l Questions and Answers | Positive Mental Imagery
Positive Mental Imagery

Q & A:

Q: "What does "Positive Mental Imagery" mean?

A: We all learn by processing information and stimuli through our five senses, which are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting and smelling. The senses we use in golf are visual (seeing), auditory (voice, rhythm, balance), and kinesthetic (touch, feeling). Each of us has a dominant sense that we use almost all of the time. It is the sense you use to interpret information best, understand golf instruction best, and the way you access your peak performance.

Imagery is making a mental representation through the use of your senses. If your dominant sense is visual, you will "see a line on the green", and learn the golf swing best by seeing it performed. If you are mainly auditory you will understand instruction best and be most confident by sensing the rhythm and tempo of the swing. If you process information kinesthetically, you will learn best when you can feel the swing or feel the break of the green through your body. When you know what your dominant sense is, you can then make positive internal representations of the shots you want to produce

Q: How does my mental attitude affect my physical game?

A: The thoughts in your head cause physical reactions in your body. Therefore, all mistakes in golf are mental errors. Put the correct thoughts into your mind to produce the physical results you desire.

Q: "My biggest problem is concentration. How can I stay focused?"

A: Bobby Jones said, "The most perfect swing in the world needs direction, and plenty of it, and when its possessor begins to do a little mental daisy picking, something always goes wrong."

If you have difficulty concentrating over the ball, it may be due to one of the following reasons:
  • Mental fatigue can play a major role in losing concentration. Some of the signs of mental fatigue are impatience, increased frustration, and disappointment with normal situations, less ability to visualize, and reduced motivation and enjoyment.
  • If you are too tense physically and mentally, you are too aware of things such as perceived trouble and outside distractions. Tai Chi and Yoga are excellent ways to learn to relax and focus inward. On the golf course, use the relaxation technique of deep breathing to slow down your thinking process.
  • Players who are too involved with correcting, finding, or improving their swing, need to become more focused by using their skills of visualization, awareness of the target, tempo, feel, and touch.
  • Negative attitudes about yourself and the way that you see the golf course can put you into a state of anxiety. For example, at what distance does fear play a part in you missing putts? 4 feet? 5 feet? Use imagery to "see" yourself with a new attitude about enjoying these length putts. Take a few minutes every day to visualize yourself with this new attitude, successfully stroking the ball into the cup over and over. Then imagine yourself successfully putting that length putt in a match where you need to make it.
Q: "My biggest problem is consistency. How can I play more consistently?"

A: Every golfer wants to play consistently all the time. To do this, you need to maintain focus intensely for 40 seconds, 72 times or more, during a four-hour period.

The first ingredient to consistency is perfect practice. The best place to practice perfectly is in your imagination. See yourself over and over again, swinging with your perfect swing, playing the game perfectly. Then go to the practice range and hit the shots as you saw them in your "mind's eye". Then go to the golf course and play the course as you imagined it.

The second ingredient for consistency is the pre-shot routine. It is important that you mentally program the process of creating the shot you want to happen.

Write down each step in your routine. Take the list to the practice range and practice the routine with every shot until it becomes habitual and you don't have to think about it anymore. The routine will get you focused and eliminate all inner and outer distractions. It will set your mind into the same mental patterns every time to program you for consistent results.

The third ingredient for consistency is your rhythm and tempo. Maintaining a relaxed state of mind and body will help you access your natural rhythm and tempo. The easiest way to access this relaxed state is by enjoying playing golf, and remembering how easy it is when you play well.

Q: "My biggest problem in golf is lack of confidence. How can I convince myself that I am capable?"

A: "Confidence has to be the golfer's greatest single weapon…if he believes he can get the ball into the hole, a lot of the time he will, even if his technique appears to be unorthodox or even downright faulty." -- Jack Nicklaus

Self-confidence is a product of the way you view yourself. If your view of yourself is positive, you feel good about yourself whether you had a good or bad round. Make a point to notice the way you talk to yourself on and off the course. Replace negative thoughts with thoughts that can boost your self-confidence. For example, say to yourself, "I have hit this shot dozens of times before and I can do it again now", rather than, "I need to hit this shot close for a birdie to make up for the double on the last hole."

