Golf is more of a mental sport than any other game in the world. It’s just you, 14 clubs, and four plus hours battling the course, weather, and most importantly, your own mind so that you can shoot a good score.
Without the right mental approach, it’s nearly impossible to play good golf (or to enjoy it nearly as much). While I’ve seen super talented players still score well with a “bad” attitude, they look miserable the entire time. Which isn’t how the game is supposed to be played.
And since most of us aren’t ripping it 300+ yards or scoring in the 70s every round, it’s important to work on our mental attitude. Because with the right attitude, you will score better on a consistent basis even on your bad days. And with a good mental game, you’re never really out of it despite your physical game and always having more fun.
If you’re like most amateur golfers, you might be thinking…
- Do I need a coaching session?
- Do I need a pre-shot routine?
- How can I control my mind in golf?
- How do I get a good attitude in golf?
- What mental skills does golf require?
- What is the right mental approach to shoot lower scores?
These are all great questions, and we’ll help you solve them and more in this post. Soon, you will have the right golf attitude and positive mindset for success.
15 Tips To Improving Your Mental Attitude in Golf
Have you ever wondered why most golfers struggle so much to keep a positive attitude in golf? Why do so many of us throw golf clubs, get mad, and constantly worry before “big” shots?
That answer might surprise you…
The reason is that the human mind is programmed for negativity. Psychologists have coined the term, negativity bias and it has a huge impact on your behavior in life and in golf.
According to Very Well Mind, “Our tendency to pay more attention to bad things and overlook good things is likely a result of evolution. Earlier in human history, paying attention to bad, dangerous, and negative threats in the world was literally a matter of life and death. Those who were more attuned to danger and who paid more attention to the bad things around them were more likely to survive.”
That’s right, your brain is hardwired to think and remember negative events much more so than positive ones. Because at the end of the day, it’s a survival mechanism above all else. Even though threats from the past aren’t current today (ex. Saber tooth Tigers), the mind is still searching for negative events to protect you above all else.
At the end of the day, it remembers negative events much more than positive events.
That’s why you probably remember that horrible shot you hit on 18 when you were trying to break 80 for the first time, instead of the amazing shots you hit. Luckily, the good news is there are plenty of ways to develop a positive attitude to help in golf (and life).
Here’s how to start mental training …
1. Keep Things in Perspective
As golfers, we take things a little too seriously sometimes. For 99.9% of us, a bad shot won’t ruin our chance at a professional golf career. Yet, so many of us overreact and make things so much worse on ourselves than we need.
The trick is to keep everything in perspective. Here’s what I mean…
So many of us think that we should hit 10+ fairways, 12+ greens, always get the ball up and down, and never 3-putt.
But if the pros can’t do that, then why do you expect yourself to be able to? No offense, but if the guys getting paid millions of dollars can’t achieve this level of excellence, you probably won’t either.
Here are some stats from the PGA Tour to give you perspective about what you should aim for in your game.
- Fairways in regulation: 59% (yes, just over half)!
- Greens in regulation: 40 to 80% (depending on distance).
- Total scrambling: 58% (up to 30 yards from the green).
- Sand saves: 49% (not even half) and proximity from sand is nine feet.
Not to mention, the best players in the world average just under 29 putts per round. The point is that perspective helps you set realistic expectations for your game.
So many of us watch the PGA Tour and then project their best shots into our own game. But that’s not how golf works. The next time you miss a fairway or a green, just remember that the pros do too! This step should help with the right mindset when you’re on the golf course.
2. Stay in the Present
How many times have you let the past or future ruin a good round of golf? If you’re like most players, the answer is too often.
The past already happened, yet, so many of us think about past shots (usually the bad ones) a hole or two (or a day or two) later! This usually leads to a lack of focus and sears the negative memory even more into your brain. Meanwhile, a lot of us also project into the future as well.
A good example of this is when you play well on the front nine, then say “If I double that then I’ll shoot 79.” Then, instead of focusing on the shot ahead, you worry about not screwing up and quit doing the things that got you there.
