Is it True That Golf is 90% Mental?

Golf Academy of America

By: David Estabrook

No doubt you’ve heard the old saying, "Golf is 90 percent mental." It’s a catchy phrase, but is it true?

You've also probably thrown away rounds out of anger, impatience, or fear to confirm it does have merit. Why do we still equate golf ability with physical skill?

Some players are more definable by the way they think than by the way they swing. Take the big hitter who blisters the ball but throws a tantrum every time he hits one out of play. He's got power but before long his emotions are boiling over. Then consider his alter ego, the guy who bunts it short but down the middle. He has half the physical gifts of the power player, but he knows his game and plays to it. Physical abilities only create potential in golf. It’s how effectively you apply them that makes the difference.

So why are golfers measured by their physical skills? Because they are more obvious than the mental ones. You never hear someone say, "That was a fabulous club selection," or "You have the most beautiful pre-shot routine." These factors get little credit, yet they clear the path for success, many times having a greater effect on a shot's outcome than the swing itself.

That's good news for most golfers. By thinking better, you may be able to immediately shave strokes off your scores. One thing is certain: Without an effective mental game, the rest of your game will never be at the level it could be.

At the Golf Academy of America we have three tenets to facilitate student preparation for exceptional careers in the golf industry: the game of golf, the business of golf and the technology of golf.

Below are the three pillars you need to organize your mental game for success:

  1. Play in the Present
  2. In golf, the tendency is to look ahead or dwell on holes you've played. Both clog your brain with distracting thoughts. If you have trouble putting mistakes behind you, it's time for a reality check. A good way to stay in the present is to focus not only on individual shots, but on pieces of shots.

  3. Know Thyself
  4. For many, golf is an obsession. It's what they do in their free time; what they read about and watch on television; what they daydream about at work.

    You may be thinking this is miles from where you are mentally, but consider a few of the warning signs. Does a bad round ruin your entire day? Does how well you play affect your relationships at home? Are you always saying you don't play as much as you'd like to? These could be indicators that golf is out of proportion with the rest of your life.

    On the other hand, maybe your perspective is fine, but when you play, you try to be someone you're not. For instance, you may want to be like John Daly, swinging out of your shoes and chasing every pin. But if your personality is more conservative, acting aggressively puts you at odds with yourself. The key is to be honest. Figure out what the game means to you, and periodically make sure you're staying on track.

  5. Use Your Emotions
  6. Every round you play has highlights and lowlights — shots you dream about, shots that haunt you. This sets the stage for an emotional roller coaster, which is no state to be in when consistency is your goal.

    When poor shots snowball and you feel your emotions taking hold, draw on positive experiences you've had. Recall the round you started with two double bogeys but finished strong, or the time you witnessed a player overcome an early slip and go on to win. Remember, whether good or bad things come along, there are usually plenty of opportunities for them to go the other way. Don't get too up or too down — a steady burn wins the race.

David Estabrook is one of Golf Digest’s 2012 100 Best Club Fitters and director of club fitting at Golf Academy of America in Dallas.

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