Managing the mental game of golf

Golf is a great game that will test a person’s ability to control both their bodies as well as their emotions. But more important, it will test your ability to manage your thinking. You can’t open up a golf magazine without seeing five different articles on how to hit the ball straighter or longer from the physical side of things, but so rarely do you see articles addressing the mental side.

Larry Norland, director of golf at Green Haven Golf Course
Larry Norland, director of golf at Green Haven Golf Course

The thought process needed to hit consistent golf shots, especially under pressure, can be elusive. But with the proper ideas anyone can master the mental side of the game. One of the keys is to understand how the mind works. First of all your mind thinks in pictures not written sentences. Think about something you really like. Do you see a picture of it or the written words describing your favorite thing? How this relates to golf can be seen when you step onto a tee with water on the left. Mentally you see the water and although you consciously think to yourself “don’t hit it in the water,” your mind just sees water, not water with a large X and a don’t go there written across the pond. So when you swing, subconsciously your mind wants to go for the water or you consciously overcorrect and hit your drive way right. You would be far better off thinking to yourself, “don’t hit it in the middle of the fairway,” because again your mind is only seeing the fairway!

The other mental part I get a lot of questions about is first tee jitters, or jitters when attempting the putt to win the event or maybe even a $10 Nassau. The key here is to acknowledge the jitters and the butterflies in your stomach and then use them to your benefit. The day I don’t feel those butterflies on the first tee or when I am attempting an important shot is the day I stop playing competitive golf, because this would mean that I don’t care enough anymore. Those jitters are the sign that you care and they also signify that you are totally focused on the here and now, both of these things make it easier to hit that important shot.

When I was a young golfer I was paired in the final round with a legend of North Iowa golf. As I was standing on the first tee I was so nervous that I was afraid that I would throw up in front of all the people. This legend, seeing that I was nervous, walked over and asked me how I was doing. I told him I was incredibly nervous and was unsure how I would do. He looked at me and smiled and said, “I’m nervous, too. Isn’t it great?” When I knew that this legend of golf was as nervous as I was it allowed me to play pretty well and although I didn’t beat him, I was happy with my results.

The mental part of golf is the best and most interesting part of the game to me. The difference between playing for fun and playing for $1,000,000 is physically very similar, but mentally much more challenging. Good luck and good playing!

Larry Norland is the director of golf at Green Haven Golf Course in Anoka.

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