As a mental toughness coach the most common question
I get asked is “how do I remain calm, cool and collected on
the golf course?” Emotions in any sport, can affect the performance of the player, golf is no exception.
Golf is very much a game of energy and flow, of positive and negative thoughts. If you experience negative emotions such as anxiety, stress or fear, the chemicals released impact your muscles, making them tense. The last thing we want as a golfer is to try and putt or chip with tense muscles, it impedes our swing path and performance, which in turn affects our confidence and so the downward spiral begins.
How do I remain confident?
Having a pre-shot routine that works for you is key. If you don’t have one, I guarantee your not playing your best golf. All playing professionals and elite players have a pre-shot routine and stick to it, those that don’t, suffer the consequences –e.g. Jordan Speith at The Masters in 2016 taking a shot into the 12th green protected by the lake, cost him his Green Jacket.
So What’s a Pre-Shot Routine?
It’s a strong mental routine to follow before committing to playing your shot. It’s the one thing when done correctly, will guarantee improvement in your performance and create the foundation for your mental toughness.
It must however,
- Compliment your learning style
- Be easy to incorporate into your play and help you focus
- It needs to simplify your thought process
- Not impede your creative shots or athletic performance
- Become an integrated part of your game that you use for every shot and putt, whether playing for fun or in a major competition
How does it work?
Your brain is a complex machine split into two parts; left – analysing/ thinking side and right – creative/intuitive. The picture below, details where each characteristic sits.
Some people are left-brain thinkers whilst others are right-brain dominant. Take this test to discover which you are http://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/3178
It will help you understand how you learn and make it easier for you to develop your own pre-shot routine to play to your strengths.
Your now only 4 steps away from creating a game changer pre-shot routine to elevate your performance.
Step 1 – Analyse
As you approach you’re ball switch on your left-brain and start analysing the shot. This involves using your logic and decision-making. Assess the conditions such as wind, lie, yardage, target type of shot required and club selection. Make your decision with true commitment, its important that you are fully committed before you progress to step 2. I find closing this thinking phase with a comment said quietly to myself, it ensures buy-in and closes the loop. My personal comment is “decision made”.
As you approach your ball on the green consider elevation, breaks, speed and grain. View your putt from your ball and from the other side of the hole. Its essential that you fully commit to your read of the green and the speed required.
Step 2 – Be Creative
Now for those of you who are visual learners, you will find this step easy. For those who find this difficult to begin with, you need to practice visualisation techniques. All the best golfers are great at visualisation, don’t be afraid it’s a technique you can learn and become good at.
To trigger this phase, stand behind your ball and begin the focusing process. Take a deep slow breath in (a real deep breath down into your belly) then gently and slowly exhale feeling your tension going with the breath. As you relax begin to visualise the shot you want to hit. I personally find visualising my shot like a pro-tracer. I stand behind my ball and picture my ball in flight to the target, with a white line following the path. Some people prefer to see themselves in a picture taking the shot as if viewing on the TV.
Stand behind your ball, looking toward the hole and picture clearly where you want your ball to go. For long putts it might be a spot towards the hole, imagine your ball rolling over this spot at the correct speed. Again I picture a white line painted along the green to the hole and my ball travelling down it.
During this phase your thought should be wholly focused on visualising the shot/putt, if you have a thought about club selection, break, swing etc. STOP, step back and take another deep breath and repeat step 2. Your deep breathing will help re-focus you and remove tension that has crept in.
Step 3 – Feel Your Way
Now you have a clear picture in your mind for the shot/putt you are about to take, we want to connect the neural pathways in your brain to activate the muscles to create the movement required to get the same result. For those people that are kinaesthetic learners you will find this aspect of the pre-shot routine to be your strongest.
Take a full practice swing as if you’re playing the shot for real. Feel the shot as you swing, your mind should be totally quiet at this point; no thoughts should be entering your head. You may find that you need to take more than one practice swing to feel it intuitively, its personal choice.
For those of you who are visual learners you can introduce an image with your practice swing to reinforce this step.
The same rule applies; you need to feel the putting stroke with or without imagery as you practice before taking the putt. Some players like to imagine the speed the ball needs to travel as they feel the putt.
For putting to improve the feel some players find it best to close their eyes, it enhances the sense of feeling with their practice stroke. Some like to stand behind the ball and imagine the line whilst feeling the putt, others stand away from the ball looking down the line. Its personal choice and one you need to practice to find which works best for you. Stick with the routine, once you’ve decided which works best for you. If your struggling step back and take a deep breathe to refocus and remove any tension.
Step 4 – Accept
This step is critical; accept the outcome from your pre-shot routine. Become Process Focused not Outcome Focused. What do I mean by that? By being focused on the process you follow you remain in control. You can’t control the outcome, things will happen that are beyond your control and you just have to accept that (S@%t happens). But if you can accept I followed my process you will remain in control of your mental toughness and as a result will remain positive. As we all know the game of golf is a mental game and staying positive has a huge impact on our performance.
Stick to your Pre-Shot Routine, make it part of your routine in practice and competitive play. The more you use it the easier it will become. To create a new habit you have to run the process for a minimum of 66 days, from today make this part of your routine.
Ironically the time when you need your pre-shot routine is when you’re not performing your best; this is when it’s easy to slip into bad habits. You know what I’m talking about, when you’re playing badly and you start to think about swing mechanics or the discussion you had with your coach in the last lesson. STOP use your PRE-SHOT ROUTINE.
Likewise don’t become Jordan Speith when you’re playing amazing golf, on the cusp of winning and rush to take your shot without running through your pre-shot routine. You need the process to stay in control and keep emotions at bay.
STICK TO YOUR PRE-SHOT ROUTINE, BECOME PROCESS FOCUSED AND ENJOY THE RESULTS