Sit down with a pencil and piece of paper and write down all the qualities that make you a special person. Every day for several weeks read through this list of your good qualities. Every time you catch yourself thinking or talking negatively about yourself, replace that thought with a compliment from your list.

After every round of golf, make a list of all the shots you hit well during your round. Read through the ever-growing list every day for several weeks using imagery to reinforce your memory of these good shots. Strengthen the memory of these shots by complimenting yourself and enjoying the results when you hit them.

Q: "I'd love to get some hints on how to enjoy the game even when I'm not playing well."

A: No one can make you happy, except yourself. How much you enjoy the game depends upon your attitude. Hale Irwin, the star of the Senior Tour says, "When a player gets in trouble, one guy sees a disaster and another guy sees an opportunity all the time. I may not be able to pull it off, but I see it."

Every one of us will experience failure on the golf course. You are only as good as your worst mistakes. How well you deal with those mistakes will ultimately determine your performance. The three best mental hints I can give you for enjoying your game are:

1. Learn not to sabotage your game by dwelling on past mistakes. "You can't re-hit a shot," says David Duval. "You can only move forward. So that's what I try to do."

2. Stay with positive thoughts instead of dwelling on fear thoughts. Remember the feelings and thoughts you had when you hit good shots. This will help your body to reproduce your own balanced swing tempo and rhythm.

3. Take responsibility for each shot-even if it was a case of bad luck. Don't complain or feel sorry for yourself. Making excuses for your performance lowers your self-esteem and confidence in yourself and your ability. Use your energy to learn from the experience and then enjoy the learning experience.

Q: "How can I have tranquility on the golf course when things are not going quite like they should?"

A: To regain tranquility on the golf course is a simple matter of remembering that golf is played in the present. When you have expectations of yourself such as hitting a perfect shot every time, or shooting a certain score, you are not in the present time. Play one shot at a time and give each shot the same amount of attention.

Tranquility is a state of being where you are at peace with yourself and the world around you. If you are upset with the way things are going and you lose your confidence, focus on breathing out the tension and breathing in calm and relaxation. When you are calm and centered inside yourself, visualize successful shots you have made either that day, or in the past. Replay them over and over in your mind, feeling the good physical and emotional feelings until you are confident once again.

Q: "I want to be able to play under pressure without collapsing. How can I learn to do that?"

A: All great players get nervous. Their hearts beat faster, muscles tighten, breathing is uneven, their mouths are dry, there are butterflies in the stomach and sometimes their hands shake just like amateur golfers when they are under pressure. It is important to learn how to deal with these changes in your physiological system. Tom Kite said, "It is a very positive thing, being nervous. It means you care, and it allows you to do great things if you know how to direct it." And Tommy Bolt added, "It is okay to have butterflies in your stomach as long as they are flying in formation."

Here are some ways the pros use to control their nerves:

1. Slow down your thinking, your pace, and your pre-shot routine. "The more you hurry in golf, the worse you probably will play, which leads to even greater pressure and nervousness," says Nick Faldo.

2. Slow down your heart rate to regain muscle feel. Use deep breathing, humming, whistling, stretching, shaking your wrists, or enjoying the scenery.

3. Think positive thoughts. Focus your thoughts and mental pictures on where you want the ball to go, not where you don't want it to go. Your body will produce the last mental picture you have in your brain.

4. Stay in the present. Use your pre-shot routine to become focused on your target once you are over the ball, rather than on technique or possible results.

5. Keep it simple. Keep your swing thoughts simple. The less you have to deal with the better. Most amateurs don't know what goes wrong when they hit a poor shot. In competition it is better to focus on tempo, rhythm, target and basic strategy instead of getting involved with swing mechanics. Use the swing you have that day to shoot the best possible score you can.

