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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Golf


Do You Choke Under Pressure in Your Golf Game?

Wade Pearse

What does the US Open have to do with your game? Well, if you want to play well under pressure it should have everything to do with it.

When you practice simply focusing on your swing and blasting balls at the range this is only one small aspect to true practice. You are using the practice makes perfect formula. Yet if you've golfed for any length of time you know this simply isn't true: practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent. So practice what is really necessary to play at your peak.

Your mental game requires equal attention. To play well with pressure you must practice with pressure. When the chips are down and you need to hit the shot of your life, the self imposed pressure experienced increases 10 fold for most players.

The trial by fire approach to improving your mental toughness and performing under pressure is a haphazard method. Yet this is all most people know. They enter more tournaments and matches with the hopes that by being in more events they will "acquire" the mental toughness and concentration skills to deal with the pressure.

What do you see happen most of the time with this typical approach? Most players don't perform to their own potential in the key moments when everything is on the line. Then they merely chalk it up to experience and hope to get in the position to win again. This strategy, if you can call it one, is the "natural" way. Simply get in contention enough times and you're bound to win.

Well this might be true, since a player will win eventually if they give themselves enough chances. Yet I am going to say something few, if any, coaches would say. For one reason they might lack this critical insight, and for another it's some serious tough love. Not the warm fuzzies that keep us feeling good about an area of our game that is in serious need of attention.

I want to submit to you that the more times you are in contention and don't win that what you are doing is increasing the likelihood of losing again, not of making winning easier. Why is this?

Because the negative associations that are stacked in your unconscious mind around not performing well under pressure will drive your behaviour (your thought processes and your the swings you make under pressure). You will unconsciously reproduce the experience of losing that you are accustomed to.

This a tough pill to swallow but if you want real and lasting change then mental preparation can save you months, and even years for some people, of needless inner turmoil around pressure, performance anxiety/competitive stress and its influence on your game.

Now what if you could recreate the pressure of the US Open in your practice sessions and then go and play with this mindset? What if your practice included a mental imagery process that mirrored any and every pressure filled situation you might face and incorporated it into your practice routine?

Do you think you would be perhaps a step or two ahead of your average player with the "natural" approach? You most certainly will. Top Olympic athletes habituate mental imagery into every practice session and during their pre-event preparation.

By "feeling" with your mind's eye, not simply "seeing", you can experience the exact pressure you'll face in a tournament. Your unconscious mind will absorb these sessions and add them to your mental library and integrate them into your golfing self image. These become real events to your mind.

With this approach you are providing your mind and body with sensory specific information about what pressure is to you and how to perform when it is present. You are, in very real terms, preparing your mind/body to act and perform in a desired way when under pressure.

So imagine you are in the US Open when at the range hitting balls. Give yourself only one shot to hit your desired target. Create a scoring system to monitor how well you perform this way. Increase the pressure by taking only one drive, then one iron, then a chip shot if you miss your imagined green with your approach shot. Pay attention to how well you perform this way.

If you want to accelerate your mental game progress and begin to perform well under pressure then it's imperative you simulate pressure in your practice sessions. How else are you going to prepare for the inevitable?

Do you honestly want to rely on the time worn method of entering more and more tournaments and matches with the hopes of getting used to it? How much time money are you prepared to lose before you make the changes necessary?

Take hold of your potential by developing a rock solid mental game. Your overall mindset on the course, your mental toughness, your sense of clarity and inner confidence under the gun, and a list of other benefits will enter your game. Not just occasionally but for a lifetime.

Wade Pearse is a Peak Performance Coach who spent 7 years applying the most advanced mental game strategies in golf with his clients and in his own game with phenomenal results. Visit his website. It is filled with mental game resources you can use in your game right away. He has a mental game ezine and a daily blog you can subscribe to

Wade Pearse
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