mental toughness part 1

To a non-golfer, the idea that golf requires toughness is almost laughable. Granted, only in unusual circumstances – extreme heat, walking a hilly course rather than riding a cart, playing with injury – are golfers forced to overcome genuine physical challenges.

But when it comes to mental toughness, golf provides a thorough examination.

First, let's define mental toughness as it relates to golf. Broadly, it's the ability to maintain or exceed your typical level of play in the face of pressure or adversity, such as a bad hole, an unlucky bounce, difficult conditions or a strong opponent. Put another way, mental toughness enables you to perform well physically when confronted with mental and emotional challenges.

It's no coincidence that history's greatest golfers, including Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, possessed exceptional mental toughness. It's impossible to win consistently and claim major championships without it.

The question is, can you learn to be mentally tough?

The answer: absolutely.

You may think mental toughness can only come from experience – from trial by fire, if you will. True, if you're never put in a position that challenges your strength and resolve, you won't develop these traits. But if you play golf with any seriousness, if you care at all about how you perform, the game will test you every time out.

Here are some basic qualities all mentally tough golfers share:

In Part II of this article, we'll offer tips to help you improve in each area.

How to Improve Your Golf Mental Toughness

How to Improve Your Golf Mental Toughness

Above all else, golf is a mental challenge. Sure, you have to have solid technique if you are going to be a good player, but it is often what goes on between your ears that determines how well you will play. It is possible to squeeze great scores out of a mediocre swing if you know how to think your way around the course – and it is possible to post bad scores with an excellent swing if you struggle with the mental game. Instead of focusing all of your time and attention on your mechanics, invest some effort in improving your mental toughness and your game will be better prepared for whatever comes your way.

In this article, we are going to cover some of the options you have at your disposal for working on your mental toughness. Also, we are going to discuss exactly what mental toughness is in golf, and why it is so important to your success. It is easy to fall into a pattern of heading to the driving range to work on your swing without spending time on any other areas of your game – but that is a mistake. The best golfers are those who work on all parts of the game in order to become a well-rounded, consistent player.

Of course, mental toughness is only one part of the mental side of this difficult game. In addition to being tough, you also need to use your brain to logically plan out each shot that you hit. Taking the approach of just aiming for the hole and swinging hard simply isn't going to work out very often. Good golfers take a moment to plan each shot carefully before putting the club in motion. You should always have a ball flight in mind for your full swings, and you should have a very specific target selected as well. As you gain experience on the links, you will get better and better at planning successful shots – and your game will improve as a result. The average golfer thinks that they need to make drastic swing changes to find better scores, but that is not the case. Through a better mental approach to golf it is possible to lower your scores while using the exact same swing.

On the topic of mental toughness specifically, you don't have to be a professional golfer – or even a competitive amateur – to benefit from mental toughness. This is a skill which is important in tournament golf, but it is also important during the average round with your friends. As long as you care about the score you record at the end of the day, you are going to need mental toughness to keep you on track. Not only will this skill help your golf performance, it may actually help you in other walks of life as well.

All of the content below is written from the perspective of a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

Why This Matters

Why This Matters

Mental toughness is important in golf because there are going to be a number of challenges that come up in any given round. A 'smooth' round of golf is almost impossible to achieve – you are sure to find yourself in some tough spots, and make a few mistakes, along the way. Even at the top levels of the game, where quality shots are the rule rather than the exception, you will still see plenty of difficulties that have to be overcome. Next time you watch a golf tournament on TV, pay attention to the flow of the round for one of the top players. Do they sail through without encountering any troubles? Probably not – more likely, they find a way to get through the tough spots, recover from poor shots, and work as hard as they can to get the round moving in the right direction.

Before we talk about how you can improve your mental toughness, let's discuss what you stand to gain by doing so. The following points are ways in which you can improve your golf game by keeping your mind in a great place from start to finish.