6. Keep the game in perspective. It is after all, a game that we play for fun. After you leave the golf course the missed shots won't be half as important as you made them out to be. Putting golf in its proper perspective to the rest of your life can relax your mind and body, and help you put your best possible swing on the ball.

Jack Nicklaus said, "Being nervous is an important, positive event. It allows you to do great things if you control it rather than letting it control you."

Q: "My biggest problem is relaxing over the golf ball. How can I do that?"

A: To be confident and to play your best, you have to be relaxed. You can relax by learning the natural, correct way to breathe by expanding your abdominal area when you inhale and contracting it as you exhale. Many good players incorporate a deep breath into their pre-shot routine to automatically relax themselves. If you are anxious or tense, you might want to take more than one deep breath and say to yourself as you exhale, "Let Go and Relax".

On the golf course, some players use music to quiet their minds and relax their bodies. Pro golfers Fuzzy Zoeller, Brad Fabel, and Mark McCumber are often heard whistling. To relax your body between shots, hum or whistle a tune that you find pleasant and soothing. As you approach your ball, play your favorite song inside your head, in your "mind's ear".

If you have an active mind and are prone to performance anxiety, use your imagination to relax your mind between shots with pleasant images of things you like to do. Only your own interests and imagination limit you. Make it enjoyable using details of seeing, hearing and feeling the activity. Fred Couples has relaxed using images of himself lying on his sofa with a remote control in his hand.

Q: "How can I develop the confidence to believe and trust that I am a better golfer than how I am currently playing?"

A: Confidence develops when you hit a particular shot successfully many times and you know you are capable of doing it again. To develop confidence in your performance requires quality practice. Here are four steps to improve your play:

1. Take a lesson so you know what to practice.

2. Think about what you are practicing. Don't just hit balls randomly on the range. Have a plan, pick specific targets, and use your pre-shot routine.

3. Practice trouble shots that you might have to hit, such as hitting out of a divot.

4. Practice the way you will play. Practice playing while on the practice tee. Hit the shots in the same sequence that you would on the golf course. Go out on the golf course when it isn't crowded and practice hitting those same shots from different positions until you enjoy hitting them.

Harvey Penick said, "Confidence is a form of positive thinking." Develop confidence and trust in your ability by using positive self-talk. Then, reinforce every good shot by feeling the wonder of it in your heart.

Q: "I would like to enjoy golf to its fullest, but I worry about each shot. How can I stop worrying?"

A: Worry is a form of fear. The only way to get rid of the fear is to go out and play through it. Pushing through a fear is less frightening than living with the underlying worry of what might happen. To give in to a fear is to sabotage your self-esteem.

1. Let go of the attachment to worry. You created the fear thoughts, so you can let them go. Know that this attachment is keeping you from enjoying your potential.

2. Change negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Choose to experience the good feelings from hitting a good shot.

3. Imagine/visualize yourself playing with all of the skills you have learned.

4. Decide to play in the now. Use your pre-shot routine to focus on the shot you want to create.

5. Hit each shot as if it is the best feeling and most fun filled shot you will hit today.

Q: "How do I recoup mentally after a bad shot or hole?"

A: It is important to keep the game in perspective. When a person falls apart after a bad shot or a bad hole he is thinking "all" or "nothing". That is the time when it would be wise to remind yourself that the bad shot/hole is only a small part of the entire round and that there is sufficient time to recover. Be careful of using generalizations such as "It's going to be that kind (bad) of a day." Learn from your mistakes and move on to the next shot. Use your mistakes as motivation to play the rest of the holes well. Tell yourself that you are going to enjoy each shot no matter what the outcome.

This is the time to remember your best shots, to encourage yourself with positive inner messages, and to relax. When "the wheels come off" golfers usually begin to swing faster from nervousness. This is the time to concentrate on regaining your rhythm and tempo by slowing down your pace of play. Take practice swings before you hit to help you get back into the same frame of mind for every shot.

Q: "When I play in a tournament I am so nervous on the first tee that my hands shake. How can I get over the first-tee jitters?"

