Mental Game

If confidence is king in the realm
of elite performance, preparation
is the throne on which it sits.

Confidence is believing in your own ability, knowing what you have to do to win. My confidence was developed through preparation. – Jack Nicklaus

Psychological skills are paramount to your success as a golfer. Having the physical ability to swing a golf club effectively, the technical understanding of the golf swing, and the intellectual and experiential knowledge to execute the infinite number of possible shots and strategies do matter a great deal, but psychological skills matter more. Why do you sometimes hit the ball beautifully at the range before a round only to, moments later, struggle with your swing on the course? Unless you had a physical injury on the way to the first tee, I guarantee you the only difference is your mindset. Again, psychological skills matter more. 

As long as we have a brain, we will be subject to its irrational logic; its emotional reactivity; its perceptual misinterpretations; and its unrelenting need to critically self-reflect in its effort to survive. Without the ability to control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we will forever be at its instinctual mercy. 

Of all the psychological skills, the one that appears to have the greatest impact on performance is confidence; if we have it, we tend to succeed, and if we don’t we tend to fail. Although the psychological literature can vary in its definition of confidence (also self-confidence and self-efficacy), I find Albert Bandura’s description most apt to golf. Bandura, the father of  self-efficacy theory, defines confidence as the “belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task”. And, as the Nicklaus’ quote suggests, preparation is the foundation of confidence. The more prepared we are for a situation or task, the more likely we will succeed in that situation or task. 

Whether you’re playing a casual round with friends, gearing up for your club championship, or trying to qualify for the Connecticut Open, preparation is critical to how well you will perform. So, how do we best prepare to play a round of golf? Consider the following areas and the associated questions, and ask yourself how well prepared you are in each of them:

Equipment and Gear 

  • Do I have the clubs I need to perform at my best?
  • Are my clubs properly fit to me?
  • Are there clubs I need for the conditions or the specific course I’m playing?
  • Are my clubs in working condition? (e.g., clean grooves and unworn grips)
  • Am I prepared for the weather? 
  • Is my golf bag properly stocked? (e.g., balls, tees, ball marker, divot repair tool, club brush, rangefinder with extra batteries, towel, extra glove, band-aids, athletic tape, sunscreen, bug spray, permanent marker, Rules of Golf)

Strategic

  • Do I have a plan for the course I’m playing?
  • Did my plan include weather and course conditions?
  • If in a competition, did I play a practice round noting course conditions, hole layouts, yardages, green complexes and contours, etc.?
  • Are there specific shots, or clubs, I’m going to need to hit that require extra practice beforehand?

Technical

  • Do I have a reliable understanding of my golf swing?
  • Can I effectively read the lie of a golf ball understanding its potential impact on the flight of the ball?
  • Do I know how to read a green?
  • Do I have a repeatable pre-shot routine?
  • Do I consistently set up to the ball in the same way with proper alignment?

Physical

  • Do I have a realistic sense of what I am physically capable of based on my level of strength and flexibility?
  • Do I have a pre-round warm up plan?
  • Am I properly nourished and hydrated?
  • Do I have food and water for the course?

Mental

  • Do I have a positive mindset going into the round?
  • Am I mentally prepared to deal with whatever happens on the course? (e.g., upset, anxiety, nervousness, excitement, frustration, disappointment, anger, etc.) 
  • Have I visualized the shots I plan on hitting? 

Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, however, it should give you a good sense of the most basic areas of preparation needed to build confidence in your abilities in order to perform at your best. When it comes to preparation, there is an important reality as a golfer we need to accept. Unless you take the time to properly prepare yourself for every round you play and every shot you hit, you give up the right to complain about the outcome. Without preparation, you deny yourself the knowledge and understanding of what it takes to play effective golf, but most importantly, you deny yourself the very thing that will propel you towards playing the best golf of your life, confidence.

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