Tricks of the mind – The mental side of golf

Ivan Morris

Louis Oosthuizen (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Ask Padraig Harrington ‘what’s the secret?’ and he is liable to wax lyrical about the mental game.

The mental is always 99 percent of it, he’ll say, but it also helps if you hit 300 balls every day! It’s more about getting one’s head in the right place than anything else. It doesn’t matter what one’s golf swing is like, a guy with a terrible golf swing, whose head is in the right place, will hit the best shot he can at that moment in time. The player with a great golf swing whose head and attitude is not in the right place will hit a bad shot at the crucial moment.

When you are swinging better you can feel it. It makes you more confident and you play better because you are ‘in the groove’. Playing well is easy when you are ‘there’ but getting ‘there’ is the problem. How, for example, do you explain the performance of Joaquin Niemann in the Rocket Mortgage Challenge on the PGA Tour recently when he played 72-holes without dropping a single shot but on the first hole of a three-player play-off with Cam Davis and Troy Merritt, he made a bogey and lost? How could that happen?


During The Open Championship, Louis Oosthuizen was sailing along in the lead and playing as close to perfect as is humanly possible. On the final day, his play seemed to become slightly timid and his timing was off a smidgin and he was overtaken. Was it something misfiring in his swing or in his thought processes? Louis may not even know the answer – yet. But, he’ll figure it out and be in contention again.

Bryson DeChambeau was thrashing around in the rough for three rounds, blaming his equipment and anybody or anything else he could think of, for his off-form play. Then, on the final day (with the same body, equipment and swing) he shot a 65! How could that happen?

How do you acquire the ‘right mindset’ for a certain day or week in a whole year? Which comes first? Having the physical or the mental side of the game ‘on song’? The truth is, of course, that you need both working in unison. It’s called the zone and when one is locked into this rare state of unity between mind and body as they work together, one enjoys one’s peak performances. The real trick is to be in that state when it matters most.

To quote George Thomas: Golf is a game of balance: body and mind need to be in sync to play one’s best golf. Without solid mechanics, true potential will never be reached regardless of the power of the mind. The man who knows the value of each of his clubs, and who can work out when it is proper to play one and when to play another, succeeds at the game.

The ability of a golfer to know his own power and accuracy, and to play for what he can accomplish, is a thing which makes his game as perfect as it can be; while a thinker who gauges the true value of his shots, and is able to play the shot well, nearly always defeats an opponent who neglects to consider and properly discount his shortcomings.


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