And how to get that going for you during a tournament…which is nice.
I’ve known hundreds of club players who defeat themselves before they reach the first tee at a tournament. They don’t understand that mental conditioning for good tournament play is not a matter left to chance. Many of the key factors that help people enjoy the game require them to improve the way they manage their minds and the way they manage the course.
The key to competing successfully isn’t just being in the know, but in the “now.” Successful competitive golfers understand and practice the precursors and principles of playing “conscious golf,” which requires synchronizing your mind and body in the “now” moment. Because it’s more easily said than done, the primary purpose of this article is to illustrate how these thought habits help—along with how to employ them.
A proper warm-up before play includes a good stretching routine, relaxing the body, and bringing the mind into the “now” moment.
Breathing in a deliberate manner is essential and at least a dozen different techniques exist to help calm or energize the body by choice.
Focusing techniques follow, starting with the short game and employing such techniques as “softening your hands” to enhance “feel.”
During this time, you need to “quiet the mind”—a training technique that requires disciplined “self-talk” between every shot. Conscious Golf specifically employs routines to center oneself, to recover on demand, and effectively maintain the mental toughness to manage distractions, mental chatter, and your own mistakes.
The best method to maximize consistency and focus is to groove a consistent pre-shot routine.
Preparing On and Off the Course
- Knowledge is Power: The most important part of preparation is to understand the mechanics of the tournament, assess the competition prior to play, and to be familiar with the layout of the course by having scheduled a couple of practice rounds in the weeks leading up to the event.
- Pair Wisely: When tournaments involve teams, choosing your partner can be fundamental to the outcome. My favorite choice of a partner is someone who has a good sense of humor, stays positive, keeps his or her cool and realizes perspective is all-important when keeping the stress levels manageable.
- Don’t Bonk: Putting certain foods in your bag can keep your blood sugar and hydration needs met. This might mean a banana to keep your potassium up and an energy bar to keep from “bonking” on the course. The first symptom of a poor nutrition plan is when your mind “spaces out” or fails in managing your attitude.
- Shoot Smart: Choose your shots before a round to minimize trouble and maximize course management. Mistakes will happen but limiting lost shots (and balls) and “blow-up” holes beforehand can make a huge difference in your ability to score.
- Chip and Putt: Before your round, focus mostly on short game, putting and chipping because these kinds of shots will comprise 60 percent or more of your score.
Dedicating to P3 Thinking
A technique developed by Dr. Robin Vealey, P3 thinking requires discipline in your mental preparation before, during and after a round. The three Ps stand for Purposeful, Productive and Possibility thinking.
Purposeful: Have a purpose and an intention in your approach to the round as well as each shot.
Productive: Focus in the “now” moment, and attune yourself to the “task at hand.” Have a short memory for poorly played shots and a long memory for successes. “Let go” of self-criticism, guilt over “failing a artner” and any thought that intrudes on your ability to “be here now.” Keep your thinking constructive, useful and centered on the present, and keep swing thoughts simple, employing a fixed-point concentration on “how” you will execute “this” swing.
Possibility: Shape each shot in your mind. You not only recognize a clear target or landing area, you also plan for it. Factors are likely to include how we’re striking the ball that day, the weather, and course conditions. Possibility thinking, however, never involves anticipating a score or even calculating numbers during the round.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
The longstanding principle that 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of your efforts applies directly to golf.
- 80 percent of scoring is keeping the ball in play. Out-of-bounds and lost balls do happen, but by playing a par 4 as a personal par 5, you can select shots that increase the likelihood of staying out of trouble as well as those that put you in position to score.
80 percent of your practice time should be spent on the weakest 20 percent of your game. For most golfers, that’s the short game.
They unwittingly give away shots around the putting green (interestingly enough, the last 20 percent of most holes). A chip over a bunker, with a short landing area is not a good percentage shot, especially if your “focus” slips from the target to the hazard. Choosing the play that puts you in position to score is first priority. That often means making the most conservative play.
Course and Game Management
Anyone who plays this game with any degree of consistency will have an “A,” “B,” and “C” game—and you can’t always tell which one will show up on the first tee. The “A” game, of course, is the one you most want in a tournament. You are “on,” in the “zone,” hitting the ball crisply and putting in such a way that you “see” a much larger hole. Sometimes that “A” game keeps you company in a tournament. Sometimes it doesn’t. What then?
Course management concerns your advance preparation and your knowledge of the course itself. Club selection, shot selection, target zones and “personal par” strategy are the hallmark of course management. No matter if you are having an “on” day or an “off ” day, you can do your best if you properly manage yourself and your choices during the round. Review the course layout the night before and plan contingencies for each hole….and keep your notes handy during the round itself.
Managing your game means managing your attitude during play. Keeping your emotions in check, staying in the “now,”and keeping your wits intact—those are the keys to playing great tournament golf. After each round it may be valuable to review the round and chart fairways hit, greens in regulation, up-and-down opportunities, and putts.
This realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses after the round directs your practice sessions and preparation for the next day or upcoming competitions. A purposeful, productive and possibility focused game improvement strategy becomes the norm. The methods for successful play in competition pales in comparison to the healthy attitude and joy of the game. Unlike Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, you don’t have to wait until you’re on your deathbed to receive total consciousness. ag
Stephen Walker, Ph.D. (drstephenwalker.com; 303.530.4439) is editor-in-chief of Podium Sports Journal: The Journal of Mental Conditioning (PodiumSportsJournal.com). He is the founder of Sport Performance Associates, a performance consulting group providing personal coaching services, counseling assistance, junior player development, seminars, workshops and clinics to individuals, and teams, with offices in Boulder and Denver.