Golf for Beginners: The Mental Approach

Many beginners may not realize it, but the mental aspect of the game of golf is just as, or perhaps more important than, the physical one. Solid ball-striking starts with a good cognitive feel for the game, as well as a positive mental approach. Negative swing thoughts will always hamper you as a golfer, so it’s important to stay focused on the task at hand and access a positive mindset before you address the ball. It’s a pretty silly example, but the “happy place” Happy Gilmore goes to in the film of the same name is not that much of a stretch from what good players do when they are in a funk.

having fun on the golf course

Golf can be stressful, but in the end it’s still just a game. Remember to have fun on the course and your mental approach will be much better.

Step 1: Accessing Good Swing Thoughts

Hitting a good golf shot starts well before you address the ball. Even if you are having a rough day with missed shots and poor ball-striking, thinking negatively will only exacerbate the situation. The only real way to get out of a funk or slump is to change the mental approach. You know you can hit quality golf shots because you’ve done it before, so it’s time to believe in yourself and approach the shot with the utmost confidence.

Clear your head of past shots and focus on the current one. You should develop a pre-shot routine that starts with visualizing the shot and what you want to accomplish with it, whether it’s a well-placed lay-up in front of a hazard or a clean approach into the green. This is where you access a positive mindset. Take confidence in knowing that you can execute the shot just the way you have planned it.

Step 2: Pick a Target Zone

Of course, every shot on the course should have a purpose and a target line. Don’t just hit the ball to hit it. Once you’ve visualized the shot in your mind, pick an actual target on the course. Again, this could be the pin, a spot on the green or a safe place in the fairway that will set you up nicely for your next shot. The goal here should be to land the ball within 5-7 yards of your target zone, so give yourself a little room in your mind, but take your stroke aiming for the center of that zone.

In the short game, your target zone will obviously be much smaller, but your approach should be the same. When chipping, don’t necessarily zone in on the pin, but rather focus on the spot on the green that will allow the ball to roll right up to the cup for an easy one-putt. And when putting, the same theory applies. Instead of aiming right for the hole, pick a target that will account for the break of the putt. Sometimes this will require aiming to the left side of the cup’s edge or even further to one side, but staying on target will always be dependent on solid, mental focus.

Step 3: Keep it Simple

Evaluation of one’s swing on the course can definitely be a good thing, but the fact is that it messes with many players’ heads mid-round. After a poorly played shot, it often is best to erase the memory and focus on the next shot instead of trying to figure out the mechanical flaw. Players are typically best served by this type of analysis after the round. Thinking too much about what’s going wrong will just cause more to go wrong. Overcompensation, ill-advised swing techniques and misdiagnosis of swing problems usually causes bloated scores and deflated confidence. It’s better to stick to the plan and to remain consistent with your mental approach during a round. It’s easy to get discouraged, but simply focusing on the each shot, one at a time, will help you play better, feel more at ease and put better-looking numbers on the scorecard. Just take a smooth, simple swing and let the ball go where you intended it to.

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