6 Mental Tricks to Improve Golf Score
Okay, I'm assuming that it is the night before your big local tournament, club scramble, or club championship. These mental tricks are intended for golfers of all skill levels who want to shave a couple of strokes off of their game. After all, golf is about as mentally stringent as sports come.
Trick 1: Night before the big day!
First of all, it is important to sleep well the night before. Sure, you might have a cocktail party, your girlfriend might be calling, or your golfer buddies might be going out. The biggest mistake a golfer can make to ruin a potential good score is to not receive enough sleep.
So as you're lying down in bed at 8 p.m. (because most tournaments are early), you may start to feel the anticipation building up. The best thing to do the night before is visualize yourself succeeding on the course, hole after hole. Start at hole one and imagine yourself ripping a strong drive down the middle of the fairway. Then proceed to hit your next shot, and your next shot. Hopefully you've played a practice round so that this is feasible. Try to include some recovery shots as well in your made-up round.
Interesting note: Dwight Howard even said visualizing himself hitting the game winning three in the NBA finals helped him succeed on the court the next day.
This will not only raise your mood, but it will also help in preventing "Holy-cow-I'm-playing-good-I-hope-I-don't-screw-this-up-its," because you will have seen yourself winning the night before. It's okay if you fall asleep on hole 5, but a visualizing a couple of incredible shots will do wonders for your game.
Trick #2: The first tee: Routine, Routine, Routine, and Focus
Every golfer needs a routine that they repeat on every shot, even when they're playing horrifically. Sure, the routine may be modified from time to time. A good routine will include the following:
- A cue to start focus (as in touching the belt or hat). This does wonders. One you cue focus, don't think about anything else but the shot
- A deep breath at some point
- A practice swing that involves visualizing the shot. Visualization is of vital importance
- Finding intermediate targets. Jack Nicklaus found a short, intermediate, and long target on every shot. I would suggest at least one in line with your target that is within your peripherals. It could be a leaf or divot, but preferably something that won't move on you.
- Confidence. Don't be afraid to back away from a shot if something doesn't feel right.
Make sure that you're focusing as much as you can. Tiger Woods, on the last round of the PGA Tour Championship, didn't hear his mom and his largest corporate sponsor (president of Nike) shout good luck right next to him. He was that focused. Make sure you don't let pre-round chatter distract you from what's important.
Trick #3: Hole to Hole Thoughts
Take every hole one at a time. Even further, take every shot one at a time. Pros, although very capable of keeping score, have been known to lose track of their score in final rounds of major championships. Surely they want to know where they stand...but they don't. They only want to know what will help their next shot.
My advice, when you're traveling to the next hole, is to think "I'm going to try to be one under after this hole." If you're one under, then think "I'm going to try to be two under after this hole." If you're 8 over, you can think "how am I going to be 7 over after this hole?." After this, map out how you're going to play the hole. This leads me to...
Trick #4: Course Management!
This is key to those who haven't broken 80 quite yet. It's key for any golfer, but most low handicaps know how to do this (that's why they're low handicaps).
When driving, don't be afraid to hit 3-wood or 5-wood (or 2 iron, whatever works for you). If shortening the length of your drive significantly widens your target, always go with the shorter club. Don't ever think "Well, I'll just hit driver." Sure, you might cut the corner of a dogleg, but is it really worth the risk? Sometimes it is, but more people take out the driver than should.
When on a par 5, don't be afraid to lay up. Pick a club that will put you at an optimal distance from the hole. I personally like being exactly 100 yards out. So if I have to hit a 5 iron to put me there, that is my choice.
When approaching a green, don't always aim for the pin. The leading statistic in determining score is GIR (greens in regulation). This applies to every human being except Phil Mickelson. The point is that if the pin is barely placed over a water hazard or bunker, then aim to the side of the green with more room.
Trick #5: Take every factor into account
This sounds simple, but most golfers don't do it adequately. Matt Killen (who teaches Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes) once scolded me for not doing this. Make sure you are accounting for lie, wind direction, pin position, elevation, potential hazards, rain, and any other conceivable force that could possibly act on your ball.
Learn how to play downhill, side-hill, and fairway bunker lies. Learn how much wind affects ball flight. Learn to hit low shots when playing into the wind. Learn exactly how much elevation can affect distance. Learn how rain affects a shot. All of these things are beyond the scope of the article. Keep in mind that you need to know all of them to be the best golfer you can be.
Trick #6: Pinpoint targets
When picking a target, always pick a precise point on a golf course. It could be a tree or house off in the distance, however, it needs to be precise. Pick the right side of the tree, or the window of the house. Be as pinpoint as possible when picking a target.
Sure, if you focus on your target too much, you might forget to swing loosely. However, the more precise your target is, your mind allows less room for error. Try it, I'm confident it will help in the long run.
Bonus trick: Putting
While putting, imagine the hole is a clock. Imagine the numbers on the clock around the hole, with 12 at the top. Many pros have switch from "aim 4 inches to the left" to instead thinking "I want the ball to enter at the hole at about 7 o'clock." The reason for this? The human eye is bad at seeing in straight lines. Trying to rigidly putt at a line 4 inches to the left of the hole while standing over the ball is something only a few people in the world can do consistently. Instead, you might find it easier (or you might not) to putt the ball in a manner that will result in the ball rolling into the hole at the 7, 7:30, or 8 position. This will give your mind an idea of the correct line and speed.