Golf – An Exercise of the mind
Ah, the mental exercise found in golf. It is unmatched by any other sport. It can drive you crazy or it can properl you past your more talented opponent with ease. But the one thing it certainly does is keep you coming back for more.
The mental aspect of golf is as unpredictable as the physical, or perhaps even more so. Just as you can never play the same golf course twice, because factors such as pin placements (the exact spot where the greenskeeper places the hole) or wind conditions are constantly changing, you can never play the same mental game.
So many factors come into play when it comes to mental strategy on the golf course. Perhaps you’re not feeling good that day or your playing partner is being particularly distracting; it can make it tough to concentrate. Have you ever tried to stay mentally sharp on the course when the temperature dips below 40 degrees or your scorecard indicates an 80-and you’re only on the 12th hole?
“The mental part of the game is by far the hardest part to master, if it can be mastered at all,” comments 28-year-old golfer Kathy Teichert, who after an impressive amateur and collegiate career now makes her living as head coach of the Western Kentucky University women’s golf team. “I am constantly preaching to my players that mental toughness is what separates the good teams from the great teams.
“I tell my players to focus on one short at a time,” Teichert continues. “It’s important if they leave a green after three-putting, that they step up to the next tee and put the disaster on the last green behind them. Every time you stand over the ball, you should be concentrating solely on that shot and have confidence that you’re going to make a good shot. Confidence is crucial.”
Just as the pros have a physical pre-shot routine, such as a practice swing or a certain way of setting up to the ball, many also have a mental pre-shot routine. Perhaps it’s as simple as making the mental statement to themselves, “This shot is going to be awesome,” or it may be making a mental checklist of their swing technique before initiating their backswing.
Veteran tour standout Amy Alcott uses mental imagery when she has an exceptionally tought shot to make. She sees a mental image of herself making a good swing and her ball flying toward the hole. Try it the next time you’re directly in the path of a water hazard that looms as large as Lake Michigan. You can also work on your mental game when watching the pros on TV. Put yourself in their golf shoes and mentally map out your strategy. Would you go for the pin or lay up just short of the green to avoid the lurking sand trap?
Turner credited an improved mental attitude as perhaps the biggest factor that led to her number-one finish on the 1988 money list. “I finally learned to concentrate and realized the players that were winning were making their share of bad shots. The difference was they weren’t letting the bad shots affect them all the way around the course. You can make a bad shot now and then and still play good golf. A lot of people expect a good shot every time and can’t handle the mental strain of the game.”
PUTTING – THE TRUE TEST OF TEMPER
Perhaps the most mentally taxing aspect of golf occurs on the putting green. Imagine how you feel after you’ve put together two or three great shots from fee to green, only to take three or four more strokes to get the ball in the hotel What looked like a sure par has turned into a triple-bogey-seven and you are mentally destroyed for the rest of the round.
This is known as the three-whack blues and while the only true remedy is the ever-elusive solid short game, you can treat the symptoms. In fact, it’s really quite painless. It’s called practice.
“Last season I finally became consistent with my putting,” Turner says. “I really worked hard on it. Consistent putting is a circle. The more putts you make, the more confidence you’re going to have; and the more confidence you have, the more putts you’re going to make.”
You need to have confidence in all your clubs, but especially your putter. Many players, particularly beginners, find it helpful to use a putter that aids them in alignment. Nearly every putter has some kind of marking on the blade designed for that purpose and some are as elaborate as a rifle scope. Personal choice should take precedence over any sales pitch, so try a few out. Remember, confidence comes from feeling comfortable.
Putting doesn’t have to be a nail-biting experience, especially if you look at it matter-of-factly. The fact is, once you hit the green you’ve got two strokes to get the ball in the hole–not one. That’s how par is determined. Granted, you may take more than your allotted two or three shots to reach the green and that’s where you can get a shot back, but save yourself a lot of mental anguish. Concentrate on getting down in two, especially when you’re so far away that a flare might help you see the hole better than a flag.
In fact, even the pros on the menhs tour don’t sink the long putts on a consistent basis. Only 4.7 percent of the 60-footers attempted to date this season actually have dropped into the hole. Only 15.2 percent have been made from a 20-foot distance. If the pros have a difficult time draining the long putts, you are definitely better off playing the percentages and going for the two-putt.
“Imagine a two- to three-foot circle around the hole,” advises Turner. “Take a few good practice strokes to get a feel for the distance and go for it. Every now and then you’re going to make that putt and that’s great, but what you really want is to be able to get it close enough each time so that you can two-putt. Consistency is what you want on the green.”
A good way to practice this philosophy and work on your putting stroke in general is to take three balls to the practice green. Putt from about three feet from the hole until you knock all three balls into the cup. Then back up a few feet and do it again, concentrating on a smooth putting stroke. Once again, back up a little more, standing now about eight freet from the hole. Remain at this distance until you can put all three into the hole in one or two strokes. Increase your distance a few more times, until you can get 20 feet from the hole and drain all three balls with one or two strokes.
“I think you get better at the long putts if you practice the short putts,” suggests Inkster, who used a hot putter to clinch the LPGA’s first major tournament of this year, the Nabisco Dinah Shore. “Putting is all feel, and developing that feel can only come from practice.”