Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is Your Mental Game Independent?

That's a funny question, isn't it?  How can your mental game be independent?  The answer is by not relying upon your ball striking, your putting, your start, your warm up, your opponents, the conditions, the tournament or your physical state.  Your mental game should stand up to any and all challenges.

So many golfers have a great mental game when things are going well.  They speak of being in the zone and having a game that flows.  They often have a good warm up and get off to a good start.  They feel confident and the game seems easy.  However, can you find flow and ease when you have a rough start?  If you hit a few hooks during warm up, does your focus remain the same?  If your ball striking is a bit off, can you still find the zone?  Most players would answer no to these questions.  Their mental game is dependent upon their physical game, the conditions they face and other factors.

One indicator of a dependent mental game is by looking at the quotes of players who occasionally find themselves in the zone.  Here is a quote from Russel Knox after shooting 59 yesterday in the Boise Open, "That's the way this stupid game works," Knox said. "You have a day like yesterday and hit nice putts, and they just don't go in. Then the following day, they go in."  This quote is typical of many young players.  They are working hard to bring the same attitude and mental game to the course each and every day.  Some days things go well and some days they don't and while young players might have a bit of control over this, most of the control is dependent upon outside factors.  There seems to be a bit of magic at work when they get in the zone and that magic thinking means the zone is a sometime thing, not a consistent mindset. 

The pros who get into the Hall of Fame take more control over the intangibles, such as attitude, plan, mental game and focus.  Here is a quote from Phil Mickleson following his win at The Open, "....Because I just thought if I made it, it would give me some momentum, get me to even par for the championship, a score I thought had a good chance of being enough. And that putt went in and it just gave me a nice momentum boost, because it's very hard to make birdies out here. You're not going to hit it to tap-in distance. You're going to have to make some good putts. And that was as close as I thought I would have a chance at birdie coming in. And I ended up making it. It was a critical putt. I came right back on 14, where I had a good opportunity to make another one and I did."

Today's blog is illustrated by using old covers of Sports Illustrated.  All of the greats of the game were on the cover often over the years.
Mickleson's mental game was based on understanding what he needed (even par), what he could expect (long birdie putts), the importance of momentum and the opportunities he was presented with during the round.  Great players don't shy away from numbers, because they understand that their process is intact no matter what number is needed to win.  They also understand what to expect from the day and rise to provide it, no matter what it is.  Here is a quote from Jack Nicklaus that illustrates that mindset, "Some people say it's OK to lose if your opponent has a hot round. Phooey on that. I hate to lose -- period. If a guy is going to shoot a 10 under par, I am going to shoot an 11 under par.
[Sports Illustrated, 1960]  

Look at those eyes!  Great players have focused eyes and use them to play athletically.

There are no timeouts or substitution in golf, so great players are in charge of their own momentum.  Mickleson obviously understands how important that is for him in the heat of competition based on using the word twice in his quote as he reflected on his day.  He had a plan prior to the round and that allowed him to play the game.  Tom Watson once said, "Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum." 
Watson took on Nicklaus with no fear.  Something done by only a few, including Trevino.
Finally, Mickleson spoke of opportunities.  Great players see opportunities.  They never consider themselves done until the ball drops on 18.  Arnold Palmer said, "I've always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me.  I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn't have a chance to win."

You can somehow see Arnie's determination in the set of his mouth.  He was not going to give up!

Great players create their mental games and keep them independent of their physical games.  They do what they can with each shot.  As Sam Snead said, " Nobody asked how you looked, just what you shot."  Decide prior to your round what you will focus on, what you can expect from the conditions and competition and then see opportunities in front of you throughout your round.  All of these things are choices you can and should make.  Do all you can do with each shot as you face it and then move onto the next shot.  When you learn to do this, your mental game will stand on its own.  If you continue to let one shot effect the next, your mental game will always be dependent upon other things.  The mental game you bring to the course is just as important, if not more, as all of your physical skills.

Sam might have said it wasn't important how you looked making your score, but he always looked dapper on the course.

1 comment:

  1. This is a nice blog, i got some nice thoughts.. I agree that in everything we do just strive and never give up this is the secrete of winning.. thanks for posting this..

    Best regards,
    Mental Golf Edge


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