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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Golf


"Think" Your Way to a Better Golf Game

Philip Nicosia

There's more to a good game of golf than practicing your swing, buying the latest and state-of-the-art equipment, or even devoting your entire weekends to practicing on the greens. Golf is also about mental preparation -- what experts call "Being in the Zone". The best golf players are very skilled at concentration and focus, enough to stay calm under pressure, and make calm decisions even when millions of dollars are at stake.

Mental preparation isn't just a trick of the pros. Even casual golfers, the ones who like to use it for business networking, have to be able to play a good game while keeping track of their business objectives. Exactly how do you "seal the deal" on an important account, chatting casually without looking too desperate for the contract, while deciding what kind of swing and golf club you need for that particular moment? This is especially true when you are playing with particularly talkative people, who could be joking around or asking you all sorts of questions just when you're about to make a crucial move.

There are several books written on the mental game of golf. Most of them are based on actual research on sports psychology, by experts who have studied the styles and moves of golfing champions. After all, all of these people are understood to be good at the game: they would never have made it to the playoffs without that. However, all things being equal, what sets apart a great golfer from a golfing champion? Here are some of their findings.

The first trait is the ability to concentrate, tune out the voices of other players and other background sounds, like the plane flying overhead, the sound of the lawn mower. Concentration lets you focus on your swing whatever your environmental conditions might be. It prevents you from making that age-old excuse for a bad move: "I was distracted!"

Another ability is to tune out internal distractions, meaning the thoughts and emotions which may prevent your ability to really focus on the shot. This includes the insecurity, the fear, the negative thinking. The energy you spend on telling yourself why you can't win the game is taking away from the energy you need to actually win it.

Which brings us to another important trait: stress management. This doesn't just include the sense of pressure and how everything's riding on this one shot -- it's also reining in the rush of adrenalin and excitement. Many players will "blow" a good game in the last few holes, because of the "winner's jitters". Some tricks to manage this include deep breathing.

Another important winning trait is confidence. This isn't arrogance: you have to know what your weaknesses are, and develop your game accordingly. In fact, many pros will tape themselves as they practice their swing, to detect the problem areas. By honestly assessing your game, and working to improve it, you can go to the actual game with real confidence--that you are truly at your best playing level, and that you have what it takes to handle the pressure.

Philip Nicosia is the webmaster of - an online resource centre covering many topics including golf.

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