Updated: May 10, 2020
You’re standing over the ball 85 yards out from the pin on a course you’ve played so many times before. Choice iron in hand, you recognize the pines off to the left and know that there is a sand trap, just out of sight, no less than 20 yards away from the green. But something feels different.
You waggle your club, try to ignore the pit in your stomach, and swing. While the outcome may be favorable, chances are that something didn’t work out quite right.
Anxiety creeps in at different times in our life and unfortunately, the golf course isn’t exempt from that list. Sometimes taking the form of physical sensations like an increased heartrate, breathing, or perspiration, or more psychological symptoms like racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating, anxiety can have a detrimental impact on performance.
Where does it come from? We have an ancient body living in modern times. Thousands of years ago when the more primitive version of ourselves walked the planet, our greatest fear was being eaten by a sabretooth tiger, not missing the green or chipping into a water hazard. While our minds have adapted in some ways to meet the demands of the world today, we continue to be plagued with that “fight or flight” instinct we like to pretend doesn’t exist when we’re on the tee box at the turn after a rough first 9.
The interesting thing about anxiety is that you need some to play at your best. You’ll be more energized, experience heightened focus, and more blood will flow to the areas of your body involved in high performance. Learning ways to manage anxiety and harness it to your advantage is one way to improve your mental game. This can be achieved through deliberate breathing, using music to calm down or get psyched up, and even understanding how sleep and diet play into how you feel.
As you develop greater insight into the relationship between your thoughts, emotions and performance, you may also notice that your attention tends to try to control every little thing that happens. That’s okay, that’s what the mind does. Try accepting thoughts as they come, then shift your attention to what matters in that moment. If those pesky thoughts keep coming back, they may be something to process later on.
As you incorporate deliberate ways to improve mental performance into your preparation, look for ways to put yourself in scenarios that are likely to trigger the similar responses that cause you trouble when you’re competing. Just as you’ve learned to train the technical and tactical parts of your game, you can learn ways to improve your mental performance.
I often ask those I work with what percentage of golf they think is mental. While answers typically range from high to low to somewhere in between, the common consensus is that it’s a little different for everyone. Suppose you answered 70%. Do you spend 70% of your time at the range or on the course honing your mental performance?
The good news is that in today’s game, working on mental aspects of golf is becoming as common as improving your swing. Mental performance coaches are uniquely trained to aid in your development in preparation and competition, from the weekend scrambler to the tour pro. Interested in learning more? Check out Clark Performance Consulting and set up your complementary assessment today.
Originally written for The Wisconsin Golf Academy's Forethoughts