By: Jack Moorehouse
Tiger Woods created greater awareness of the benefits of getting in great shape to play professional golf. Since then, we’ve seen more and more Tour players pumping iron, doing crunches, and practicing Pilates. We’ve also seen more weekend golfers working out That’s good. Getting in good shape with your mental fitness is always helpful—even if it doesn’t help your golf game much.
But if you want to go low consistently, getting in good physical shape is only half the battle. The other half is getting the mental side of golf right. Some people call it mental fitness. A sound psyche, they say, is as critical to shooting low golf scores as pumping iron, doing push-ups, or running steps. Getting fit mentally provides a solid foundation for the physical side of your game.
Below are four pillars that a muscular mind rests on, according to sports psychologist Joseph Parent, author of Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game. They’ll help you not only block out distractions while playing, but increase your concentration—a key to hitting good golf shots and sinking pressure putts.
Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Arnold Palmer are famous for being mentally tough when they were playing. In fact, most Tour golfers are that way. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be pros—PGA or LPGA. Mental toughness means standing up to pressure. Or as some people say, being comfortable in the spotlight. Not everyone is. Below is an exercise Parent suggests to toughen yourself up mentally:
You need to embrace pressure to get used to it. To do that, start by putting every short putt, even if someone is waiting behind you. Just make it quick. Act like the shot counts for big bucks, then sink it.
Flexibility is critical to hitting good golf shots. It’s also critical to mental fitness. The most successful golfers are adaptable. They adjust to different weather and course conditions. They also adjust to different courses with little time. In these situations, good golfers think creatively on how to solve the problems presented by the changes. Here’s an exercise to improve mental flexibility:
To boost creative thinking, take one club and go around the practice green hitting all types of shots. Hit as many different types of shots as possible: high, low, soft, hard, and so on. Then switch. Pick out one shot, like a bump and run, and practice hitting it with all your clubs.
Play one shot at a time. Stay in the moment. Play within yourself. You’ve probably heard these sayings time and time and again. They work. And they work for one reason. They help your mind stay in balance. You don’t want to get too excited or too depressed—no matter what happens on the course. It’s called mental balance. Here’s an exercise to boost mental balance:
During a round count the number of times you find yourself thinking about the past or the future. Still thinking about the short putt you missed on the 11th hole? What about that drive over water on the 16th? Track the number of times you do this, then work on cutting that number down to zero.
Every round has its moments of stress—even if you’re just playing for fun. Every round also has its emotional swings. These take energy to deal with, even if they are only minor events. Nevertheless, you want to minimize them as much as possible. Doing so helps you conserve your energy. That, in turn, means you’ll have more mental energy to put into hitting the next shot. Here’s an exercise to boost mental stamina:
Develop a game plan before playing the next round. Then stick to it as you play—even when you’re hitting all sorts of bad shots. Don’t fire at the pin in a mad dash to make birdies and break 80. If you’re playing well, beware of becoming too cautious. Mistakes like these can cost you by raising stress levels, burning the mental energy you need to play your best.
These four pillars form a solid foundation for sound mental fitness, which is just as critical to going low as being in great physical shape. But be careful. You don’t want to emphasize your mental game too much. That’s the mental equivalent of spraining a wrist.
Instead, find a happy medium—one that focuses on both the mental and physical sides of the game. Also, keep things simple. Doing so will help you not only break 80 but also chop strokes off your golf handicap.