The key is to take it one shot at a time.
Only think about the shot at hand, not the one you just hit or the one that you will have to hit.
When you stay in the present, you won’t get into fear, anxiety, or other negative emotions.
3. Learn From Your Setbacks
Failure is part of life and golf. No one achieves success in anything without a ton of adversity, setback, and failure along the way.
A good example of a golfer with plenty of setbacks and nearly everyone loves is Phil Mickelson. While he’s won 50+ times and won three of the four majors, it took him some time to finally win a big one. For years, he was known as “The greatest golfer to not win a major.”
For a player as talented as Phil, that’s quite a burden to carry around with you. Time and time again, he lost the lead on Sunday to only finish second. While he was playing great golf, a guy named Tiger Woods was playing some pretty good golf himself. It wasn’t until 2004, after 12 years as a professional golfer, that he finally won his first major!
After all those top 3’s and countless second place finishes, he didn’t give up. He kept grinding, kept improving all aspects of his game, and went on to win a handful more of the biggest titles in golf.
Just remember, setbacks are part of golf and life. Whether it’s an injury, a slump, or something else, it’s up to you to learn from them and keep pressing on. Failures are an opportunity to learn, not give up and throw in the towel.
4. Master Your Breathing on the Golf Course
When things go bad in life or golf, it’s common for us to stop our normal breathing pattern. But this actually makes things worse, as your brain is worried about the lack of oxygen it’s receiving. This makes you go into “fight or flight” mode and it is impossible to play your best golf.
To stay positive and optimistic, you need to work on your breathing throughout the round. The key is to take what is known as a centering breath, instead of trying to breathe like normal.
Jason Selk goes into this concept much more in his amazing book, 10-Minute Toughness. As he said, “A good centering breath is one that lasts fifteen seconds. The formula is 6-2-7; breathe in for six seconds, hold for two, and breathe out for seven seconds.”
The next time you get nervous, anxious, or frustrated with golf, take a good 15-second centering breath. This will help reset your mind and body to execute the next shot without your mind holding you back. Breathe slowly so get off the roller coaster and improve your mental game quickly!
5. Improve Your Body Language While Playing Golf
Have you ever noticed how some guys on the PGA Tour have the same body language, regardless of how well they’re playing?
Perhaps the best example is the top ranked player in the world, Dustin Johnson. Whether he’s +5 or -7 for the day, it’s nearly impossible to tell his score based on his body language.
Jon Rahm recently referred to him as a “goldfish” because of his ability to forget bad shots so quickly. While that might sound like an insult at first, it’s actually a huge compliment. Since goldfish have a memory of about 10 seconds, they constantly forget what just happened.
Think about how having short term memory would help you on the golf course? What if you just hit a horrible drive out of bounds but by the time you re-teed, you instantly forgot about it?
Forget things quickly and always maintain a positive body language to help calm your mind and keep grinding. Don’t let anyone see you get flustered!
6. Change Your Language and Self Talk
Anytime I play with new guys in a competitive event or a friendly round, I always monitor their self talk. In my 20+ years of playing golf, I have found that most people have horrible self talk that hurts their scoring abilities. Usually, golfers say things to themselves on the course that they never would in any other situation.
The key is to monitor your self-talk so that you can speak to yourself in a more empowering, positive way. According to the same Very Well Mind article from the intro, you need to, “Start paying attention to the type of thoughts that run through your mind. After an event takes place, you might find yourself thinking things like, “I shouldn’t have done that.” This negative self-talk shapes how you think about yourself and others.”
Self-talk is harder to manage than your language. While monitoring your self-talk is important, don’t forget about what you say out loud too. At the end of the day, you have a choice about what comes out of your mouth, so make it a point to never say anything negative about yourself or your golf game.
But that doesn’t mean showering yourself with positive thoughts, instead… it might mean tapping into the power of neutral thinking.
7. Start Neutral Thinking
One of the oldest clichés I’ve heard in golf and any sport is to “Just think positive.” From my experience, that’s easier said than done. When you just hit a horrible shot, in front of people, thinking positively feels about as possible as flying to Mars.
