Golf Psychology

One of my basic philosophies is that there is a relationship between thoughts, emotions, physiology and performance going on all the time. How you think about a situation has a strong link to performance and how you think about situations in golf can help you control your emotions and physiology and ultimately help you to play better. To give an example of this: given the same situation (say, a bad bounce), two players can react (outwardly) in very different ways. Maybe one reacts with calmness and composure, whilst the other reacts angrily. What is the thinking going on with each player to produce different reactions? This question (and why) is the essence of much of my work. I have worked with Chris Jenkins for over 15-years.

Quick Tip: What ‘Footgolf’ can teach you about mental skills for golf:
Bigger balls, bigger holes and a metal skills training tool. I must admit I’ve never played footgolf but it does appeal for a number of reasons from a psychology perspective. The game has evolved to match the demands of golf except players use a regulation No. 5 football instead of a golf ball. The ball is kicked rather than struck with a club, working towards a 21-inch “cup” in place of the usual golf hole. Footgolf is typically played on par-3 length holes.

Three desirable mental processes (I imagine) that would come fairly easily when playing footgolf are:
1. Playing with an uncluttered mind, being target focused
2. Being playful; playing the game rather than technique
3. Trusting rather than controlling

There are several reasons why we would probably find it easier to take the above approach in footgolf rather than ‘real’ golf but it shouldn’t stop you trying to practice in a way that encourages each of the three processes. I’d make a bet that if you managed to shift just slightly in your thinking and began to play and practice in ways that encourage a ‘footgolf mindset’ your scoring would improve. It can be a useful reminder to unclog your mind and approach the game in a more enjoyable way. More importantly for performance, your brain is geared up to work more efficiently this way.

A good, practical, way to go about it is to firstly compare to how you approach some parts of the game now. I recommend starting with chipping or a skill that is relatively simple. Chose a spot to chip from and go through your normal approach but pay attention to your attention. What are you focusing on? What are you attending to? What are some of the typical thoughts you have?

Now imagine if you had to kick the ball (or throw it for that matter) towards the same target. How might your thinking change? What do you look at? How at ease to you feel? Where is your attention now? From my experience many players have a base line of playing from fear (fear of messing up, fear of not striking correctly etc.) and playing by focusing on technique (even for relatively simple areas of the game). Attempting this type of change can feel like quite a drastic move. You may feel that you are not in control or even that you are not ‘trying’ hard enough. A word of encouragement; aim for a small shift at first and try to go with these uncomfortable feelings for a while and see what results you get.

Jonathan is an experienced and well-respected Chartered Sport Psychologist who works primarily in golf. He has provided psychology support to the English Golf Union and English Women’s Golf Association as well as working with professional golfers from both male and female European Tours. He specialises in providing applied one-to-one easy to understand performance strategies to golfers of all levels and age groups. Jonathan is a former Loughborough University Sports Scholar (for golf) and has vast experience within high-level golf having played to scratch and competed in and won national amateur events. He has been a member of Chigwell Golf Club in Essex for nearly 30-years and lives in Theydon Bois.

HCPC Registered Sport and Exercise Psychologist
Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society
BPS Chartered (Sport and Exercise Psychology)

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Twitter: @GolfPsychology