Best Mental Golf Strategy Tips to Lower Your Golf Scores
Welcome to the world of golf, where the physical aspects of the game are only part of the equation. The mental game is just as important, if not more so, than the physical game when it comes to achieving lower scores on the course.
If you follow the high-profile students I work with, like Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Jonathan Byrd, and Davis Thompson, you will see that their mental game has improved how they play. Implementing mental strategies is not just reserved for high-profile players, but is a valuable tool for amateur golfers as well.
While I have helped clients achieve a combined 29 PGA tour victories, I have also supported countless junior and amateur students while they lower their scores and continue to do so with some of these golf strategy tips.
“I know what to do and how to do it, and importantly I know what not to do! Self-talk and other sloppy habits have been replaced with solid fundamentals and a rock-solid checklist for performance. My game was such a mess when I started. After a few sessions and follow-up meetings I went back to the practice area with a plan and am taking those tools on to the course. My scores have improved substantially!” Kevin Shea - Retired Managing Director Goldman Sachs
So let’s look at some mental strategies!
In this guide, we will explore some of the best mental tips to help you improve your game and lower your scores. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pro, these tips will help you stay focused, confident, and calm throughout your round, leading to better shots, better scores, and a more enjoyable golfing experience. So, let's get started!
A golf strategy to stay positive
Staying positive may be hard for you, but it is worth it. A positive mindset can have a significant impact on your game. Focus on your successes and stay optimistic about your shots.
To think optimistically, change how you evaluate your shots.
What if you changed the way you view your shots after you hit the ball?
The number of times I’ve heard players say they weren't happy with the way they played is in the thousands. They thought they hit way too many shots poorly and have walked away frustrated, hoping to play better the next time. This normally means they also didn’t have as much fun as they could have.
Is this you coming away from a round?
It will most likely still be you if you don’t change how you view shots after you’ve hit the ball. Here is a strategy to make that change.
Let’s face it, you’re going to hit some good shots that end up in the wrong place or a 'bad shot' in terms of execution, but that still ends up in what is a “good” place.
There are essentially four outcomes when you hit a shot:
- Good execution with a Good result
- Good execution with a Bad result
- Bad execution with a Good result
- Bad execution with a Bad result
If you view shots from the perspective that only #1 of the combinations, Good+Good, is going to make you happy, as many people do, then you’re only giving yourself a 25% chance of being happy.
If you strategically change this view and are happy with #1, #2, or #3, and commit to only being upset with Bad+Bad, you give yourself a much better chance to be happy, and you’re going to have a lot more fun, which in turn gives you the chance to perform better as the day goes on and importantly, be more fun to play with.
Once you start making changes to your mental game, you will want to see what else you can do, and your positive outlook will continue to help lower your scores.
Manage Your Emotions on the Golf Course
Stay in the present, don't dwell on past mistakes or worry about future shots. Players that learn to focus on the present can control how they play and get repeatable results.
“I would have a bad hole, or something would go wrong. I would get angry and sometimes carry that anger on for a hole or even the entire round in some cases - this last event, I focused on the things I could control, and let go of the things I couldn’t control, and the result was my best tournament finish in an SJGT, 75-76” - Hank Holcomb
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s perfectly normal to have an emotional reaction to poor shots, but this won’t serve you well, and how quickly you can move through your emotional phase will determine your performance on the next shot.
If you can mentally let that shot go, you will establish a strategy to focus on the task at hand, and play at your best.
One process to let go of the past is called the Bag-Up principle, which is an adaptation of what I call your “Emotion Zone”. The player uses a physical boundary, the bag, to help them stay mentally composed after a poor shot. I coach players to practice doing something in a relaxed phase after a poor shot; this establishes that they’re done with the shot, and can move on to the next phase (of the 4rs) once they pick up their bag and are in the present.
Stay in control of your game
You are in control of your thinking, so stay in control of your emotions. Don't let your frustrations or anger affect your performance. Work on what you can control instead.
There are some factors you have no control over (i.e. course conditions), but there are some that you have total control over and if players practice what they have total control over, they learn to manage the controllable actions and shoot lower scores.
To take better control of your game, separate all the factors that could affect how you play by making a list. These could be routines, self-talk, technique, homework, attitude, weather, and course set-up just to mention 7 basic ones.
