When you step onto the first tee, do you have a target score in your mind that you’d like to shoot for the round? Chances are if you’re a PGA Tour Pro, the answer is an unequivocal yes. But what about club-level golfers and those just starting out in the game?
The vast majority of amateur golfers I’ve worked with have either no target score in mind, or they do, but it’s completely unrealistic for their current skill level. Most club golfers, particularly beginners, haven’t had enough “on-course” time to gain the experience and skill set needed to project an appropriate target score. Several factors can make projecting a target score difficult, such as weather, recent playing form and whether or not you’re familiar with the course, etc.
Unfortunately, club-level golfers rarely consider these factors, leading to unrealistic expectations and a bruised ego.
- Ask yourself and be honest; when you play in a competition round of golf at your club, what’s the central thought that races through your mind?
- Are you concerned with shooting a good score?
- Are you worried about embarrassing yourself?
- Maybe you’ve got a rival at the club, and you’d like to shoot a better score than them?
The key point here is that your goal is not the problem; the problem is your process for achieving your goals.
No matter what the goal or outcome you’re trying to achieve, focusing on the process, not the outcome, will give you the best chance. However, although most golfers know this, they find it challenging to do and, quite frankly, on most occasions, impossible. For many, the problem is that this strategy seems so counterintuitive that it stops them from focusing on what they need to do rather than the final score.
So the question club golfers need to be asking is not, “how can I achieve my result if I’m not focusing on it?” Instead, you should be asking, “How can I shoot a good score if I’m not focusing on the shot at hand?”
In this article, I’ll provide you with proven strategies that I’ve used to help players get the most out of their game by learning the art of focusing on the “process,” not the “outcome.”
Lacking Confidence and Fear of Failure
I’ve been coaching and managing professional athletes for nearly 20 years, and without a doubt, one of the most common questions I’m asked is, “why do I continue to play poorly in tournaments? Frustration builds over time because golfers perform at high levels on the practice range or during practice rounds; yet, as soon as the tournament comes around, their game crumbles, and so does their confidence; it’s a vicious cycle.
Far too many golfers fall into this trap, but club golfers specifically fall victim to this time and time again. They are continually placing unrealistic expectations on themselves, leading to stress, pressure, disappointment, and complete loss of confidence.
Golfers are so consumed with analyzing their swing and focusing on their score that they actually forget to play golf. This negative mindset takes golfers away from their initial game plan, and instead of focusing on the target score they had in mind, golfers end up making poor decisions to get their round back on track. “If I birdie the next two holes, I’ll be looking good, but I can’t afford to bogey anymore holes;” this mindset will only lead to tense muscles, poor swing mechanics, and an even worse score.
Those fears and emotions manifest themselves into shaky hands on the putting green and loss of confidence on the tee box.; in short, your thoughts become a reality, and your performance takes a dive. It’s really not rocket science; it’s just a matter of being so frustrated and fed up with your poor play that you’re ready to make a change. Once you have the strategies in place, focusing on one shot at a time is simple and can literally transform your golf game.
One of the best golfers in the world and a multiple major winner, Dustin Johnson, is on record as saying, “For me, I don’t go into a tournament thinking I’m going to win. For me, it’s more of the process of how I get there. I want to put myself in a position on Sunday to have a chance to win. My goal for the week in any major is to give myself a chance and see what I can do from there.”
So next time you tee it up in your local comp, take a leaf out of Dustin’s book and focus on the process.
Remind yourself to focus on factors you can control and forget about those you can’t. If your playing partner is playing well, there’s not much you can do about it; actually, you should be happy for them because they’re almost certainly dealing with the same mental demons you are.
Stay focused on yourself and your game plan. Do not fall victim to worrying about those things out of your control.
How to Stay Task-Focused
Before you can start to focus on developing and maintaining your new mindset, you must have a clear understanding of the kind of focus you previously played with. Were you “results-orientated” and solely focused on the score and the score only? Or were you “task-focused” and concentrating on the process rather than the score?
Task-focused golfers and athletes are known to have better long-term results and are much more likely to stick at it when the going gets tough. On the other hand, those golfers who are results orientated are motivated by the outcome, and as such, if things aren’t going their way, they tend to throw in the towel.
Your game is much more likely to improve over time by staying focused on the task because you’re not deterred by the inevitable setbacks you’re bound to face. Task-focused golfers are also motivated internally, and they measure their success by incremental improvements in their game rather than the outcome.
If you are a results-orientated golfer, you’re not alone; the vast majority of amateur golfers are; but now that you know it’s detrimental to your game, you can start making a change and begin to transform your mindset into one of positivity and resilience.
Characteristics of Intrinsic Motivation
- These golfers can self-regulate behavior and display self-determination.
- They show respect for their playing partners and the game in general and would rather create a pleasant atmosphere for others instead of focusing on winning.
- Compared to “results-orientated” golfers, task-focused players have much lower stress and anxiety levels.
- Task-focused or “intrinsically motivated” golfers are far more likely to bounce back when faced with adversity.
Extrinsically Motivated Golfers
As the name suggests, golfers who display extrinsic motivation are motivated by external factors like results, prizes, and recognition. These golfers view playing golf as a means to an end as they strive to seek their desired outcome; they don’t necessarily play for enjoyment but rather for the opportunity to win or show off.
Extrinsically motivated golfers who emphasize the results compared to their “intrinsic” counterparts are not concerned with their level of play but rather the final result. Ultimately they are driven to play by external factors rather than for the love of the game.
Extrinsic motivation comes in four types:
- External Regulation
In this type of motivation, a golfer might choose to play in club practice only because they want to be selected for the team.
- Introjected Regulation
The same golfer might participate in practice out of guilt.
- Identified Regulation
A golfer may dislike specific practice days like long hours on the putting green, yet does so because they know it improves their performance.
