face when going through your pre-shot routine and during the shot! Then turn it off to enjoy your friends’ golf shots and your own too!

The mind is a powerful tool in life and golf. If you can construct a solid train of thought when going through the multi-step process I mentioned above, you’ll build confidence in your golf game. If you can hit the shot mentally, you can execute it physically. Try these tips out the next time you're on the range and comfortable with them. Attitude is everything!

If you need some updated gear to accompany your strengthened mental game, reach out to a Golf Expert here on Curated! We'd be happy to help!

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Andrew Howard, Golf Expert
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Andrew Howard
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Andrew Howard, Golf Expert
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