Golf Is A Mental Game: Stay In The Moment
We’re going to look into one of the most important things you can do to help your mental game on the golf course. Often in golf, as in all aspects of life, we’re often too focused on the past and future instead of staying in the moment. You may have heard this phrase before, sometimes used as stay in the present or stay in the zone. This tip is crucial to golf for many reasons which we’ll dive into in more detail.
How many times have you seen another player or even a tour pro have a complete melt down on the course? We’ve seen PGA Tour pros miss a three foot putt, then out of anger and emotion, rush the next putt or two, missing again and again. It happens all the time, we’re human. If you want to stay in the moment you have to train your mind to stay in the moment and only think about the correct steps needed to hit your next shot as best as you can. This mindset is achievable through practice and training your brain to block every other thought out of your mind. Once achieved, you can apply this concept to other aspects of your life, as well as other sports. In basketball, if you are shooting two free throws to tie the game and go into overtime, you shouldn’t be thinking about whether or not you’ll make the second free throw until you make the first free throw. One shot at a time, you can’t be thinking about the past or future, you have to only think about the exact steps needed to correctly hit your very next shot and nothing else.
As mentioned above, we’re human, we’ve all been in a position where you’re either thinking about the last time you played a hole and hit it the lake or out of bounds. Or the last time I was in a sand trap it took me 3 shots to get out. Or maybe you just missed a 5 foot birdie putt and you go to the next tee and you’re still thinking about how you can’t believe you blew that putt? That is looking into the past and only distracts your brain from focusing on the shot at hand.
The same goes for looking into the future. If you’re playing competitive golf you may know that you need to birdie 2 of the next 3 holes to have a chance to win. That just adds unneeded pressure and takes away your focus from making a good swing on your next shot. Another issue we all have is when you hit a bad shot and while walking up to your ball, all you can think about is how hard you’re next shot will be and the consequences if you don’t hit that shot as expected. These negative thoughts need to be blocked out completely.
None of this is easy and takes practice to train your brain to think correctly and stay in the moment. Have you ever heard about how some of the best players ever will finish a round 6 or 7 under par, maybe throwing in 5 birdies in the last 6 holes and when they finally putt out on the 18th hole they have no idea what they actually just shot? This is true for many of the best golfers in the world. You may be wondering how in the world they couldn’t know they were in the midst of shooting the best round of their life or about to break the course record, well it’s because they’ve gotten so good at staying in the moment that they could care less about their score or any other distractions. All they are focusing on is the very next shot at hand. If that’s all you’re focusing on it’s very easy to lose track of the fact that you literally just made 3 birdies in a row and on your way to your best round ever. Whereas, we’ve also seen the opposite where a golfer knows he only needs to par the last two holes to break their personal best but then that’s all they can think about and end up bogeying the last two holes instead.
So outside of just truly trying to reset your mindset on the golf course, there is one other thing that all great golfers do and practice it until they’re extremely good at it. It’s called a pre-shot routine. You can read more about the pre-shot routine in detail in another article, but we’ll briefly describe how it can help. Your pre-shot routine is a series of steps you take systematically before every drive, iron, sand shot, chip, or putt. It’s very mechanical and that’s on purpose. You take each step of your pre-shot routine one at a time until you’re ready to hit your shot. This is crucial because it keeps your mind and brain focused on one small task at a time and helps to avoid those negative thoughts that can creep into your brain. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much difference a pre-shot routine makes in your game. Even if you don’t play competitively but just play once a week in your golf league, you’ll find that the pre-shot routine also helps block out some of the other players in your foursome that may be talking or laughing, etc. once again putting you back in your zone and only focusing on the next step of your pre-shot routine until you’re ready to step up to ball and take your swing.
What else can you do other than your pre-shot routine? Well you should look at each round of golf as a new lesson, then take it a couple steps further and learn from not only each round but every hole, and every shot as a new lesson. Look back at your round and try to remember your mindset during not only your worst shots, but your best shots as well and think about what your mindset was like during the best and the worst. If you hit your drive on the 17th hole out of bounds on the right side, reflect and think about what you were thinking when you stepped up to the ball. Were you thinking about how you went out of bounds the last time you played that hole? Or were you thinking about how you didn’t want to hit your drive left into the woods and overcompensated and went right instead off the tee? These are all the things that you need to train your brain to realize are not helping your golf game, so the next time you’re in that position you can tell yourself, forget about the past and only focus on the task at hand and staying in the moment.
This type of mindset will not only help you on the course but off the course in life as well. Ryan Reynolds once said in one of his comedy movies, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.” It’s funny, but true at the same time, it reinforces the fact that when you’re standing over the ball ready to hit your next shot and all you are saying to yourself, don’t hit it into the lake on right. Then what do you know, you either snap hook it left or end up going right into the lake. Train your brain to block out all lakes, sand traps, out of bounds stakes, etc. Use your pre-shot routine to focus ONLY on your target and block out everything else, almost like racing horses that wear blinders to stare straight ahead and only straight ahead. Train yourself to put blinders on so you can focus solely on your target, goal, and task at hand. You should treat every single golf shot exactly the same, regardless of the end result. If your shot didn’t turn out the way you expected, let it go, stop thinking about it, stay in the moment and focus solely on your next shot and keep on keeping on with your round.
It’s alright to make mental notes in your head while you play, based on previous shots, however you can’t let them completely take over all of your thoughts and let emotion come into play. You have to always remain calm and if you do think about any past shots, do so without placing judgment on yourself or your golf game. If you do think about a putt or a drive from a previous hole, it should be a positive thought that you’re just trying to learn from by being a student of the game. If it’s a negative thought, then you’re not ready for this step yet and you’re better off not thinking about it at all. All of these things take time and a lot of mental practice to train your brain to think the right way while on the course.
So hopefully this will help everyone not only in golf, but in life as well. As humans, we all know how to worry, but that just takes up valuable thoughts in our brain that we could be using in better ways to focus on the task at hand and stay in the moment. Don’t think about the next hole or the last hole and how you may have failed. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time, and one moment at time by truly staying in the moment. Stay in the moment, don’t judge the moment. You’ll be surprised how you can apply this concept to golf and many other aspects of your life and if you can master it, you’ll not only be a happier person on the golf course but a happier person in life in general.