It took me a very long time to learn to control my emotions on the course and keep my head where it needs to be to shoot low scores. I am really still learning how to do it; it is something that all golfers struggle with from time to time. Nonetheless, I have picked up some tips that can really help young golfers develop the mentality needed for competitive golf.
Competitive golfers can tend to overanalyze things. We can look and find fundamental flaws in our swings when there may not be any there to begin with. In the buildup to tournaments and competitive play - don't overanalyze things. The best thing we can do is to trust our swing. Arnold Palmer said it best in the Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial: “Swing your swing. [It is] perfect in its imperfection.” The more we trust our game, the looser we will be in competition, and the better we will play.
I know some golfers who take notes while they play - writing down what they need work on or how many puts they had. While keeping stats is fine in practice rounds or while working on things on the course - it can be catastrophic during tournament play. When you're in the thick of it in a competitive environment – and you need to hit key shots down the stretch - you do not want to be thinking about how many fairways you had hit that round, or that you may have missed more green than you hit. This thinking destroys confidence and will make it much harder to hit good shots. Notes and stats are fine for practice rounds when you are not playing for score - stats can offer great feedback where your game needs improvement and where to spend your time practicing.
In tournament play or in rounds where you are really playing for score – compute your stats after the 18th. You can always look back and see where you want to put in some work, but do not examine your game during the round. As golfers we need short memories. We play one of the most mentally intensive sports in the world - and we should not waste mental energy worrying about our percentages during play.
Another good mental tip when going into a tournament is to know that there is a different between a normal practice round and a tournament practice round. In the rounds right before you play a tournament - you are examining your game and looking only for a “tune-up,” not trying to change your swing. You are there to see how your shots are moving, where your misses are, and where your strengths and go to shots are. Unless something is seriously wrong with your swing - you should not be trying to fix or tweak anything during those rounds. The greatest players in the world do not attempt to make fundamental fixes during their tournament practice rounds - they play with what they have. If you're missing your targets left, account for it by aiming right. Don't try to fix it right before a tournament - it can seriously affect your focus and your confidence.
Do not fall into the trap of looking for something to be out of whack just because there is nothing blatantly wrong with your game. Don’t fall into paralysis by analysis. Trust your ability - stay loose and you will be a confident player under pressure.
**Bob Bonney is a senior at William & Mary and president of the club golf team