Manage Your Game

Think Better, Score Better

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A common saying in golf is that the game is 90% mental. That is, 90% of what’s required to be successful comes from how you think and manage your way around the golf course. I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s 100% mental.

Consider the fact that you have, at one time or another hit a perfect golf shot. Clearly you’re capable of making solid contact. So why can’t you do it all the time?

One reason, of course, is that a lot can go wrong in the golf swing; another, more likely reason is that your mind often impedes. Whether you think too much (about swing technique or a water hazard) or don’t picture the shot at hand or fail to build a repeatable routine, simple course management and mental game techniques can help you not only play smarter, but also swing better.

Being mentally tough doesn’t mean you have to have a killer instinct with you at all times, but it does mean you have to know how to manage your game, from warming up before your round to bouncing back after bad holes to goal setting.

Golf is such a terrific game because it’s subtle. For some folks, those nuances have reduced grown men to tears and fits of rage; for others who manage it well, it has catapulted them to another level of performance, and they’ve become better players and better people because of it. Read on to become one of them, too.

Emotionally charged events or information (whether good or bad) burn a more significant imprint on the brain than nonemotional events. So every time you react with frustration to a mis-hit shot, you make it harder to concentrate in the moment.

Most golfers think a preshot routine involves only taking a practice swing, aiming at your target and then swinging, but it has a bigger purpose: to prepare a golfer to hit his shot successfully. This demands both a mental and physical routine.

During the mental routine, take in your environment: the lie, hazards, wind, yardage and target; then analyze what the shot requires. Say you’re 142 yards out, your ball is in the fairway, and the pin is tucked over a bunker. There’s a 10 mph wind into you. At this stage, you need to make a decision, based on your skills, about which club and shot is required.

Next, rehearse the swing you plan to make. If it requires a ¾ 7-iron, take a ¾ practice swing so that it simulates your actual shot. I call this the “feel stage” of the preshot routine. Its purpose is to help you commit to your shot.

Once you’ve rehearsed your swing, it’s time for the real thing. Set up to the ball and shift your focus to the target. This is the time to quiet your mind and react to the target. Finally, make a swing with your target in mind.

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