Brain, Podcast, Season 2

6 Things Every Golfer Needs to Know About the Mental Side of Golf

Learn 6 of the critical concepts we’ve discovered from talking with leading experts in the field of golf performance helping you understand the mental side of golf.


Listen above or in Itunes here.

#1 – The Results Are Out of Our Control

It’s just a whole lot simpler if we focus on the process and let the results take care of themself.

When we do focus on the results and when that is going to indicate how good we are… It’s a lot more difficult to deal with the expectations, with confidence, with self talk if we just could focus and sell out to the process.

All we are trying to do is commit to the shot when it comes to golf… and that’s 100% what we can do.

Dr Rob Bell

We also heard about this concept in the first episode of the season with Dr Michael Lardon, talking about the mental scorecard that he developed with Phil Mickelson.

Dr Lardon shared he didn’t want to know someones actual score. He wanted to know the mental scorecard… How well did they do with what they can control. We can’t put our emotions and success or failure in something that’s out of our hands.

Don’t let your confidence, demenour and self image hang on something that’s out of your control.

#2 – You Have to be Aware

Mindfulness is being completely awake to the present moment.

What you are experiencing, while you are experiencing it, and being aware of what you are doing while you are doing it.

Awareness is a bigger sense of your place in the environment, mentally, emotionally, physically as well as an internal awareness asking ‘Am I present or is my mind someplace else?’ And if it is someplace else, come back to the here and now.’

That’s really the practice of mindfulness, is using your breathing and your posture as an anchor in the present moment, so that when your mind wanders to the past or the future or elsewhere in the present, you can say, ‘Oh, I was someplace else, now I am back to here and now.’

And there’s only one time you can play a golf shot, and that is now, and there is only one place you can play, it’s not in the next hole, and it’s not on the last hole. It’s where you are right now; here and now.

Dr Joseph Parent

If you want to hit a golf shot you don’t want to be thinking about the past or the future.

Every golfer get’s caught up with the past. The last double bogey, memory of the last time you played the whole. But if those are the thoughts you’re pulling the trigger with…

That’s not predictive of good performance. We need to be present when hitting a golf shot.

But we don’t have the awareness or determination to back off when this happens. We know it’s not good but we more often than not don’t do anything about it.

We’re looking for a specific brain state that is predictive of good performance

#3 – Brain State Predictive of Good Performance

It didn’t matter if it was gun-shooting, archery, golf, breaking a board in karate, we saw similar pattern in the left hemisphere quieting in the seconds just prior to moving.

That was one of the main findings and then in golf specifically, I kept seeing this pattern of synchrony; so as that left is quieting in the last second right before people move, the right may become slightly more active, but what you achieve is balance or synchrony in the brain, and it was the last second of data that was predictive of performance.

Dr Debbie Crews

We’re looking for the brain to be synchronized…

If you think back to your best golf. Most people will say they weren’t thinking about anything. They we’re just swinging.

Or they might not even remember the round like David Orgin talked about in episode 1 of this season.

When Dr Crews talked with those who were performing very well, the last thing they think about before they start moving, was either target or feel.

#4 – The Power of Breath

What I want them to do is feel their breath filling their body without raising their shoulders and then have a quality of as it goes out, feel like the energy is moving down in their body.

When we are in stressful situations, our energy moves up in our body and faster so we are very much in our heads, not connecting with the feel of our bodies, rushing and making poor decisions.

If you imagine yourself in the swimming pool, and you let the air out, you will sink down to the bottom very gently and slowly. That is the quality that I want students to feel. It increases balance, it increases the stability in the swing, and the stability of their lower body

Breathing,mind, and stress all go together. We are not only sending messages from our brain, but our brain is monitoring our body. So, if you take deep breaths and calm yourself down, your brain gets the message, ‘hey, we are not in danger.’ If you are holding your breath, that’s what we do when we are in danger and the brain says, ‘Uh-oh, we are still in danger’ and all sorts of tension and adrenalin flows from there.

Dr Joseph Parent

When we’re in danger, in fight or flight mode everything is on high alert, heart rate, adrenaline and how fast we’re breathing

So if we can work on that aspect we can control… breath.

We can impact our entire state.

And we run into a lot of fear on the golf course.
Because that’s how we’re wired.

We don’t like to look bad in front of others and want to do anything we can to avoid it.

#5 – The Golf Course is a Threatening Place

Human beings are completely dependent on other human beings to survive.

What the golf course presents to us is an opportunity to make ourselves look great, we can hit the ball down the fairway, we can hold that putt out we can hit the ball really close to the pin in a fantastic shot. But equally we can’t do that as well. There is a chance that they might all go wrong and that’s very threatening to our brain.

Dr Jon Finn

We need to understand that all these things you feel on a golf course are natural.

They happen to everyone. Although we all try to pretend it doesn’t. Being aware of this concept helps us figure out what to do.

#6 – Dealing with Stress

One thing I do when working with golfers and all athletes is increase their awareness of stress in terms of what situations have impacted them in the past, how that’s made them feel and how did they evaluate.

Did they focus on what can go wrong, because quite often, when we are stressed, we focus on the threat, for example ‘Is my handicap going to go up?’

What I encourage athletes and golfers to do is, focus on the challenge side of stress. ‘What can I gain from situations?’ One thing I’ll say to them is, when thinking about something on your head, start with a sentence off, ‘This is an opportunity to ________’ “This is an opportunity for me to put into practice what I have been working on the training ground. This is an opportunity for me to improve my handicap” rather than thinking about all the different things that can go wrong.

Stress can be good and bad, but it all depends on how you interpret it, and also how you manage it. So, it’s important that when we experience stress, we do successfully manage it.

Dr Adam Nicholls

To many people don’t have the self awareness to recognize stress or pressure….

So we far to often let whatever happens happens. There is no plan implemented or coping strategy put into place.

Increase your level of awareness and have positive coping strategies and you’ll see yourself start to do better in clutch situations.

It’s a skill that needs to be built like any other so don’t expect yourself to be perfect from the very beginning. Take the time and put yourself in challenging and stressful situations with the goal to cope positively.

Previous ArticleNext Article
Founder and chief curator of the Golf Science Lab. Documenting what's going on in the world of research and beyond that can help you play your best golf on the golf course (when it counts). Join the movement of researched based coaching over trusting beliefs and what worked for one person a few decades ago. Follow on Twitter