Four mental challenges for golf’s return … and how to conquer them
June 08, 2020
By Dr. Gregg Steinberg, special to PGATOUR.COM
- June 08, 2020
Welcoming players back on the tee
The game is on! The PGA TOUR is starting back this week with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial. While everyone is excited to get the sticks out and compete, there is still apprehension in the air. The mental obstacles are real and must be dealt with in an effective way for the players to feel comfortable when play returns.
Given that many courses have been closed throughout the country as a result of the lockdown, these mental obstacles that will affect the TOUR players are very similar to those mental difficulties for amateurs when they begin to hit the links again this summer. The following are four key mental obstacles and their fixes to help both the TOUR pros and the amateurs.
Fear of risk
This risk of getting sick is real for anyone who ventures outside the home. This risk not only creates a fear for the TOUR player about getting sick, but also there is the fear of getting their family sick as a result of any exposure. This fear can reduce a player’s focus as well as increase his anxiety, which can lead to poor play.
The Fix: Focus on the controllables
We reduce our fears when we focus on factors within our control. The TOUR player must focus on what he can control such as social distancing as well as limit interaction with others players and staff. He should also have a plan on how he will respond to a variety of situations that may occur when play returns. He cannot focus on factors outside his control such as the behavior of other players. When you focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot, then you gain power over your fears.
Focusing on the controllables can also help the golf game of the pro as well as the amateur. Jack Nicklaus has stated that the only thing a player can control is his own game and further adds that being concerned about factors outside their control is not only a distraction but a waste of energy. Once the ball leaves your club, you must not worry about getting a bad break or bounce. The only thing you can control is making a good swing as well as having a good attitude and this will give you peace of mind on the course.
Ben Hogan once stated that he expected to hit at least five poorly struck shots a round. Hogan did not believe he would hit a perfect shot every time, although he wanted that as his goal. He kept his expectations realistic and this helped his mental game immensely. In the first few tournaments, TOUR players will most likely be rusty with their competitive play as well as in their mental precision. In turn, this can contribute to a few unwanted scores.
The Fix: Focus on improvement
Having realistic expectations about your game can lower stress levels while unrealistic expectations will only produce higher levels of anxiety, which in turn can lead to poor play. However, when a TOUR player focuses upon improvement and commits to working on those problems that have crept into his game during the break, then his attitude will be less soured when scores are not ideal.
This same principle goes for the amateur golfer. While playing for an ideal score makes golf fun (e.g., breaking 90), believing you will shoot great scores immediately following the re-opening of your golf course will create frustration and anger. Lighten up a bit on your score expectations and this will keep the joy in the game.
Playing without fans
Currently, the first few PGA TOUR events will be without fans, as the TOUR provides a safe environment for all those on-site. Most pros will tell you that they gain great energy from the adulation of the fans, and as a result, they focus and play better. But without fans, how will TOUR players find that essential energy?
The Fix: Boost your juices
Boosting your energy (also known as your intensity level) to play better golf will be same for TOUR players as well as amateurs. The secret to this process is that everyone is unique in that you must find images and buzzwords that help you to get pumped up. Perhaps you can use the buzzwords “Find the fire” or “I am bringing my A game” to find that buzz you need. For an image that boosts your intensity level, the pro may want to visualize that the fans are still surrounding the fairways and greens. The secret is to figure out what works for you to get the juices back to enhance that spark.
The frustration of our situation
TOUR players as well as the fans are concerned and very frustrated about the postponement of tournament play. While the cancellation of these events was necessary, this unique time in our lives can create essential life lessons for everyone -- if you choose to look at this situation with a positive mindset.
The Fix: An attitude of gratitude
This tragic moment can help us develop a better attitude about golf as well as about our daily lives. One switch in our mindset should be to have an attitude of gratitude. This has greatly helped Bubba Watson, who for many years, has stated that he has adopted an attitude of gratitude in which he counts his blessing every day. He appreciates how fortunate he is to be playing golf for a living.
Such an attitude can help both the professional and amateur alike. When you are thankful that you can now play golf for a living or just for fun, you are less angered when you miss a 3-footer. A grateful life puts you in a good mood and will contribute to your cool under pressure. But such advice is timeless as the great Walter Hagen once said, “You’re only here for a short visit, so don’t hurry, don’t worry and be sure to stop and smell the flowers along the away.”
But do more than just have an attitude of gratitude on the course. I guarantee it will work wonders in all areas of your life.
Dr. Gregg Steinberg is a professor of human performance at Austin Peay State University, near Nashville TN. Golf Digest ranked him as one of world’s greatest sports psychologist. Dr. Steinberg has been the mental coach for many PGA TOUR players as well as collegiate golf teams. He is the executive director of the International Golf Psychology Association (IGPA). For more information, please visit www.masteringgolfpsychology.com.