A: Feeling nervous in a situation that you consider important is normal. It's part of the game. Everyone feels some degree of nervousness on the first tee, even the pros. Resist the temptation to make the first shot too important. It counts no more on the scorecard than a one-foot tap-in putt. Know that you have had great rounds in the past after missing the first drive, and vice versa. Also, remember how satisfying it is to still make par after missing the first shot.

Players who focus on their hands shaking, or heart pounding can get so distracted that they forget to focus on preparing mentally and physically to hit the shot. Winners choose to focus on the things that will help them achieve the results they want. Deep breathe to relax. Visualize your shot. Focus on your target. Use your pre-shot routine to stay in the process of getting ready to hit the ball the same way every time

Q: When I hit one bad shot, I get angry and then hit a series of bad shots. How can I stop doing that?"

A: Your anger may come from having unrealistic expectations. Every golfer has hit "the perfect shot" and hopes to duplicate it every time. This is an expectation that is impossible to deliver. A good attitude to adopt is that golf is not a game of perfection, but rather a game based on your real ability, and how well you meet the challenge of recovering from missed shots.

Watching the world's best golfers on weekend TV can distort your perception. The telecasts show the players who are playing at their peak potential that week, and often only show their best shots. We then expect that we should duplicate what we see. To keep it in perspective, look at the stats for the entire field. For instance, an average field of pros "get it up and down" only 50% of the time out of a greenside bunker.

Another unrealistic expectation of most amateurs is based on the maximum distance they can hit each club. A golfer who can hit a 6-iron 150 yards on his best day under perfect conditions, will hit that club every time he is around 150 yards. As a result, his approach shots are often short where most of the trouble is. A more realistic approach would be to take one more club and hit to the middle/back of the green and avoid the bunkers.

Choosing a low-percentage shot when there are safer options can result in anger and frustration when you fail to pull off the "miracle shot." Don't expect good results from a low-percentage shot if you haven't practiced it enough to be confident of success.

The best expectation to have on the golf course is that you are there to have a good time and enjoy yourself!

Q: "Can you tell me ways to keep to the same swing thoughts in my set-up?"

A: The pre-shot routine is the vehicle for programming your set-up. Athletes train their minds to do the same thing in sequence over and over until it becomes a habit. They then activate the sequence by a trigger thought to start the process. Jack Nicklaus tilts his head to the side, while others waggle with their club or body.

When you are concentrating well, you are totally engrossed in the sequence, which automatically gets you to the place over the ball where you are eager to swing. Practice the same pre-shot routine over and over until it becomes a habit and you can activate your swing thought to start the automatic swing process.

Q: "How can I relax over the ball?"

A: When you are addressing the ball you don't want to think too much about your golf swing. Thinking about technique causes anxiety because you are sending a message to your muscles about how to swing. Instead, focus on the smoothness and rhythm of your body and golf club moving in sync.

Repetition is a key to removing anxiety. When you do the same thing over and over it becomes a habit and you don't have to think about it anymore. Then, it becomes easy. Repeating the same pre-shot routine creates the same rhythm for each shot.

Relieve tension by giving the club a quick, tight squeeze as you address the ball, then release it. Feel the tension leaving your upper body. When you are over the ball, take a deep breath at the same time you are waggling the club. As you do this, feel your rhythm in the large muscles in your legs and the soles of your feet. This will prepare you for the start of the swing. Relaxed muscles can produce more club head speed, which results in more power and distance. Enjoy relaxing your body to feel your natural body rhythm and power.

Q: "Are there any mental techniques I can use to help me make a shot rather than miss it?"

A: There are lots of distractions on the golf course. The biggest one is probably your own inner voice that tells you how you are going to miss the shot. Change this self-talk by creating what you do want to happen. Picture the flight of the ball, feel your swing and relax your mind and body by deep breathing.

The pre-shot routine is the mechanism that focuses your attention on executing the shot. When you are standing behind your ball, pick a specific target. Make any other decisions or thoughts about the shot. Draw an imaginary line between you and the ball. This is your "D" line (decision line). Don't cross this line until you have prepared your mind 100% about what you want to happen. After you cross this line, if you question a decision or a distraction interferes with your process, you must go back over the "D line" and begin again. When you are over the ball, focus on relaxing, tempo and target.