  • Bounce back from a bad hole. One of the most important benefits of mental toughness in golf is being able to bounce back after you have a bad hole. Imagine for a moment that you make a triple bogey on a relatively easy hole. As you walk to the next tee, how is your mindset? If you are like most players, you will be frustrated and not feeling particularly happy with your game. It is at this point that many golfers give up and stop putting maximum effort into the round. But the mentally tough golfer goes in another direction. When you have a strong mental game, a bad hole simply causes you to refocus and work even harder on the next hole. This is a difficult skill to learn, of course, but it can be extremely valuable when you add it to your game.
  • Overcome a poor shot. Just like having mental toughness can help you rise above the frustration that comes with a bad hole, your mental toughness can also help you deal with a single bad spot. The best example of this is coming back from a missed short putt. Every golfer hates to miss short putts, as doing so feels like a wasted shot that you are never going to get back. It is easy to get hung up on the thought of wasting that stroke, but you need to move on right away to avoid wasting more shots. Those who are mentally tough on the course tend to treat each individual shot as its own challenge, with no carry over from one to the next. We will talk more about this concept later in the article.
  • Play well under pressure. Sometimes, your mental toughness is going to show itself not in recovering from a mistake, but rather in allowing you to play well when the pressure is on. Pressure comes in a variety of forms on the golf course, and you need to know how to handle it properly if you wish to consistently improve. You might be nervous because you are playing with a group of good golfers, or maybe because you are playing well and have a chance to set a new personal record. Whatever the case may be, mental toughness can help you to push the nerves away while you focus in on the task at hand.
  • Deal with distractions. Golf is a game which is played outside, and there are usually many other people around as you play. That means one thing – endless possibilities for distraction. There may be a plane flying low overhead, or some people making noise outside of a nearby house. Your playing partners could be louder than you would like, or maybe there are things on your mind from your life outside of golf. Whatever happens to be presenting itself as a distraction, you are going to have to be mentally tough enough to focus on the task at hand while blocking out those other things. Many golfers struggle to do this, and they fail to play their best golf on a consistent basis as a result.

Mental toughness can benefit you in many different ways on the golf course – and off of it, as well. Some people are naturally more tough from a mental perspective than others, but there are steps you can take to improve yourself in this area. The rest of this article will be dedicated to working on the improvement of your mental toughness.

The Basics

The Basics

Right of the bat, there are a few basics you should understand which will help your mental game. These can be thought of as the 'building blocks' of good mental toughness on the golf course. As long as you keep these key points in mind while you play, it is likely that you will have a solid attitude and rational approach to your rounds.

  • Each hole is its own challenge. This might be a cliché by this point in golf history, but it is still very important. When you step to the first tee for an 18-hole round, you really should be thinking about the day as 18 separate one-hole events. Since you start over on each hole by putting the tee in the ground, there is no carryover from one hole to the next. The shots you hit on a previous hole don't affect the shots you are going to hit on the next hole – or at least they shouldn't. Shots within a hole do run together because you play your next shot from wherever the previous shot came to rest, but from hole to hole there doesn't need to be any connection. Use the distance travelled between holes – whether on foot or in a cart – as a chance to reset your mind and refocus on the new challenge you are about to face.
  • Other players do not impact your game. One of the biggest mental mistakes made by amateur golfers, and even some pros, is allowing the actions of other players in their group to affect their own choices. This is commonly seen on the tee, as all of the players are standing together to get the hole started. If one player takes an aggressive line with the driver – such as trying to drive the green on a short par four – it is very likely that the rest of the group will follow suit. That is a mistake. If you are going to go for the green, that decision should be based on your own abilities, rather than the choices of other players. Never allow others decisions to impact how you play your game. The only goal is to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible, and you should do so in whatever manner you see fit.
  • Bad things are going to happen. You might think this sounds like a negative way of approaching the game of golf, but it is the right attitude to have – you should be expecting bad things to happen along the way. Bad breaks and tough luck are just a part of golf, so you should make peace with that fact as soon as possible. Think about it – you are hitting a round ball way off into the distance, and it is landing on a firm piece of turf before bouncing and rolling. Of course unexpected things are going to happen. You can't control everything on the golf course, so don't even try. Accept the fact that you can only do your best to plan a smart shot and execute a solid swing. From that point forward, you can only watch to see what happens.
  • Take ownership of your game. This point goes right along with the previous point about dealing with bad luck on the course. When you start to struggle during a round of golf, it is easy to get into the habit of blaming other things, rather than yourself. You might think that the course just doesn't want to give you any good bounces, or that your playing partners are distracting you. Or maybe you will blame the pace of play for your inability to get into a rhythm. None of these excuses are going to get you any closer to playing better golf. Instead of going down this road, put the excuses away and take ownership for your game – both good shots and bad shots. The sooner you accept your outcomes and decide to work toward improvement, the sooner you will be able to make progress with regard to your scores.

