Golf. Why do you play? 

No really, look away from the screen for a second and think about why you play. 

While a select few people play for money (real money, not your $100 bet with your buddy), most of us play for a variety of reasons. It helps us destress, it’s nice to get outside, it’s a great social activity, we like doing things we’re good at, it’s a good form for an exercise, we like to punish ourselves…err maybe that’s just the hacks. 

It can be easy to lose sight of that when we get on the course and things aren’t going our way. When the weather sucks, we start to question that whole ‘nice to get outside’ idea. When we’re already shooting 5 over through 2, we start to question any positive thought we’ve had about golf. 

These doubts, frustrations, and questions are a big distraction. They keep our minds wandering away from the ball and into things that are unhelpful. They pull our attention to the things we can’t control and toward things that hamper success. And the worst part…it doesn’t always feel like something we can change, particularly when we don’t notice it until we’ve already spiraled. 

So how do we get our head back in the game? 

Like most things in life, prevention is the most effective strategy. But prevention is hard because it requires us to make substantial efforts toward something when there is no identified problem. As humans, we tend to make decisions, for now, us, not future us. Let’s flip the script – trust me, future you will thank past you!

Pre-Game Mental Routine 

  • This doesn’t have to be lengthy, but it needs to be consistent. Find a way to get your body into the state that it needs to be. More hyped up? More relaxed? Then find one or two things you want to focus on this round. Maybe you’ve been struggling with making smart choices over trying new things out. Maybe you get stuck on mistakes from two holes ago. Decide what you’re working on today and “set the intention” for this round. Then close your eyes and spend a couple of minutes seeing yourself hit successful shots. 

Manage in-round Frustrations Ahead of Time 

  • Determine what you will do when you inevitably hit a bad shot. What can you say to yourself at that moment to get your head back and focus on the next shot? Is there a quote or phrase that helps re-ground you? Decide that ahead of time so you aren’t trying to think of something on the fly – which almost never works. 
  • Set appropriate goals for the day – I recommend 3 levels of goals.
    • Goal 1 – Everything goes right. The weather holds. Your energy level is high. The balls seem to be landing well. What’s the optimal goal for the day?
    • Goal 2 – You’re a little tired. It’s too hot out. Your hip is bugging you. What goal can you be satisfied with if things don’t seem to be going quite right today?
    • Goal 3 – it’s a dumpster fire of a day. Nothing is going your way. The greens are tricking you on every hole. Branches seem to be jumping off trees right in the flight path of your ball. What is the bare minimum you can leave the course being happy with? 

You’re smart enough to know that things aren’t going to go your way 100% of the time. If you needed that to happen, you certainly wouldn’t have chosen golf as your sport. 

You will get derailed in most rounds you play. Something will happen that will test your mental toughness. But these three strategies, if done consistently before your rounds, give you something to refer back to, to refocus on. They throw your north star up in the sky before the round and give you that direction to look up at throughout the round. 

Don’t believe me? Give it a go and tell me I’m wrong.