Label the factors T=total, S=some, and N= no control to identify what you can practice on. This example could look like this.
N course set-up
Focus on the factors you can control, and practice improving these. Yes! You can practice a better attitude and better self-talk.
Lower your golf scores by using self-talk
Talk to yourself like a computer to “download” the information you need to get the desired outcome.
An example of this is with one of my past clients, Stewart Cink, at the 2009 British Open. You can see recordings of him where it appears he is talking to himself before every putt and … he is!
What’s key to him scoring well and winning the trophy for the “Champion Golfer of the Year” (that’s how you get announced for 12 months after you win The Open Championship) is the way he’s talking to himself, and the language he uses.
You can stay mentally composed using self-talk the night before the competition, the morning of the competition, and when you are putting. As you develop this skill, you are developing a strategy to control both your on and off-course thinking to achieve better scores.
To talk to yourself like a computer, consider changing your language.
When I hear other players say these words, I know that player can improve their self-talk, “I need to make this putt for par to stay even.”
The problem is that:
I need to=expectation language=burden
Make=desired result and you do not have complete control over any result
For par to stay even=emotional qualifiers=adding drama
This is not how you want to think for the best mindset to SCORE BETTER.
What you want to do is think and talk like a computer.
Stewart Cink is talking to himself just like a computer would.
He is telling himself the distance, slope, and break of every putt because that is how a computer would describe it. 10ft, downhill, left to right, and then he would say something like, “I’m going to make a confident stroke.”
Going to=affirmative language
Make a confident stroke = a controllable action that will hopefully lead to the desired result.
You can make many choices during a competitive round of golf (club, shot, trajectory, course management, etc). How you talk to yourself is one of the most important, so choose your language wisely for the best result, and you will lower your scores and win.
Analyze your game, so you have a repeatable practice
“There was something missing in my game…I thought I had a good routine, I thought it was consistent, I thought it was repeatable, but it was anything but that…,(he now has) a solid routine over a golf ball” - Zach Johnson
Stats only tell you where the ball went. You have to be great at knowing why the ball went there.
If you want to improve your scores, you must practice applying the knowledge you have to improve either the consistency or the transferability of your skills.
“ Dr. Mo taught me how to establish a consistent routine and commit to it every single shot, every single day. I have also learned so much about what should be going through my mind when I am on the golf course: Refocus, Routine, React and Relax. The four R's have helped my game and my scores more than anything.” -Taylor Sieg
Inevitably, the more you treat practice rounds like tournament play, the more your tournament play will equal your practice round performance, and you’ll be lowering your scores in tournaments.
This is why you should develop a pre-shot routine. A pre-shot routine can help you focus on the task at hand, and eliminate distractions. It can also help you develop a consistent swing and improve your accuracy.
Be warned, you can’t just turn on great routines when you get into competition. You will default to the routine you use during casual play. This echoes the importance of treating practice rounds like tournament play.
Both Zach Johnson and Taylor are practicing to achieve consistency in tournaments.
Are your golf-winning expectations realistic?
Manage your expectations and be realistic about your abilities and set achievable goals. Tour players do not expect to see results straight away, and neither should you.
If you put in great work this week, the results of that work may not follow a predictable timeline. Put in the work, and be patient.
What should be your goal every time you play?
1- Manage your thinking
2- to manage the ball
3- to shoot the lowest score possible
4- that day.
When you look at the big picture, golf is not just about the physical aspect of the game; the mental game plays a vital role in achieving better scores on the course. The tips outlined in this guide can help golfers of all skill levels to improve their mental golf strategies, leading to better shots, scores, and an overall more enjoyable golfing experience.
Strategies such as staying positive, managing emotions on the golf course, and staying in control of their game can help golfers achieve their goals and take their game to the next level. With these mental golf strategy tips, golfers can approach the game with confidence, focus, and a winning attitude. Implementing solid mental strategies is not just reserved for high-profile players, but is a valuable tool for amateur golfers of all levels as well.
What all professional and amateur players must do to manage their golf strategy and consistently score better is implement some type of mental practice. To have the best mental strategies you can, join the Score Better Video Program and get your first month FREE today.
Finally, remember to have fun and enjoy the experience of playing the events you chose to sign up for! It makes no sense to look forward to an event and then not enjoy it once it is time to compete!