7 Golf Mental Game Tips to Focus Like a Pro
If you’re an avid golfer, chances are you know what a mental battle the game presents. However, when you learn to master your own mind, almost anything becomes possible.
Perhaps no better player exemplifies a strong mental game than Tiger Woods. No matter how big the stage during his career, he’s been able to step up and make the clutch shots happen.
Sure, his swing and excellent short game has helped too. But he credits a lot of his success to learning mental game strategies at an early age.
In an interview, he said, “My mother’s a Buddhist. In Buddhism, if you want to achieve enlightenment, you have to do it through meditation and self-improvement through the mind. That’s something she’s passed on to me: to be able to calm myself down and use my mind as my main asset.”
The good news is that even if your mom didn’t teach you Buddhist mental game tips as a kid, you can learn. Keep reading to learn how to think like Tiger on the golf course.
Best Golf Mental Game Tips
In my latest book, Wicked Smart Golf, I outline tons of ways to master your mind for better performance on the golf course. In this post, I’ll share seven tips that you can implement tomorrow that have a huge impact on your game.
1. Upgrade Your Attitude
The first lesson inside Wicked Smart Golf is about creating an attitude of gratitude to get your mind right for the round of golf. So many of us play golf like our life depends on it, when in reality, 99.99% of us are out there for fun and not relying on a good round to pay the bills.
I challenge you before teeing off the first hole to choose gratitude. Be grateful that you…
- Have money to own golf clubs and play different golf courses.
- Are in such good health that your body allows you to swing a club.
- Have friendships with other golfers that you can spend the day with (or get the opportunity to meet new friends on the golf course).
Most golf mental game tips skip over simply being grateful to play golf but it’s critical for lower scores and more importantly, enjoying the game. Before teeing off on the first hole or when you arrive in the parking lot, say thanks and appreciate every moment you get to spend on the golf course.
2. Don’t Sabotage Yourself with Negative Self-Talk
When you’re on the course, does your self-talk help or hurt your game?
If you’re like so many players, it’s probably not helping and can limit your true potential. Self-talk is so important because your mind is always listening to what you say (both internally to yourself and externally to others).
So if you’re saying things like, “It’s just not my day today” or “I’m a bad putter” over and over again, your mind will take note. If you speak negatively about your game long enough, it will come true. Plus, it’s not fun for anyone you’re playing with to hear you whine and complain all day.
Instead, I challenge you to only say positive, empowering statements about your game. That doesn’t mean you won’t hit bad shots, but will set you up for success. While bad shots will still occur, choose not to comment on them and focus on the positive ones instead.
The biggest reason this is so important is because of a principle known as negativity bias. Here’s a formal explanation from Very Well Mind:
“Our tendency to pay more attention to bad things and overlook good things is likely a result of evolution. Earlier in human history, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death.
You’ll have to fight the negative statements at first because you’re going against your nature. But over time, you can overcome this and your self-talk can empower you to hit good shots.
Here’s the simple rule, if you wouldn’t say something to a fellow friend or competitor, don’t say it about yourself either.
3. Watch Your Body Language
Like your self-talk, your body language can directly impact your performance on the golf course. Don’t get me wrong, golf will beat you down at times and make it easy to want to slump your shoulders or put your head down in disgust.
You might perfectly drive down the center of the fairway, only to end up in a divot. Or, hit an incredible approach shot that hits the flag and then bounces off the green. I like to call these situations tests from the Golf Gods.
They happen to every golfer but it’s how you react to negative events that determine your success in the sport. Like self-talk, you control your body language so make sure it signals optimism and strength to your brain.
You want to avoid negative body language like:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Having your head down
- Tense facial expressions
- Arms folded in front of your body
Instead, focus on more effective body language like:
- Chin up
- Eye contact
- Upright and open posture
This will give you the best chance to succeed during a difficult round and also enjoy it more too.
Related: The Basics of the Golf Swing
4. Breathe for Better Golf
Another part of your body that you control that directly impacts your performance in golf (or any sport) is your breathing. So many golfers get nervous, tense up, and quit taking deep breaths during the round.
When you stop breathing regularly, your mind thinks there’s an emergency and sends signals to your body to cope. This sends your mind into panic mode and creates a fight or flight response. In reality, there is no emergency, you’re just nervous about a certain shot or situation on the golf course.
To keep your mind at ease, make sure to keep breathing during the round, especially on pressure packed shots. This will help remove tension and calm your nerves so you can focus on executing the shot.
A Golf Digest article talked about the importance of breathing during pressure packed moments. As they said, ‘Tiger Woods in the moments before his famous ‘Expect anything different?’ putt at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines is to see a player who had slowed his breathing considerably to control his nerves over the ball.”
When you find yourself facing a tough tee shot or a putt you want to make, keep breathing!
5. Lock in Your Target Like Tiger
Another mental game tip is to keep things simple on the golf course and leave mechanics on the range. Instead, focus on your target above all else.
In the book, Think Like Tiger, the author outlines the exact routine Tiger does before each shot. The good news is, you can do these too.
Here’s his step-by-step process to build confidence before your swing:
- Choose a club based on yardage, lie, and course conditions that you’re certain can hit the shot you want.
- Pick a target in the distance and stare at it briefly to create a clear visual picture in your mind. The more specific, the better.
- Take practice swings while looking at your target, not the golf ball.
- Step into the ball from the side, get the ball position correct, take 1-2 last looks at your target and start your backswing.
Like other golf mental game tips, your pre-shot routine is something you control. Practice it on the range for more confidence on the golf course.
6. Stay Present
One of the hardest things in golf is learning to stay present. It’s so easy to let your mind wander to the last hole where you just missed a short putt. Or, if you’re playing well, wander to the future and get anxiety about the 18th tee shot.
To play your best golf, you need to use all your mental energy on the shot at hand. You can’t change the past and the future hasn’t happened yet, so focus on the present!
I had this issue before myself until working with a sports psychologist in 2019. After explaining to him that my mind wanders during the round, he suggested wearing a rubber band on my wrist. Then, anytime I was thinking about the past or future, to snap it back on my wrist as a mental trigger.
This small bit of pain reminded my mind to get back to the present moment and think about other shots after the round!
7. Fight Until the Finish
As you know, there are going to be days when you just don’t have much of your game. Maybe your driver is off, your irons are all over the place, or your putter gets cold.
It’s in these moments that you must learn to persevere. As Tiger Woods said, “The days you don’t have it, you don’t mail it in, you don’t pack it in. You give it everything you got and you grind it out.”
Learning to grind it out, no matter what you’ve done already in the round, is one of the most important parts of golf. So many golfers mentally quit after a nervous first tee shot, an early double bogey, or a bad front nine. But as you know, things can change quickly as long as you don’t quit.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a bad front nine and shot 7-8 shots better on the back. Or, had a rough first stretch of holes only to finish at even par. Like Tiger, I learned early on that mentally quitting is just as bad as walking off the course.
Keep fighting, keep grinding, and the Golf Gods will reward your grit.
Even if you can’t swing like Tiger, you can think like him using these golf mental game tips.
Remember, there’s a lot you can’t control in golf, but you always have the ability to have a strong mental game. Specifically make sure your attitude, self-talk, body language, and breathing aren’t sabotaging your round.
Then, make sure you’re staying present for the shot you face, not the last hole or the upcoming one. Don’t forget, mastering the mental game is the key to unlocking greatness and playing to your true potential. As Arnold Palmer said, “Success in golf depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind.”
To learn more mental game strategies to take your game to the next level, I suggest checking out my book, Wicked Smart Golf.