When I think back to playing golf as a kid, I can’t recall any bad memories. The first things that come to mind are holing clutch putts, being on winning teams, and truly loving when I found myself in a tough spot near the green so I could show off my touch.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case. There were plenty of bad shots, plenty of defeats, and I didn’t get it up-and-down from that tough spot every time. The cool thing about the mind of a kid is that those things aren’t filed away carefully for future consideration like they are once we’re adults. We didn’t care much about the future, or what happened in the past — we were much better at living in the moment we were in.
I got to thinking about this after I re-read Dr. Bob Rotella’s book, Putting Out of Your Mind. He talked about how some players can “lose their nerve” on the greens as they get older. Dr. Rotella believes this “loss of nerve” is a result of the way in which adults are groomed to think.
When we were kids, our needs were pretty simple — we wanted to have fun, be fed, liked by our friends, and not be embarrassed by our parents. We were free of any real worries or thoughts about the future that extended beyond that, and it was conducive to a live-in-the-moment, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality. We were invincible, and life felt infinite.
As we progress into adulthood, we constantly think about what’s next. We become more careful, calculated, and increasingly aware of consequences. We plan ahead and anticipate our future. Many of these factors help us with survival, getting ahead in a career, or planning for retirement. However, this mindset can be a recipe for disaster on the golf course. Projecting what your retirement savings will be when you’re 60 is a responsible step to retirement planning, but projecting what your score will be after 18 holes when you’re on the 10th hole only distracts you from the task at hand.
The mind of a carefree kid is a model mindset for a golfer. They see a 3-foot putt and view it as the simple task of putting a ball into a hole from a short distance. In reality, it’s pretty easy, and they treat it as such. They don’t think about the one they missed yesterday. They don’t think about what sort of putt they might have coming back if that one slides by. They’re not thinking that if they can just hole this one, and then par the last 3 holes they’ll set their personal best score. Instead, they simply hit the ball into the hole. If they miss, they hit it again, and again, until it goes in.
It’s a shame to see a player who is still physically capable of playing good golf become a prisoner of their own mind. The same deeply ingrained thought patterns which serve them well in other aspects of adult life now work against them on the golf course.
This doesn’t have to be the case. Like your golf game, you can improve the way you think on the golf course if you work on it. So how do we maintain a positive, timeless attitude for the golf course no matter what our age? Here is what I think:
- Maintain perspective – remind yourself that it’s just a game. Seems simple, but we’ve all had moments during a tough round where it felt like the end of the world. It isn’t.
- Be thankful – for every opportunity to play this great game. I would rather shoot 90 than not play at all.
- One shot at a time – it’s an old cliché, but a useful one. Unlike planning our future, thinking about the 18th hole when you’re on the 12th hole is only a distraction.
- Reduce pressure – unless you play for your livelihood, the only real pressure in golf is the pressure we put on ourselves. I believe it is possible to be driven to achieve great things in the game yet not put unnecessary pressure on yourself to do so.
- No consequences – there aren’t any real consequences in golf. So you missed a putt, or hooked a ball into the bush, big deal? Nothing will happen to you. The important people in your life won’t think any less of you because of the result.
- Be Yourself – if you’re a relaxed, laid back person, be that person on the golf course. Don’t pretend to have the intensity of Tiger Woods just because that worked for him. Be true to yourself.
Of course, conquering mental challenges in golf is easier said than done. The great thing about golf is that the mental challenges are fluid and never-ending, but if we work on improving our mindset we will be far more prepared for what this great and crazy game dishes out. Golf truly is mental.