Q: "I want to be able to play under pressure without collapsing. How can I learn to do that?"

A: What is pressure to one person is an enjoyable challenge to another. Your pressure is all self-imposed by the way you are looking at the situation. What does winning mean to you? A lot of amateurs put pressure on themselves by emphasizing the score, having unrealistic expectations and not having a game plan. These three key attitudes can help you become more tolerant of golf related stress:

1. Take control of your game by emphasizing only those things that you have control over. Let go of how you will hit the ball, your playing partners, the weather, what others think, the mistakes you have made, what you need to shoot, and all the other things you cannot control, but tend to worry about during your round.

2. Adopt an attitude that golf is just part of who you are and what you do. It is a wonderful means to learn about yourself and to have an outlet for being competitive. Do the best you can, and learn from your mistakes.

3. Appreciate the challenges of the game. See the obstacles and mishaps as part of the game, rather than as a continual threat to your ability as a golfer. Know that some lessons have to be experienced over and over before they are learned. If you are playing by "Murphy's Law", decide instead to create a new reality by changing your thoughts to become positive and patient.

Q: "Why do I play well for the first 14 or 15 holes, and then fall apart?"

A: When the weather jumps from the 80's to the 90's, golfers who are outdoors most of the day, undergo a chemical change that can dehydrate their cells due by not getting enough salt. Even if you are drinking a lot of water, you may be dehydrated because you don't have enough salt in your system. When you are using your mental routine and management skills that help you narrow your focus over the ball, and you are inconsistent in your play, it may be helpful to look at improving your body chemistry. Some physical causes of difficulty focusing are:

1. Fluctuating insulin levels due to carbohydrate sensitivity. Eating small amounts of protein every three hours will manage this problem.

2. Food allergies or caffeine sensitivity can make concentration more difficult. Modifying caffeine intake and adding supplements can improve cellular function.

3. Dehydration. Drink 2 glasses of water before going outdoors and add more salt to your diet.

Q: "How can I focus better over the ball?"

A: Golfers lose focus when they are tense, not motivated, physically fatigued, too concerned with analyzing their swings, thinking about what others expect of them, using negative self-talk, comparing themselves to other players, getting in trouble situations, and by replaying bad shots in their heads. Become aware and change these kinds of interfering thoughts that keep you from focusing on each shot.

As you approach your ball, begin to change your wider focus of attention on things outside of you, to a narrower focus on the shot you are about to hit. Imagine that you are wearing blinders and can only see the execution of the upcoming shot. Analyze the wind, yardage, type of shot, target and club selection. Be totally committed to the club and shot you have selected. Narrow your focus further by standing behind the ball, connecting clearly with the target and visualizing the flight of the ball to the target. Finish narrowing your focus by feeling the swing, either by swinging the club or mentally imagining it in your mind. If you have practiced your swing using a swing-thought or swing-cue, activate it to initiate your swing.

Maintain your awareness and stay committed to your mental and physical routines. They will keep you calm, in control and focused on hitting one shot at a time.

Q: "My biggest problem is not being consistent. I can hit two great shots and then miss the next one. How can I be more consistent?"

A: Golf is a mirror of who you are off the golf course. During an average day we make many faulty judgments that result in mistakes. Yet we seem to dismiss them more easily than we do mistakes on the golf course. Here are four tips to improve your consistency and scoring:

1. Adopt the attitude that off-line shots, three-putts and other mistakes will occur as a result of your humanness. This will help you focus on recovering well, rather than dwelling on the missed shot.

2. Use a pre-shot routine. What you think, you create. Your pre-shot routine is the map that gives direction to your brain about the shot you are going to hit. For your swings to be similar, your routine before swinging must the same every time.

3. Be decisive. If you hit shots without being totally committed to the choice of club, swing tempo, or other parts of your preparation, routine, you are giving your brain a mixed message that most likely will produce a different result than you intend.

