We associate strength and flexibility as words generally related to the body. They are also important for the mind. We can all agree Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are two players who seemed to relish the pressure of the big stage. The strength of their mental game in their prime was certainly unmatched. Let’s discuss some ideas to strengthen your mind and create more mental flexibility.
The mulligan is a popular and overused shot in recreational golf. Also known as the “breakfast ball” or the “lunch ball”, the ability to hit a second shot off number one results in a player letting his or her guard down and not playing with mental sharpness. There are no mulligans in competition, so you would be wise to strengthen your mental game by ditching the mulligans.
Another thing you can do to strengthen the mental game is eliminate the “gimme” from your rounds. The “circle of friendship” is a friendly gesture but is one of the worst practices for your mental approach when putting. Start putting everything out! If your putting is struggling, then work on it. But, do not get in the habit of picking out those 1-2-3-maybe 4 footers. You need to make each one of those putts as important as the next tee shot you hit. Meaning, do not slap them in or (out) … take your time, get set up and go through your normal putting routine. The people behind you can wait. The more putts you make, the more you strengthen your mental game. This will also improve the confidence in your entire game. So NO more gimmes!
Next, hit a bump and run 9 iron instead of your sand wedge, PLEASE. I get a chuckle every time I tell a new student to bring their short game clubs down to the green and I look back and they have one club in their hand. Most of the time it is the sand wedge. At times it is the lob wedge. We need to work on mental flexibility with club choice. I understand the idea of feeling comfortable with one club and having confidence in that club. But the fact is, the use of an 8, 9, PW, or Gap Wedge on certain short game shots is just simply a better choice and a much easier shot. Obviously, you need to practice the shots and get comfortable, but that’s all a part of improving your mental flexibility.
Another way to be flexible mentally is to practice a different approach on certain holes off the tee box. When you play the same course over and over again, you get in a habit of playing the same clubs. For example, reflect back on certain holes that you have not played well. Maybe you hit your driver off the tee box into trouble. Be flexible enough with your game to play a different shot and hit a fairway wood or hybrid off the tee box to lay up to a different yardage. You may surprise yourself. Shake it up some, try a different approach and you may just find that you start playing your best golf ever.
In summary, work on the mindset of being a great putter! Starting by putting all those short putts will be a great step toward strengthening your mental approach. Also, being flexible to change your approach on certain holes will keep your game fresh and allow you to see other possibilities that you may not have known. Good luck!
Brech Spradley, PGA
Director of Instruction, Barton Creek Golf Academy