One of the most important assets that a fine golfer can possess is having a strong mental game. Golfers come face to face with adversity in every round they play. Having a strong mental game is what separates players in their ability to deal with adversity and maximize their score.

Many books have been written on how to improve your mental game. In this newsletter, I will discuss what I consider to be the biggest enigma in golf.  I am also going to give you one of my favorite tools for developing good mental habits. These mental habits are just as important to practice as your swing habits on the range.

 

One of the most interesting things about golf to me is that most players are focused too often on both where their ball goes and their score during a round of golf. This normally results in their mental attitude being shaped by performance. The problem with this dynamic is that the player gives up control of his thoughts and emotions during a round of golf. This leads to widely varying results.

One paradigm that is important to realize is that golfers have control over one thing on the course – namely, what happens up until the ball is hit with the club. This includes the mental keys, the swing keys, the shot selection, swing selection and the rest of the preshot routine. After that, the golfer becomes a spectator along with everyone else.

The enigma to me is that many players focus on what they cannot control rather than what they can control. Players cannot control where the ball goes but they can control everything that happens up until the ball is struck.

Allowing performance to dictate thoughts and emotions is an easy trap to fall into. I believe it takes a certain mental toughness to stay focused on controlling your thoughts on the course in the face of differing results.

One of my favorite tools for making sure that I maintain discipline on the course for a strong mental game is a simple card. I have seven of my favorite thoughts written on the card. Here are two examples:

 

“I focus on process and detach emotionally from results.”

“I always have good self talk on the course.”

The most important thing I do with this card is to pick two of the seven thoughts BEFORE I hit a single shot on the range before the round.  This way I am controlling my thoughts from the start rather than allowing the ball flight to control my thoughts. I also make sure I focus on these two thoughts for the entire day.
As I mentioned before, it takes a certain mental toughness to use this approach. Most PGA Tour players give credit to focusing much more on the process rather than the outcome to help them shoot their lowest scores. I hope this benefits you also.

 

We have all have been in that unfortunate situation; A ball lying on a hill above your feet, or a ball that didn’t make it into the bunker (whew) but did manage to stop on the rim with an uphill lie, or that time you had to take your shoes off and roll your pants up to stand in the water to avoid an extra stroke. A lot of nerve and technique are needed for such situations in addition to your ability to respond to the terrain.

Do you think balance is important in this situation?

Once you get over the mental part of ‘how am I to get out of this situation?’, the body should respond naturally if your balance is performing well. Having an efficient balance system is critical in knowing how much the hips should bend when addressing the ball (i.e. do I stand closer to the ball?, should I give myself some space?). Balance also plays a role in the downswing by keeping your weight near your heels as you strike the ball.

To understand what factors into good balance, it is good to know what areas need to be addressed. There are three balance sensors in our bodies that detect various amounts of information that help keep you upright. The first is the vestibular system located in the inner ear that acts as a natural gyroscope, the second is found in the golgi tendon organs and muscle spindle reflexes that detect muscle/tendon length, and the last component is the vision systems to give visual feedback that keep our head above our feet.

The best way to train all three of these balance systems is to practice. I know it sounds simple, but is it the simple truth. The more time spent learning how to react to changing ground forces, the more improved and trained balance will be. By training balance, you will know what is supposed to happen when the ground changes because you have experienced it before.

The basic plan to train balance is to stand on one leg with your thigh parallel to the ground, squeezing the glute muscles on the standing leg, and staying tall in the shoulders and chest. Depending on age and other factors, this position should be held for no less than 20 seconds at a time. To make this drill more challenging, add time while balancing or grab a dumbbell in the hand of the balanced leg. Repeat this drill until you reach a total of 3 minutes a side. Always try to increase the interval time and total time spent balancing. Perform this drill to help improve balance and ball contact on any surface you encounter on the course.

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the series Golf's Mental Edge

Rick SessinghausSee Rick’s seminar, Mental Game Approach, presented on August 9, 2010 at the Body Balance for Performance National Headquarters for Junior Golfers.

Take it to the Course with Beck Dengler, PGA/LPGA Master Professional and Andy Hogg, GPS, CGFI1

For more information about Becky Dengler and her teaching click here

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