Bring Mental Toughness to your Game

Nov 8th, 2010No Comments

The ultimate challenge for PGA Tour players is the US Open. This one week the players will face extreme conditions: tight fairways, high rough and slick greens and only the strong will survive. You may not be playing in US Open conditions; however dealing with challenges requires mental toughness. Mental Toughness is the ability to thrive under adverse conditions and the skill of bouncing back from difficult situations.

5 Keys for Mental Toughness

            1. Adjust your Expectations

            Playing in difficult conditions can definitely create frustration. Be honest with yourself and what your expectations are for that round. Each round should be viewed differently. The tour pro knows that par is a great score at the US Open, but not at a regular tour event. Also remind yourself that all players will be experiencing the tough conditions. Shift your expectations about the round from score to process. Stay committed to going through your entire routine.

            2. Steady, not Flashy

            The more challenging the course the more important it is to be steady on the course. Change an aggressive mindset to playing a conservative strategy with the focus on making solid contact instead of playing for birdies. Hitting fairways should be the first priority and if that means using a 3 wood or Hybrid to hit the fairway then make that decision. This switches our focus from outcome (score) to process (solid contact). This will help you stay focused on the current shot and minimize the big number. Look at what last year’s US Open champion Lucas Glover did on the 72nd hole, he hit a 4 iron off the tee on the demanding par 4 to bring home the trophy.

            3. Minimize your emotional reactions

            Playing a tough course can definitely feel like you are on a roller coaster of emotions. I see too often players getting so frustrated with both their performance and the conditions that the two feed into each other and they have no chance to bounce back. Unfortunately, rising emotions affect your golf game in two ways. First, you will tend to make riskier decisions when you are frustrated to try to make up for the lost shots. This leads to more high scores and sets in motion negative momentum. Second, your body will get tight and your swing will be affected by the tension. I love two-time US Open champion Retief Goosen’s stoic attitude and how he handles the tough conditions. When he won at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 he remained calm while all the other players complained about the hard greens. He only focused on what was in his control which was his attitude toward the circumstances. You can’t do anything about the conditions so place your attention on what is in your control, your attitude.

            4. Bounce back perspective

            How do you view a poor result? Do you get angry and frustrated or do you turn the result into motivation to refocus to do better? The majority of golfers get angry immediately after hitting a poor shot. The goal is to minimize the critical judgments and get back to the simple golf attitude of “hit it, find it, and hit it again”. Camilo Villegas who just won the Honda Classic told his caddy before the tournament, “A bad attitude is not going to beat us anymore”.  Everybody hits poor shots, how you handle those shots will separate you from other players.

            5. Shift attitude from “tanking” to stepping up

            I see far too many golfers who choose to tank their round. Tanking is basically mentally quitting, feeling that no matter what they do the results will be poor. What the mentally tough do is take pride in their game knowing each shot is an opportunity to change the momentum of the round. See the round as six 3-hole matches. Create a goal for each match of what you want to score. What this does is refocus your attention on smaller goals instead of always looking at the entire round as a failure if you start poorly

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