So what’s the secret?
This is a new concept to many, as most of us only think of our thoughts as positive or negative. I learned this concept from Trevor Moawad, a mental coach who works with elite athletes in the NFL, including Russell Wilson.
As Trevor said in this Thrive Global article, “Neutral thinking beats positive thinking every time. Most people, whether they are world-class athletes, Special Forces members, or everyday folk, tend to think negatively. Rather than trying to make the jump from negative to positive, I say move from negative to neutral. Neutral thinking may be the greatest guarantor of success that I’ve ever seen.”
So the next time you hit a horrific shot and want to dwell on it, don’t try to think positive – think neutral. Don’t get caught up in what just happened, instead, focus on something neutral to get you back on track. This is much easier than thinking positive and won’t put your brain into panic mode either.
8. Take a Mental Picture of Positive Shots
Remember how I said that your mind is programmed to remember negative events more than positive ones? While that’s true, you can still reinforce good memories so that you’re more likely to remember them.
For example, when I hit a great shot, I make it a point to remind myself at the moment how good it was. Whether it was a clutch tee shot or an awesome shot from trouble to avoid a big number, I remind myself of the shot to burn it into my mind.
While you don’t need to be cocky or gloat about every shot, don’t discount your good ones. So many of us hardly pay attention to amazing shots, but instantly dwell on the bad ones. Instead, make it a point to pat yourself on the back for the good ones and get over the bad ones quickly.
Another thing I like to do after each round is to log my good shots in a note on my phone. These are the ones I want to remember so that I can easily access these positive memories if I’m going through a tough time.
9. Forget and Laugh Off Bad Shots
Every player hits bad golf shots.
I don’t care who you are or where you live on the planet, hitting bad ones is an inevitable part of the game. Even the best players in the world do it, so don’t be shocked when you do as well.
The key is to not get overly emotional about the bad shot. Doing so will leave you flustered, angry, and likely sear it more into your memory. But when you just laugh off a bad shot, it’s easier to overcome it and get on with the next one.
Once again, this is easier said than done. As golfers love to want to impress our friends, total strangers, or even the cart girls but they happen.
A good way to implement this strategy is to go to the driving range with one goal – do not react to any bad shot. You can be proud of the good ones, but do everything in your power to chuckle and not remember the bad ones.
For some golfers, this might feel easy. For others, it might take a ton of mental fortitude. But the more you can act like a “goldfish” on the course and forget bad ones, the better you will play.
Doing this on the course doesn’t just happen naturally, though, it starts by practicing that way first and foremost. Once it becomes a habit on the practice tee, it’s much easier to take it to the course with you.
10. Keep a Mental Game Scorecard of Your Golf Game
Golf, for the most part, is a results oriented game. So many of us judge our game based on our score and nothing else.
But as you know, you can do everything right and have one blowup hole. Or, just get a bunch of bad breaks that limit your ability to go low. That’s just golf.
The key is to evaluate your round more on just your total score. A good way to do this is by using a “Mental Game Scorecard” which I learned about from Michael Lardon’s book, Mastering the Mental Game.
In the book, he said to get obsessed with the process of hitting a good shot, not so much the result. This way, at the end of the round you will have your score but also a mental game score as well.
While I highly recommend reading the book, here is a quick summary of a good “mental game scorecard.”
Each shot is based on three factors:
- Step 1: Calculate the shot. Factor in the wind, trajectory, hazards, and more using the left brain, aka analytical thinking.
- Step 2: Then, create the shot using your right brain, aka your imagination. This might mean feeling the shot in your hands or visualizing it in your mind.
- Step 3: The final step is to execute your shot based on your pre-shot and mental routine.
Regardless of what happens with your actual shot, you get one point if you do all three of these steps. You must complete all three of these mental skills to qualify and get your 1/1 score.
The goal is to get to 100% of your shots with a sound mental shot routine. So if you shoot a 78, you can also see that 90% of the shots executed your plan.
