It’s the same for every big game in any sport: Before the kickoff, tipoff or first pitch, analysts tell us that Team A appears intense and focused, while Team B is loose and relaxed. Afterward, the winning team is credited with being appropriately focused/relaxed while the losers are faulted for being too intense/loose.
In other words, the right attitude is whichever one works.
Some teams – and individuals – perform best when they approach a task with keen intensity, while others thrive by sidestepping the pressure and keeping things lighthearted.
You’ll play your best golf when your mindset is balanced between focus and relaxation – “in the zone,” as they say. You may not even realize you’re in it, and if you do recognize it, you may have no idea how it materialized.
So how do you find your ideal on-course frame of mind? Tricky question. For starters, think about the everyday situations in which you thrive, and those in which you struggle. For example, when facing a deadline, do you perform above and beyond your normal capabilities, or do you get nervous and have trouble focusing? Do you work best on simple tasks with little or no pressure, or do you require higher stakes to get the juices flowing?
It’s likely that your on-course performance will mirror your non-golf efforts.
After a round, assess your performance. Was it exceptional, above-average, just average or awful? Next, consider your mood before the round. Were you relaxed? Excited about playing? Distracted by personal matters, like work or family issues?
What about during the round: Did your mood change while you were playing? Did you get angry or agitated by a bad shot? Elated by a birdie? Maybe you started feeling pressure near day’s end. Analyze how you played after these changes occurred.
Eventually, you’ll begin to recognize a pattern. Your best rounds – and even your best stretches within rounds -- will happen under certain conditions; same for your off days. Once you’ve picked up on a theme, try to create the proper circumstances before you play next.
For instance, let’s say you tend to score well when you’re amped up about playing. Maybe you visualize every shot beforehand, or get in a full practice session ahead of your tee time. Make those things a habit in the future.
If you play poorly when you get too psyched up, try a more laid-back approach. Play by feel rather than over-analyzing every shot.
The better you become at golf’s technical side – the swing, the putting stroke, club selection – the more important the mental side becomes. Learning your own tendencies is key to achieving optimal performance.