Owning Your Mental Game

After I published my Goals for the 2017 Golf Season, I had several followers ask me to “reveal my hand” and expand on my mental game routine referenced in that post.

I am not an expert in human psychology, but I do take a keen interest in it. Even in the most common social encounters I like to observe behaviours and body language (including my own) because I find it fascinating how our minds work and react.

When it comes to golf I find it even more fascinating and I always take inventory of my thoughts in an effort to correlate them with performance. A few of my observations:

Confidence is key

Confidence is the single biggest factor in performance. Being confident in the ability to execute melts away a host of other issues that can arise in the mind when confidence is lacking. When you’re confident it becomes much easier to embrace challenges.

How do you gain confidence? Practicing is a good start. Getting lessons with a professional to improve your technique is another. Working on improving your body language and simply acting confident can help too.

The mental challenges of golf are fluid

Reading books about the mental game is great and helps develop a good foundation of mental habits and attitudes. However, the challenges we face are constantly changing and evolving.

If Beth and I are rushing to the tee to get a round in after a hectic day at work, the challenges of getting into a good head space are different than a Saturday morning round. Or a tournament. What if the weather turns on the back nine?  As circumstances change, our thought patterns must adapt.

Mental hurdles can be very unique from person to person

The mental hurdles that stand between you and your best golf may be completely different than mine. Even if the barriers are similar, the root cause of them could be completely different.

Player A and Player B may both struggle with excessive first tee jitters. However, the root cause of the jitters for Player A may be that they let the first tee shot set the tone of their round, putting enhanced pressure on themselves. For Player B, it may stem from a fear of embarrassment in front of onlookers.

My mental game

I discovered a mental hurdle of my own during my first event as a member at the Calgary Golf and Country Club. It was a low-handicap Ryder Cup style event (The Willie Park Cup) a few years back. I was pumped to play, but at the same time, I knew I was the new guy on the block. This gave me an underlying feeling that I wasn’t as deserving to win matches as the others. Weird, but true. It was a form of intimidation that didn’t have anything to do with the physical act of playing golf.

This feeling has crept up in other situations as well. When playing against higher handicaps I found myself starting to think, winning this match would probably mean more to them than it would to me. It took a while to realize how these feelings affected my performance on the golf course, but my work to overcome them started to show in my competitive results last season.

The point when I really felt it click was the 2016 Willie Park Cup where I had a match which may have caused the previous version of myself to be uncomfortable with winning. I was up against the president of the club in Sunday singles. I knew I couldn’t let myself fall into the old trap of thinking he was more deserving of winning because of how long he’s been around at the club. So the night before and the morning of the match I did some visualization and read affirmations tailored specifically for the match to get myself in a more ruthless mindset. My inspiration to win this particular match needed to come from within and not be linked to who I was playing.

He didn’t have his best day and I ended up winning 7&5. It’s not that my mental preparation was the singular reason I won, but it put me in a position to capitalize on his mistakes without any subconscious urges to ease off the gas or feel bad.

Own your mental game

Owning your mental game requires a brutally honest self-assessment to discover the root causes of things that stand between you and your best golf.

You may not relate to my example. You may have completely different things to overcome to fulfil your potential. Maybe you’re socially mortified by small talk and getting paired with Mr. Talks A Lot throws off your game. Or maybe you’re a shorter hitter who becomes intimidated by longer hitters. Or maybe slow play gets to you.

My only advice is that if you decide to implement things like visualization or writing affirmations to improve your mindset, always frame them in a positive way. Don’t say “I will not let my mind wander….”, but rather “I am relentlessly focused on the next shot and only the next shot”.

Nobody can tell you what holds you back from your best, it’s ultimately up to you to figure out and conquer. Our minds are powerful tools which can work against us if we don’t monitor our thoughts and maintain them. If the mind has the ability to cause someone to self-destruct, it also has the power to do extraordinary things on the opposite end of the spectrum. We just have to work for it.

The vintage club

Happy golfing!



11 thoughts on “Owning Your Mental Game

  1. Josh, this is outstanding. Amazing insight here. Also makes me realize how woeful I’ve been in examining and preparing myself mentally. I really appreciate this post and will use its messages to critically assess myself and my mental approach to the game.

    Thanks, Mike

    1. Hey Mike,

      Thanks buddy. I “mailed in” my mental game in for most of my golfing career until I finally decided to take a harder look at it. It seems to show positive signs, so hopefully it will continue. Best of luck with yours!


  2. Josh, one of my worst days on the golf course was in a competition where all the players were better than me. It goes exactly to your point on confidence and how intimidated I was. I played terrible, not because I wasn’t physically prepared but because I had no idea about preparing myself for the mental challenge.

    That was long ago and this is an amazing post and I loved reading it and the way it made me think back. Thanks and keep ’em coming!


    1. Brian,

      Thanks for sharing that. Sometimes we have to get put in those really uncomfortable circumstances to learn the value of being mentally prepared. It probably made you better in the long run as did some of my early experiences not being mentally prepared.


  3. Josh
    Great article. The power of the mind can be a huge benefit and can also be a massive enemy. I find I score best when confident and I score poorly when I lose focus and concentration.
    Good reading!

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