Doing a good job on the four points listed above is going to be easier said than done. Keep these in mind as you play, and think about them specifically when you start to feel your attitude going in the wrong direction. No golfer is perfect in terms of always being mentally tough, but you can work on being better and better every time you tee it up.

Helpful Practice Drills

Helpful Practice Drills

On the surface, it seems like this is the kind of thing which you can only work on during actual rounds of golf. That is not true, however, as there are ways to design your practice sessions so that you can put your mental strength to the test. As is always the case in golf, you want to design your practice in such a way that you will be improving your performance on the course in upcoming rounds. If your practice sessions don't really apply to your on-course game, there is no point in investing the time and energy to complete them.

The following list contains three practice ideas which will help you attain better mental toughness.

  • The Pull Back Putting Drill. Your mental toughness is sure to be tested on the greens, so this is a natural place to start with our drills. This drill is quite simple – you are going to use just one ball, and you are going to try to two-putt from a variety of locations around the green. Each putt you start out with should be at least 30-feet in length, and ideally even longer. However, there is an added challenge with this drill – after your first putt, you are going to 'pull back' the ball away from the hole by one putter length. So, if you managed to lag your first putt to within two feet of the cup, you will now be faced with a five-footer. This drill will challenge your mental toughness because your second putt is going to get harder each time. You will need to hit a good lag putt just to get in position, then you will have to refocus after pulling the ball back away from the hole. To add some pressure to the scenario, consider practicing with a friend for some healthy competition.
  • The Bad Lie Drill. One of the things that will test your mental strength of the golf course is drawing a bad lie in the fairway. When you hit the fairway, you are naturally happy with your swing off the tee – only to arrive at your ball and find that you have been left with a poor lie. To improve your attitude and performance in these situations, try giving yourself bad lies intentionally on the driving range. Most people place their practice balls perfectly on some clean grass to achieve a good strike, and there is certainly room for that kind of practice, but it is also important to work on playing from poor lies. This will teach you that it is possible to hit a reasonable shot even when you have a bad lie.
  • The Distraction Drill. You are going to need a friend to help you with this drill. When you are practicing out on the range, ask your friend to distract you during your swing from time to time. He or she should be safely back from where you are swinging of course, so these distractions should be verbal. Just have them call out your name or say something else which may take your mind off the task at hand. Learning how to complete your swing even when distracted will do wonders for your mental toughness.

Practicing in a way that tests your mental toughness is a great way to sharpen your on-course performance in coming rounds. There also needs to be plenty of time in your practice sessions for 'normal' work on your game, but be sure to include at least a little bit of practice which is geared toward your mindset and attitude.

Other Notes

Other Notes

Before we wrap up this discussion of mental toughness in golf, there are a few remaining points which need to be highlighted.

  • Don't worry about other people's opinions. This is a good tip for golf as well as for life in general. If you are trying to impress other people with your play on the course, you are destined to wind up disappointed and frustrated. You should be only concerned with having fun on the course, giving your best effort, and spending time in an enjoyable manner. Other golfers are too worried about their own games to care about your performance anyway, so forget about trying to impress them and instead enjoy yourself to the fullest extent possible. When you are having fun on the course, you are naturally going to have a better attitude.
  • Draw confidence from past successes. There is nothing like seeing good shots come off your clubs when it comes to building confidence for future rounds. Remember your good shots and call on those memories when you are in a particularly tough spot in the future. Golf is a hard game, so confidence can be tough to come by – and confidence is necessary if you are going to be mentally strong.
  • It's just a game. At the end of the day, this is just a game played by people who enjoy being outside, getting exercise, and chatting with friends. By not taking it so seriously, you can actually improve both your level of play and your enjoyment all at the same time. You will be mentally stronger when you have this approach to golf, as you will keep the game in perspective and realize that there are many more important things in the world than the score you write on your card when the round is complete.

Having mental strength is pretty much a prerequisite for playing good golf. Without a strong mental approach to the game, the little things that go wrong along the way are going to become a road block on your way to lower scores. With a game as difficult as golf, you have to accept that things are going to go wrong from time to time. Instead of letting those things get you down, you can decide to be tough, stick with it, and do your best on each future shot. Good luck!