The Mental Approach To Your Golf Game

The Mental Approach To Your Golf Game

By Eric Ah-Yuen


As a strength and conditioning coach on the PGA TOUR, I often hear players on the range or in the locker rooms tell me, “I need to get back to playing like I did when I was a kid in high school.”

It’s amazing, isn’t it? Here we have the best players in the world, who have won Majors and made millions of dollars on TOUR, but yet all they want is to be able to play carefree golf like a kid back at their home courses. They appear to look so calm and cool on television with their total focus and concentration, intense glares, repetitive routines and complete control of the game. Yet it’s surprising to realize these professionals want to regress to their childhood playing days, have fun and keep it simple on the course.

So what are the pros talking about?

What they are actually saying is that they want to recapture the care-free attitude they had as kids, but still use the knowledge they have accumulated over the years. They want to play by feel, be more creative, overly positive, fearless and have a free mind. They want to believe they can always hit that perfect chip shot, make every putt and bend it around every tree without any thoughts, hesitations or doubts.

However, with all that said, they want to tap into their maturity and experiences to be able to distinguish between an aggressive play from a bad one, to become doers instead of thinkers.

It’s not only the professionals who want to play this way, though. How many amateur golfers wish to incorporate the same formula? I bet you are nodding your head as you read this article.

Let’s look at how we can freshen up your game and give you a new child-like attitude on the golf course.

Be less technical and play by feel

Young players ages 12 to 16 are naturally quite good at playing creatively. They tend to be not as technical or afraid on the course, and usually play aggressively. They see the shot and believe they can make everything. As adults, we need to start learning this type of behaviour on the course.

A great way to adapt that attitude on the course is to SEE IT…FEEL IT…DELIVER IT. Be less technical and have full trust in your shot. Step up and fire away! Work hard in developing this very sound “pre-shot” routine and repeat it for every shot on the golf course. If you never deviate from it, it will help you get into a routine where you are not thinking technically and instead play by feel. You can practice that on the range and even put yourself in a game-like situation … and fire away.

Another way to play by feel is to play your rounds without any distance lasers or GPS systems and instead guess your yardages. After you hit a good shot, then pace out your yardages and see exactly how far your ball travelled. This will instil self-confidence by knowing, not only what club to use for what yardages, but how it should feel when you hit that distance the next time you play.

Analyzing vs. Reacting

As adults, it is normal to start reacting and analyzing a certain way after we have had negative results or consequences from an outcome. On a golf course, it can be a bad shot from a certain spot on the course, a four-putt from a specific green or putting it into the water on a certain hole. We start making judgements based on analysis and reasoning with ourselves. We become timid and start doubting our thinking.

Teenagers generally react in the moment, are less analytical and overly confident. They feel they can make every shot, whether they had a bad hole or a bad round. They have a tendency to move on quickly because they have reasonable expectations about their game, and they are less frustrated.

We need to recapture the care-free attitude we had as a youth, without becoming careless. We need to believe we can make every shot, erase the fears we have developed and start reacting. However, with that said, we still need to have a good thought process. For instance, if we are faced with a long putt, we need to think about making that 40-footer with carefree attitude. But knocking it 10 feet past the hole is careless. Being carefree, without being careless, allows you to still be aggressive, but it prevents you from being fearless to the point of imprudence.

A good way to free up your mind and start reacting is to play an easy course with flat greens and fire at every pin without too much analysis. After making the good shots, it will instil great confidence in your abilities and get you to trust your instincts again. It also will help you react more, versus analyzing every shot.

Selective Amnesia

Do you ever notice teenagers are always forgetting and are rarely engaged in something from the past? They act how they feel in the moment and forget what happened in the past. As a result, when they are playing golf, they execute shots without remembering any past disasters or fearing future outcomes.

As adults, we have a tendency to keep remembering situations that have gone against us, and we make decisions about the future based on our past experiences. When we approach a certain hole in which we three-putted, we always keep it in the back of our mind when we play it again, which usually results in tentative play at best.

Remembering the past can be good at times, as long as it doesn’t impede our progress. We can use our past experiences to make educated decisions, but don’t hide behind them.

A good way is walking and talking with self-belief and lots of positive attitude. Reassure yourself to trust your technique fully. Another good way is to keep yourself occupied as soon as the bad thoughts start creeping in your head, so it doesn’t linger on. Try to become overly positive and think about the positive moments … such as the eight-footer you made for birdie … or the sand save or up-and-down you made for par.

The mental game of golf is one of the most challenging in all of sports. There are large amounts of time between shots to “over-think.”

In reality, if you want to play great golf, you cannot really separate the mental skills from the physical skills. Next time you go out on the course, try to remember how you played so athletically as a kid. In the simplest terms, this is a lot of what working on your golf mental game is all about: learning to play like a kid again.