Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Why Golf Is Such a Mental Game

Phil Oscarson@philoscarsonContributor IIIJuly 29, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 15:  (L-R) Tiger Woods of the United States and Phil Mickelson of the United States look on from the 14th hole during the second round of the 112th U.S. Open at The Olympic Club on June 15, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Golf is a mind game. So much of what happens between the tee and the pin depends upon what’s going on between the ears. Although not as physically demanding as some, golf is definitely one of the most challenging sports ever conceived.

Regardless of a player’s proficiency, the conditions of the course or the equipment, on any given day the game of golf is won or lost on the fairways and greens of the mind. Why is golf such a mental game?

Here’s a look at some of the mind skills golfers (professional and otherwise) of all abilities need to learn and develop in order to take their games to the next level—here's lookin' at you, Tiger.

  1. Self-confidence: One of the great challenges of golf is that, no matter how good the last shot was, it’s all about making the next shot. And after all is said and done, having a high degree of self-confidence is essential for playing at your full potential. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have just come off a great shot—as Phil Mickelson recently demonstrated by birdying four of the last six holes to win the British Open. But true self-confidence allows you to step up to the ball after making a lousy shot and say to yourself, “This is going to be my best shot yet.” Remember, Mickelson began that last day of competition five shots off the lead.

  2. Composure: Ever see a pro golfer break a club across his knee on national TV? Golf can be totally frustrating at times. And it’s those times when the mental game is everything. Having the mental stamina to stay calm and composed under pressure is one of the greatest skills a golfer can learn. Having the ability to harness negative emotions into positive energy and channel that energy into your swing will not only keep you in the game, it will drive your fellow golfers crazy.
  3. Focus: Golf is a game of distractions. First there are the external distractions such as weather, or a plane flying overhead, or the occasional ill-timed cough or sneeze. Then there are the internal distractions that our minds conjure up—the doubts, the “I’m gonna slice it again!” trash talk, then vivid mental replays of missed putts and shanked shots. Although you can’t really control external distractions, you can learn to control the internal ones, or at least reduce their impact on your game. The ability to focus only on the task at hand takes practice, but the power of focus to turn bogeys into birdies makes it well worth the effort.

  4. Control: The ability to stay focused, to stay composed and maintain self-confidence, those and other mental attributes all add up to what all golfers seek to achieve on the course: control. When you’re in control of your mental game you can see your physical game more clearly. And when the two games merge, and you experience that pure and effortless swing that only takes place in the zone, you come to know what players like Tiger and Mickelson have known all along, that golf is one of the most challenging, rewarding and enjoyable games ever played.

You can follow Phil Oscarson at @philoscarson or read more of his posts at AmericanGolf.com.


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