- Integrated Regulation
Here a golfer may perform practice because they feel they have to; however, the decision is made with your harmonious self. An example would be a golfer who avoids a late night out on Friday to ensure they’re playing at their peak for tomorrow’s round.
There is a fifth type referred to as “amotivated,” however, this is rare among golfers. Amotivated athletes show little to no interest in playing the game and are deterred by the possibility they may completely embarrass themselves; they display neither intrinsic or extrinsic motivation and are without purpose.
Strategies to Combat Negative Emotions
During a round of golf, ask yourself, and be honest, how often are you becoming angry, distracted, and frustrated? Let me guess; an awful lot, right? Well, you guessed it, you’re not alone; most club-level golfers rarely walk off the course happy with their performance.
Negative emotions that lead to frustration and anger are generally caused by a poor shot or a series of bad rounds where the golfer just hasn’t performed up to par; pun intended. Negative emotions are an inevitable part of the game, whether it’s a missed putt, a poor tee shot, or a snap-hook out-of-bounds. That’s why many people say golf is the most frustrating game they’ve ever played.
Understanding that bad shots are inevitable will go a long way in helping you to improve your game and lower your handicap. Pro golfers are excellent at putting bad holes behind them and bouncing back on the next hole.
As a coach, one of the questions clients often ask me is, “how can I remain confident after playing several poor rounds? The answer is quite simple and something most people already understand. The way you react to the situation will determine your outcome and, in turn, your confidence level. For example, if you miss an easy putt and walk away smiling, then you’re more likely to sink the next one; alternatively, if you walk off in a huff, you’re likely to compound the problem; this is called the “snowball effect,” when your game continues to spiral out of control.
I’ve seen the snowball effect ruin a golfer’s game more times than I can remember, and it’s never nice to watch no matter how many times you see it. Without strategies in place to deal with setbacks, negative emotions can avalanche out of control. “How could I have made such a bad approach shot?” quickly becomes, “I can’t play at all; my game stinks; there’s no way I can win this comp.”
You need to understand that it’s not your game that’s letting you down; it’s your reaction to the setbacks and poor shots. Placing unnecessary expectations on yourself will only lead to unwanted stress, pressure, and anxiety; golf is already difficult enough; why make it harder?
Transforming your mindset is the most important area of your game you can work on to help lower your handicap. Many golfers have great swing dynamics, an excellent short game, and are great putters, but there’s no use having good technique if you’re angry, frustrated, and lack confidence.
7 Easy Steps to Help you Stay Focused
When it comes to performing at your best, maintaining focus is one of the most critical areas of your mental game. Without it, you’re game, and ultimately, your handicap will suffer. A round of golf can take anywhere between 3-and 5 hours, so the ability to maintain focus and concentration is paramount.
Throughout the course of 18 holes, golfers experience many different emotions, some positive and some negative. Having practical strategies in place to help you stay positive and focused will not only improve your game but also make it a much more enjoyable one.
Let’s take a look at seven practical and straightforward steps you can implement today to take your mental game to the next level.
1. Where to Focus your Attention
First and foremost, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses regarding your mental game. Having a clear picture of what areas of your mental game need working will help you develop the strategies to improve it. Without strategies in place, you’ll be like a ship without a rudder; you might reach your final destination, but it will take blind luck.
2. Focus on Factors in your Control
I can still hear my mum now, “focus on what you can control” she was like a broken record, but she was also a former Australian Basketballer; mum was right. You can’t control your opponents or the weather, so stop wasting so much energy worrying about them. If the wind is blowing, embrace it and learn to thrive; by doing this, you’ll be well on your way to shooting a good score while others are struggling.
3. Stay Calm like the Eye of a Storm
The ability to stay calm in the eye of the storm is what separates great golfers from good golfers. When you become angry and frustrated, your muscles tense up, and your ability to swing freely is inhibited; not to mention, your decision-making skills are pretty much thrown out the window. Next time you’re angry and frustrated, take a few deep breaths and remind yourself it’s just a game.
4. The Power of Using Keywords
There’s not one PGA Tour pro who doesn’t understand the power of using keywords out on the course. Keywords help you stay focused on the shot at hand and help keep you in the present moment. Whether it’s “smile” after missing a short putt or “breathe” before crushing a drive off the tee, keywords will do wonders for your mental game and ultimately lead to lower scores and a lower handicap.
5. Develop a Rock-solid Routine
A practical and, more importantly, effective routine is similar to a funnel that helps channel your attention and gets you focused on the task at hand. Routines such as a “pre-shot” routine help keep your mind from becoming distracted by external factors like the score and the outcome. The beauty of a routine is there’s no right or wrong one; it’s entirely up to you; as long as it’s consistent and simple. For example, eating the same meal before each round or listening to music acts as a trigger and helps you get into the zone.
6. The Power of Positive Imagery
The power of positive imagery is another important aspect of the mental game professional golfers pay a lot of attention to. Picturing the shot you want to play is a great way to stay focused and practice positive thinking at the same time. You can picture everything from the flight of the ball, the line you want to take, and where you imagine landing it; hopefully, three feet from the hole.
7. Consistent Appraisal is a Must
Evaluating your performance after each round of golf helps you identify areas that may need work or are performing well. Getting into the habit of honest self-appraisal will increase your chances of playing better golf and give you the power to focus over the entire 18 holes.
The Final Hole
Golf is just as much a mental game as it is physical, and some might even say more so. By following the steps and heeding the advice outlined in this guide, you’ll be one step closer to conquering your inner demons and learning to enjoy the game of golf.
Remember, at the end of the day, golf is just a game, so ask yourself, “will a bad round today worry me one year from now? Probably not; if it does, then golf is not the game for you.