4. Remain positive. World-class golfers consistently think positive thoughts. They let go of intense emotions and use deep breathing to relax their minds and bodies.

Q: "How can I hit the ball so well on the range, be confident, and then play poorly on the course?"

A: It is likely that you prepare for your shots differently in the two places, but expect the same results. On the wide-open range, most golfers are not concerned with the mental discipline required for scoring. Then, on the golf course, the score becomes the focus and the wonderful tempo and relaxed swing are left on the range.

Performance anxiety usually begins on the first tee. To be confident and play your best, you have to be relaxed and trust your swing. Deep breathing will help you relax. It takes considerable practice to be able to trust your swing mechanics. Hit some balls with your eyes closed to experience trusting your swing. Also, practice the way you play. Train your brain by using your pre-shot routine with every shot on the range until it becomes habitual. If your practice routine and your on-course play routine are the same, your results will be the same also.

Another thing to consider is your alignment and set-up. If you set up incorrectly, even a great swing won't produce a good shot. Every shot on the course is hit from a new position, which is very different from hitting from the same spot on the range without any regard to your target. On the range, lay parallel clubs down on the ground to give your mind a visual image of the target line. Always pick a target for each shot so you get feedback. Reinforce every good shot by congratulating yourself.

Q: "How do I avoid being influenced by other people's swings?"

A: People who learn primarily by watching to model the golf swing are called visual learners. The information they need is sent to their brains through their eyes. If you are primarily visual, watching other people's swings will put a visual imprint into your memory. If this is not the swing that you desire to model, do not watch your playing partners as they tee off. Instead, just look ahead to see where the ball is going. Visualize the swing of a tour professional that you would like to imitate. Develop a visual picture of your swing by using video or by watching yourself swing in front of a mirror. Replay this swing often in your mind's eye so your body will have your own image to model.

Q: "How can I be less frustrated on the golf course and enjoy it more?"

A: Frustration on the golf course could be the result of unrealistic expectations. When you set standards of perfection that are unattainable, you will constantly experience failure. It is important to acknowledge that you will hit bad shots. Blaming yourself and feeling badly only increases the chances that you will make even more mistakes. When you associate your feelings of self-worth with your ability to avoid mistakes you will be on an emotional roller coaster. You will feel more relaxed and experience less pressure if you do not demand perfection from yourself.

The more you replay your missed shots in your mind, the more you deplete your self-esteem. Realize that you cannot change your missed shots, but you can change your thoughts that upset you. Life or a round of golf is very seldom all good or all bad. Don't make your missed golf shots the central theme of your thoughts. Reverse that kind of thinking and focus only on the good shots that you have hit.

Q: "How can I be more consistent?"

A: To produce more consistent shots, practice your swing and, also practice making your mental preparation more consistent. One of the most important mental tools is your pre-shot routine. Would you want to fly with a pilot who didn't check out all of his instruments before he started the plane down the runway? It is important in the same way for you to have a pre-flight checklist to prepare your mind. This checklist prepares you to let go of conscious thoughts and to put your swing into a smooth flight pattern.

Your pre-shot routine is the map that gives direction to your brain about the shot you are going to hit. For your swing to be the same, your routine prior to swinging must be the same every time. Successful golfers train their minds to do the same routine in sequence over and over until it becomes a habit. On the golf course they can then activate the sequence by a trigger or swing key to start the process.

Q: "How can I keep from getting up-tight?"

A: Begin to monitor the chatter that might be going on inside your head. We all have self-talk that goes on constantly. The banter on the first tee is a verbal indication of what golfers are saying to themselves such as, "I haven't played in a week (so don't expect me to play well)", or "My handicap just went up (because I am playing terribly)". These are examples of negative self-talk which sabotage your golf game.

