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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Golf


Mastering The Inner Game of Golf

Gail La Grouw

To many, golf is a sport where a ball is hit from tee locations around a golf course, with the aim of getting it in the hole on the greens.

To a learned golfer, golf is about bridging the gap between the mind and body.

There is a lot of bad information in golf today. Some of it is purely to entice commercial gain, some of it is just naivety about sports performance in general. The aim of is to separate out the fact from fallacy, and bring together a collection of proven resources from which the golfer can choose his weapons.

Years of patient golf lessons in the mechanics of golf swings and advanced shots can be doused by a single dose of fear or lack of confidence.

The inner game of golf is about gaining power over thoughts, feelings and desires and transferring those into mechanical ability.

The mental game has been conquered by many professional golfers, from Harry Vardon to Tiger Woods. From the earliest pro tournaments, visualisation and mental power techniques have been employed to will the body to perform at its absolute best.

Tiger Woods doesn't have the longest golf drive, or the most consistent golf swing. But what he does have is mastery over eight critical non-physical aspects of golf.

  1. Self Esteem - to truly accept and value yourself regardless of how well you are playing at any particular moment.
  2. Emotional Maturity - ability to control your emotional response to any given situation.
  3. Focus - the ability to isolate yourself from every stimulus around you, to become totally internally focused on the one, single shot of the moment.
  4. Abstract Thinking - ability to use your intellect in analysis and decision making during club selection; course management; shot management; environmental impact calculations.
  5. Assertive Dominance - ability to harness a controlled aggressive strength, sufficient to overpower any tendency to timidity.
  6. Tough Single Mindedness - ability to adopt a detached, self-reliant, realistic and rational attitude during play. The stubborn determination to drive oneself to achieve ones goals, regardless of any obstacles.
  7. Self Sufficiency - a preference to make your own decisions, and isolate yourself from the errant suggestions or opinions of others.
  8. Energy and Mind Management - ability to hype oneself sufficiently to activate energy levels and desire to win.

Emotions play a big role in golf. Emotions trigger the release of chemicals in your body. These chemicals change your ability to perform. You may have the mental ability to change or recover your thoughts and emotions, but the chemicals continue to have an effect for the next 2-3 holes. It is almost impossible to remain totally devoid of emotion during any situation. So being able to recognise an emotional response and have the tools to overpower the effect of the chemicals is a skill that takes many years to develop.

Tiger Woods' mental game began from childhood. His mother coached him in his mental game every bit as much as his father did his mechanical game. Together mechanics and mind control equal the mastery of golf.

Tiger continued his mental game development even during his early years of success. His emotions during that time were more apparent with fist pumps and stalking walks. When these emotions were on display, so were the less consistent elements of his golf.

Today, Tiger Woods plays with control and patience. His emotional reactions are more subdued than they were 6 years ago. He is choosing the smart plays over the dominant plays. He is not displaying the highs or lows of his emotions, until the game is totally over.

You are probably already familiar with the concept of thoughts-feelings-action. Our thoughts control our feelings, which in turn control our actions. This dynamic chain of events also works in reverse. By performing certain actions, we can trigger feelings, which can control our thoughts.

Most golfers fear playing with certain people, or in front of certain people. This fear sabotages golf skills and gnaws at confidence, to destroy your game, and your fun. When you are having fun, you will always perform at your best.

It is this ability to traverse the mental strata to replace fear with fun that separates good golfers from great golf players.

Francis Ouimet won the 1913 US Open as an amateur against Harry Vardon and Ted Ray by digging down deep and just playing for fun. It worked! And lets not forget Eddie Lowery, Ouimet's tenacious 12-year-old caddie who dodged parents and truant officers and refused to allow any notion of giving up on the win.

Jack Nicklaus in 1986 Masters at Augusta, coming off the front nine, 5 shots down. He finished the back nine in only 30, to go home with a new green jacket. He was undaunted and relentless in his pursuit. It takes tunnelled vision that every stroke is a new play and nothing that has gone before matters any more.

The tools of golf are not just about golf clubs, and mechanical knowledge. The master tools are mind control tools that traverse every shot in your golfing repertoire, every game situation, every course design and every personal moment.

Skill drills and practice are the secret to good golf. The secret to great golf is overcoming fear; and embracing it as a challenge to overpower it.

Gail La Grouw has been a performance coach for businesses, executives and individuals throughout many years of management consulting, personal goals and achievements. After having recently taken up golf she has made dramatic progress utilising the same inner strategy techniques as used in business. For more on golf mechanics and the inner game of golf -

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