I bet you’ll find that the higher your mental game score, the lower your round on the card will be too!
11. Quit Worrying About the Score
If you want to have more fun in golf, sometimes you should rip the scorecard up before the first tee box. While it goes against so many golfers’ traditional way of thinking, so many of us have let a score ruin the round.
Remember, golf is supposed to be fun above all else! Unless you’re in a tournament where scores matter, don’t feel the need to always keep one.
Instead, go out there and play golf. When you simply play instead of trying to score well, you will probably end up playing better. Go out and focus on:
- Hitting shots.
- Getting creative.
- Trying the shots you “normally” wouldn’t.
Try to think like a kid and enjoy golf for what it is, a game with friends and family. This will help your mind relax and develop a better golf mental strategy for the game we love.
12. Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Players
One of the biggest mistakes I made for nearly a decade in junior golf competition and all the way through college was comparing myself to other golfers. I constantly would gauge my swing, distance, accuracy, and short game vs. everyone else.
As in life, comparing yourself to others robs you of your happiness because you can’t win. There is always going to be someone who is “better” than you at something.
The trick is only comparing yourself to your former self. Not another amateur golfer, your playing partners, the best golfer at your club, or anyone else.
Every golfer is different and it really doesn’t make sense to compare yourself with them. Every person has a different background, strengths and weaknesses, mental outlook, and a myriad of other factors.
Instead, only compare you to you (in competition or not)!
That’s why it’s so important to log notes in a golf journal, track your stats, and record videos of your swing regularly. This will help you realize how far you’ve come in your own golf career without trying to compare yourself with others.
13. Do a Post Round Recap
A post round recap is one of the best things you can do, regardless of your skills or handicap. Whether you want to fully track your stats or not, a quick five-minute recap can help too. Not only can it help with your attitude, but it will also help you improve too.
During a post round recap, the first thing I like to do is write down and relive my three best shots of the day. These could be a huge drive, a great iron shot, a chip or a putt. The key is to seek out at least three shots because even on bad days, you still hit some good ones.
Finally, make it a point to pick one area of your game that you struggled with the most. The one that really held you back from scoring your best. Then, spend the majority of your next practice session working on that area so that you turn your weaknesses into strengths.
14. Read Golf Books
Sometimes we get caught up in an endless loop of thinking the same thoughts, day in and day out. To help you break the cycle and upgrade your thinking, why not read some golf books to upgrade your mindset. Take a break from the practice green or range to learn from some great minds.
15. Take a Golf Break To Gain Focus and Control
While I’m confident all these tricks and tips will help your golf mental game, sometimes you just need a break. Some time away from the game is a good way to reflect, recharge, and fall back in love with the game.
Not to mention, a lot of the times I take a break, I come back and firing on all cylinders and sometimes become a better player overall.
Plus, you will probably…
- Focus more.
- Swing more freely.
- Achieve a better attitude.
- Start putting with less stress.
- Only think about the target, not technical faults from the past.
A break will help you get your mind in control and improve your mental game more than you might realize.
Bonus: Keep Working On The Mental Side of Things
Finally, don’t forget that you have to keep working on your mental training to make this a habit. You can’t expect to do these tips and tricks a few times and hope that overnight you’re a newly transformed player. While it might happen, it usually takes some time… especially if you’re someone who runs as hot as Jon Rahm on the golf course.
Just remember, life is too short to spend time angry on the golf course. The game of golf is meant to be enjoyed, not an expensive habit that makes you feel miserable.
Final Thoughts For a Positive Mental Attitude
As you can tell, there are tons of ways to upgrade your mind for success so you can start shooting lower scores. Don’t let this list overwhelm you, instead, use ones that speak to you and bookmark it for later. Sometimes one trick might not be in your wheelhouse at this time but could do wonders in a few months.
My biggest piece of advice is to pick 1-2 from this list and start implementing them during your next round. Play, practice, and start putting these tips to use.
Do not let your mind hold you back from greatness and enjoy the game that we all love. Even a bad day on the links won’t be as bad with the right attitude!