In July 1999, Jean Van De Velde approached the 18th tee at Carnoustie with the British Open in his sights. The Frenchman had a three-shot lead as he prepared to drive, and he only needed a double bogey to win golf’s oldest championship and lift the famous Claret Jug. What followed has been described as the biggest collapse in golf and one of the worst collapses in sports history.
When all Van De Velde needed was some calmness and composure, his mind let him down. You can practice your swing, practice your putting and use the equipment the pros use, but you will not play your best golf until you master the mental aspect of the game.
Here are some ways that you can improve your focus, avoid distractions and keep fear and doubt at bay during your next round.
The emotions that hijacked Van De Velde’s mind and robbed him of his focus creep into our brains when adrenaline flows and pressure mounts. You cannot control your adrenal gland, but you can keep your mind busy during your pre-shot routine.
Develop a structured routine that you complete before every shot, and think about each club waggle and practice swing as you go through your routine. If you want to see what this looks like in practice, watch a baseball game and pay attention to the hitters’ at-bat routines.
We all know that overthinking things will usually lead to trouble. Doubt will not be able to undermine you if your mind is concentrating intently, so it is important to be completely focused when you tee up your ball and prepare to swing.
When you place your club head next to the tee, pick a dimple on the ball and make it the center of your universe. Stay focused on that dimple as you lift your club, and then watch as your shot soars into the sky.
Negative thoughts cannot take root in a brain that is filled with positive thoughts. This is why elite athletes in all sports use visualization techniques during their preparations.
As you drive to the golf course, put on your spikes and check the contents of your bag, think about the perfect round that you are about to play. When you head out onto the course, close your eyes and visualize the ideal outcome before every swing.
Preparation is important because we are more susceptible to fear when we face the unknown. When players prepare for an NFL game, for example, they spend hours studying film of their opponents.
A golfer’s opponent is the course, so you should know every sand trap, water hazard and driving distance before you head out to the first tee. Knowledge builds confidence, and confidence defeats fear.
Even the best golfers make a few bad shots during a round, but they do not dwell on their mistakes. Instead, they learn whatever lesson the mistake can teach them, and then they clear their minds and move on.
The next time your ball lands in the rough or water, keep your mind busy as you approach it with a mental exercise like counting your steps. If you keep your brain busy and think of your bad lie as a challenge, you will forget about your mistake.
Fear, doubt and anxiety are the enemies within. They lurk in your subconscious waiting to pounce, but you can stop them from ruining your golf game.
These mental disruptors usually appear at the worst possible time, but preparation, focus and discipline can defeat them.
If you work on the mental aspect of your game, your scores will be lower, your mood will improve and your golf will be more enjoyable.