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Senior Golfer - On The Green

The mental keys to better golf

The Putting Green

I'm not sure which one of my old-time golf heroes uttered these immortal words, but they've stayed with me for more than five decades and guided my thoughts about the game: "Golf is 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental!"

If this is true, why don't most golfers, including myself, spend more time on mental preparedness? A good question, and here's some answers.

One reason why most golfers don't spend more time on the mental aspects of golf is because they don't know how to mentally prepare. Most senior golfers take this one step further, saying they can't improve their mental preparedness because they're too old and set in their ways.

Working on one's mental game isn't easy, but on the other it isn't rocket science. If we want to shoot lower scores; if we want to hit better shots; if we want to take those gorgeous golf swings from the driving range to the course, we need to work on our mental games.

The keys to improved mental games comes in many forms; but for me and many others, it boils down to two concepts: focus or concentration and confidence. It means being able to focus on the present, forgetting about the past, and not worrying about the future. I've said this before in several articles: the ability to focus on the shot at hand is not something that just happens-it takes work.

The prerequisite to focusing or concentrating on the present is emotional stability. Golf is reacting to our good and bad shots. It's easy enough to have a positive attitude when we're playing well, but how do we get ourselves back on track when something bad happens, like a double or triple bogey? Good golfers are those who are able to keep an even keel even when things go wrong.

I've written about this problem in previous columns, describing it as losing one's cool or choking under pressure. Here's a good example of what I'm talking about: I was playing in a club championship 10 years ago, and I needed a par on the last hole, a 450-yard par four to qualify for the final round. I hit a good drive, except that it hooked too much and came to rest in a sand trap 190 yards from the green. I surveyed the situation, took out my 3 iron, and hit a good shot, but it landed in the bunker to the right of the green, 50 feet from the pin. I blasted out, and left myself with 5-6 foot putt. I lined up the putt, and right before I was to strike it, the thought crossed my mind, "If I miss this putt, I won't play in the final round." Of course, I missed the putt.

The lesson I learned from that was simple: I let a negative thought come into my mind, and it negatively impacted my stroke. I need to think positively at all times on the golf course. More importantly, I wasn't focused on the task at hand, and so I let something from the future interfere with my effort.

Confidence comes from doing the things that matter in a consistent manner. In golf, I think confidence comes from hitting good shots, but it also comes from consistency, from developing a consistent pre-shot routine.

This is my goal on all my shots except putts, and here's my routine: I step behind the ball and visualize the shot I want to hit. I then step up to the side of ball and take a practice swing. I then place my club behind the ball, take a look at the target, and make a slight forward press to begin my golf swing.

This sounds simple, and I know that I will not hit the perfect golf shot because I know that golf is not a game of perfect. But what I do know is that I will find my ball, and use the same routine to hit the next shot. Neglecting to follow this routine causes problems, and they occur each and every round. My goal is to get myself back on track after those slip-ups.

Now, it's easy enough for me to elaborate on the importance of focus or concentration and confidence to each player's golf game, but many factors can lead to low confidence, not the least of which are aches and pains from arthritis or other ailments that accompany aging or a simple lack of practice. No matter what the cause, golfers experiencing these problems will have a lack of confidence and not play the game to their best abilities.

For golfers who have physical ailments or limitations, my suggestion is to deal with them. Don't dismiss them as being inconsequential. On the other hand, don't let them be the excuse for losing one's focus and confidence.

The reason that I'm stressing how important focus and confidence are to one's overall golf game is because I believe that many golfers frequently downplay the importance of the mental game. Those golfers who do not integrate the mental aspects of golf into their mechanical and physical swings will be playing sub-par and their scores will reflect it.

All this is to say: Focus and concentrations are the keys to good mental games, and never underestimate their importance to playing better golf!

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