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The five deadly mental failures of golf


Of the hundreds of mental errors all golfers, both skilled and unskilled, tend to make, let me focus on just five of the errors I have found most common and most penalizing.
The first is failing to play within your capabilities. It’s really important to understand your own game. Many times folks will be matched or paired with someone they don’t know, and then try to outdo him, not being aware that they are even attempting to compete or impress the other golfer. The conscious task at hand is to become self-absorbed in what you are doing, to the exclusion of everything around you. Playing within your capabilities means knowing exactly how far you hit each club, comprehending your tendencies under pressure and using flawless course management.

Secondly, I have noticed golfers frequently succumbing to fear and anxiety. As you might expect, anxiety – call it nervous tension if you will – is associated with a mental state in which you worry more about the outcome and the consequences of your play (or match), and less about the real actions that you are about to perform. Your mind is cluttered with the apprehension and impatience of what is about to happen, causing tension, agitation and restlessness; and keeping you from performing as you normally would in other situations. The antidote for anxiety is to stick to an uncomplicated, repeating pre-shot routine, leaving you in a state of tranquility.

It has been my observation that high-handicappers spend or waste too many strokes around the green. Most of the strokes in the game of golf happen somewhere near or around the green. Think about it: you drive the ball and then hit an approach shot which will end up somewhere near the green. Then a pitch or a chip or two, or a sand bunker shot or two, and then two or three putts, and presto more strokes than you wanted – around the green. Why do I call this a mental mistake? Because almost no weekend golfers appreciate the need for short game learning and practice. The secret is to triple your short game practice and preparation.

Nearly all golfers suffer from inattention to fundamentals from time to time. No matter how good you are – in any sport – success demands continual attention to fundamentals. It’s blocking and tackling in football; passing and rebounding in hoops; bunting and base running in baseball. In golf, we need frequent reminders on grip, posture, stance, ball position and tempo. It generally takes an instructor to point out lapses in fundamentals. Yet most beginners are reluctant to take lessons. Why? “Too expensive,” I hear all too often. But the truth is that golf, played as a grossly clumsy and inept fool, is probably an expensive waste of time.

Lastly, the one most disastrous, deadly mental mistake is giving in to negative thinking and degrading self-talk. Here’s an example: “Now don’t hit it left into the pond, you idiot!” A significant element of this mistake is failing to choose confidence, while hoping for some magical good fortune or luck to happen, instead of making it happen.

It also includes indecision, poor judgement, self-defeating behavior and concentration lapses. What we need to do as golfers is to visualize the target and our swing, take dead aim and let it go. When we concentrate all our attention on the real-time task at hand – namely making a good swing – our desired outcome is far more certain. And, my friends, acquiring the discipline to focus only on the task that immediately matters makes the emotional reactions to doubt and fear disappear.

Dr. Charlie Blanchard is a licensed psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at docblanchard71@gmail.com.