Take Control Of Your Thoughts On The Golf Course

How often do you find yourself approaching a hole on your home course and thinking “I just can’t play this hole?" Or maybe you find yourself thinking “I am a bad putter” because you missed a putt on the last hole.

By Beth Yeoman BSc MSc MBPsS

Now think about how often you find yourself thinking, “I can play this hole well” or “I am really good at putting”. 

The majority of the time our unhelpful thoughts outweigh the positive on the golf course. We tend to focus more on the negatives of our game and forget to praise ourselves when things go well. But do we know what harm these negative thoughts are having on our performance?

In everyday life the brain controls every thought we have and every movement we make. This is the same when we are on the golf course. The brain is in control of our performance and it is widely accepted that there is a link between the way we think, the way we feel and the way we behave. Therefore, if you are thinking unhelpful thoughts this is likely to make you feel negatively about yourself and your performance will ultimately suffer. 

For example, if you are approaching that one hole on your home course that you never seem to play well and thinking, “I just can’t play this hole well”, this is likely to give you a lack confidence and increase those nerves before you have even stepped foot on the tee. With your mind taken over by this unhelpful thought you now have to take your tee shot. As you are stood over the ball, you can feel the nerves bubbling up and your body stiffening. You hit your shot and it doesn’t go the way you wanted it to. So, how can we break this chain?

Learning to take control of your thoughts on the course can help you to recognise when negative thoughts are taking over and it’s time to think positive. The positive cycle on the golf course works in the same way as the negative one. If you think helpful, positive thoughts, you will feel good about your game and your performance will be positively impacted. 

Let’s use this framework to try and help you play better on that one hole that you dread: You are once again approaching that one hole on your golf course that you never seem to play well. This time you are thinking, “I may have played this hole poorly in the past, but today is a new day and I am going to play this hole well today”. It is important that this thought is a positive one but also remains realistic so that you believe in it. At first this thought may feel forced, but the more times you repeat it the more likely you are to increase your belief. Stepping onto the tee you are starting to feel confident in your ability to play this hole well. As you stand over the ball you feel relaxed and swing the club freely. You hit your shot right how you wanted to. Seeing this positive outcome reinforces your belief in your ability to play this hole well and so the positive cycle continues.

Here's 3 Top Tips for controlling your thoughts on the golf course:

  1. Keep a thought diary. Write down any key thought you have when you are on the golf course. Use this diary to identify patterns in your thinking and to raise your self-awareness of how you think during a round.
  2. Challenge your thoughts. Challenge these unhelpful thoughts by questioning yourself. “Am I really a bad putter?” “How many putts have I holed this round?” 
  3. Think positive. Set yourself the challenge of having one positive thought per hole. For example, “I may have missed the green, but I struck that shot really well”.


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