As a popular sport psychologist who has helped numerous tour pros over the years, the titles of Dr. Bob Rotella’s bestsellers say a lot about the game of golf. Rotella teaches that, “Golf is not a game of perfect,” but he also states that, “Golf is a game of confidence”. Nobody can expect anything close to perfection in this game, but if they want to succeed to any degree, confidence is imperative.
It isn’t easy to be a confident golfer. Whether it be that you are going through a slump, want to impress your buddies on the first tee, or simply because the game is so hard; there are many aspects which make it difficult to develop the confidence needed to perform on the course.
While it is never easy, there are some specific strategies everyday golfers can use to assist in the process of getting out of their own way and allowing themselves to perform with confidence. Playing with a confident mindset not only improves one’s game, but makes the game more enjoyable in the process.
As you read through these strategies, please notice the theme of knowing exactly what you want to accomplish, expecting it to happen, and accepting whatever does in fact occur. A significant component of confidence is developing mental strategies which simply allow you to perform to your potential by focusing on what you want to accomplish and eliminating competing thoughts.
1. Accept the Result of Every Shot - It can be very easy to fall into the trap of “playing not to miss”. This is backwards thinking in that through our attempt to hit a good shot we are actually focusing on what we don’t want to do. Seek to develop a mindset where you will always accept the results of a shot - even a poor one. This will free you up to play the required shot, rather than playing against the miss.
2. Never Think About the Consequences of a Miss - This mentality was adopted by one of the most confident athletes our world has seen - Michael Jordan. Michael understood that thinking about what could happen as a result of a miss, would only hurt his odds of making a successful play. Now, please notice how this mentality should be utilized on the golf course. It is always important to assess your circumstances prior to any golf shot so that you can make an informed decision on the shot that you are going to execute (notice the confident wording “going to execute”). If you are 200 yards out, hitting to a tight pin, and you have a one shot lead on the final hole of a tournament, you would be a fool to think, “I’m going for the pin because I never think about the consequences of a miss”. In such a situation, assess your circumstances, make an informed decision on the shot you are going to execute, and then at that point execute the shot, while giving no thought to the consequences of a miss.
3. Find a Trigger Word/Phrase - It can be very helpful to find a word or short phrase that you can rely on in order to allow yourself to step into a confident mindset prior to any golf shot. For myself, when I have been in competitive situations and begin to feel nerves setting in, I’ve found it very helpful to state to myself, with a certain degree of belligerence, the phrase “No fear!”. I have found this phrase very useful to help me execute shots with confidence.
4. Visualization - It’s always easier to hit a shot successfully on a second attempt because you’ve had the opportunity to see the shot once already. Elite golfers ensure that they visualize the shot they want to hit prior to execution. The idea is that if you see it, you can then repeat it. Dr. David Cook has written a book entitled Golf’s Sacred Journey - 7 Days at the Links of Utopia. It is a tremendously entertaining novel which also teaches some very useful visualization principles. The book became a film in 2011 and stars David Duvall. Both the book and movie do a fantastic job of displaying the importance of seeing and feeling each shot, and then trusting yourself to execute effectively.
5. Compete Often - You will often hear commentators talk about players putting themselves in contention to win their first golf tournament numerous times before they finally break through for that inaugural victory. Golfers need these experiences to develop the confidence required to succeed. A player will develop a level of comfort from having “been there, done that” and it is this comfort which allows them to develop the confidence to achieve victory. For this reason, it is important for golfers who are serious about improving their confidence to put themselves in competitive situations as often as possible. The stakes do not have to be grand. Any competitive exposure is valuable in order to become comfortable in competitive circumstances.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Lose - Please notice the word “afraid”. It is the opposite of confidence. Raymond Floyd has attributed a lot of his success to the fact that he was always willing to go out, put everything on the line and accept if he lost. Such a mindset promotes focusing on what you want to accomplish, rather than playing to prevent against what you don’t want to see happen. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy at it’s finest - playing to what you are thinking about. Always focus intently on what you want to accomplish, and expect it to happen.
7. Play to Play Well. Don’t Play to Not Play Poorly - This is another Bob Rotella teaching, and it’s one which is simple, but very profound. >From the time you step on the first tee, make sure that your personal expectation for that day’s performance is to perform well. When you come off the course you want to be able to say, “I played well today,” rather than, “Well, I didn’t play poorly”. Your expectation must always be to play well.
8. Expect Good Things to Happen - This is a simple principle which can be applied with very little practice because it’s about what you choose to believe. Whether in practice, in play, or in competition; simply expect that good things will happen to you and your game. Expecting that things are going to go favourably for you increases the likelihood of such events occurring because your mind is focused on doing that which is necessary to make them happen.
9. Remember your Successes, Forget Your Failures - Confidence comes as a result of experiencing consistent and repeated success, and the road to experiencing such consistent success will always be marked with repeated failures. Failure is part of any improvement process, so it is important to understand how to deal with it effectively. While it is important to forget about your failures in order to move forward in your game, you should never do so without first learning anything you can from the experience. Once you have taken this newfound knowledge, forget the failure. As you continue to develop personal confidence, learn from your failures, but don’t dwell on them. Confidence is fostered when a golfer takes time to consistently reflect upon their successes. Reflecting on successful experiences promotes the belief that you can continue to be successful in these ways.
10. Be Mindful of Your Thoughts - Tom Katz, instructor from the Mental Edge Golf program, trains his students to be attentive to the types of thoughts that are entering their mind. It is important to get in the habit of taking negative thoughts captive and transforming them into confident ones. Over time this will promote positive thinking and prevent against cluttering your mind with mental “weeds” that serve to choke-out confident thinking.
About the Author
This article was written by Jonathan Carr (@jonathanwcarr) as part of our weekly 'Top 10' series. As a scratch golfer himself, Jonathan has a keen eye for what it takes to be successful on and off the golf course. His passion for golf is surpassed only by his passion for his faith and his family.
Read some of Jonathan's other articles here.