Begin to see the game (and yourself) the way you would like it to be. Talk to yourself as if you were the finest caddy on a pro tour. A good caddy's job is to reinforce your self-worth, remind you of past successes, help you to think clearly, and keep you relaxed and calm. Treat yourself as if you were talking to your best friend, encouraging her and pointing out her good traits and successes. As you give yourself positive affirmations, breathe deeply to create a feeling of relaxation and acceptance. Also, adopt the attitude that you can improve, and that you believe in yourself and in your ability.

Q: "How can I get over my fear of hitting the ball in the water?"

A: Confidence is the absence of fear. The more you talk about and picture your ball going into the water the more you reinforce the fear and increase the likelihood of that happening. To build your confidence, talk to yourself positively. Tell yourself, "This is the perfect distance for me to hit my 6-iron to the green". Then focus on imagining or visualizing the result you want. Pick a spot where you want the ball to land, and imagine the path your ball will follow to fly to that spot. Then swing the club to achieve that result. After your round of golf, go back out when the course is clear and hit several balls over the water to reinforce your confidence.

Q: "It takes me four or five holes to get into the game. How can I get off to a good start?"

A: There is a story about Ben Hogan who was asked for an autograph as he was warming up for his round. Ben was already focused on the ensuing game, and told her, "Excuse me, madam, but I am already playing my round." Begin to play your round on the practice range. After warming up and finding your tempo, simulate playing the first two or three holes on the range, using the clubs you would use to play those holes. Make sure you go through your complete pre-shot routine exactly as you would on the golf course. This will give you a game plan and prepare your mind for the first few holes.

Q: "How can I concentrate better on my golf shots?"

The human mind processes thousands of bits of information every second so it is no wonder that we have trouble focusing on one shot at a time. This is obvious when we blame our wandering thoughts on Alzheimer's or Senior Moments. A lot of golfers believe they have to concentrate on the game for four hours when in fact it is a good thing to relax and joke with your partners between shots and focus only when it is your turn to hit. Using the same pre-shot routine and swing key every time will help you to stay focused.

Q: "Why do I need a pre-shot routine?"

A: After missing a shot, did you ever hear yourself saying, "I just knew I was going to miss that shot!" In your mind you had programmed the miss. Your thoughts and beliefs are how you create your reality. When you hit the golf ball, you get what you think. Programming your mind for the shot you want is the only part of your golf swing over which you have total control.

It is important that you mentally program the process of creating the shot you want. Be decisive about the club that will go that distance.

1. Plan your shot by taking into account the distance, wind and target.

2. Be decisive about the club you have selected.

3. Practice your swing mentally and/or physically.

4. Picture in your mind the flight of the ball or rolling the ball into the hole.

5. Check your alignment carefully using an intermediate target.

6. Relax, trust and execute your plan.

Q: "I would like to be more consistent in my play. Can you tell me how to control my mind so I can do that?"

A: There are many factors that make up a consistent round of golf such as desire, realistic expectations and confidence in your ability to perform. Players who are consistent in the way they live their lives off the golf course will usually hit more fairways and greens than players who like to "grip it and rip it." If you are a person who likes action rather than routine, you need to change your thoughts, attitudes and actions to enjoy consistency rather than excitement. Instead of trying to hit the longest drive of your life on each hole, set a goal for yourself such as hitting 8 or 10 fairways. Instead of trying to get the most out of the club each time, take more club and swing smoothly to ensure hitting the greens. Keep track of the number of putts you take per round and plan to make more one-putts.

Q: "How do I avoid the first tee jitters which gets me off to a poor start in a tournament?"

A: The first tee jitters are caused by anxiety about what might happen. When a person experiences anxiety symptoms, he feels as if he doesn't have control of the situation and is afraid. On the first tee, anxiety is caused by negative thoughts of what might go wrong. In life and in golf, no one has control over the outcome of a situation. You can practice the golf swing for hours, but if you don't believe it will work, it probably won't because the brain is focused on the opposite result. Positive thinking is one of the mental keys to being in the Zone. Say affirming messages to yourself to reaffirm:

1. your belief in yourself and your ability.

2. your belief that you can improve.

3. that your last thought prior to hitting the golf ball is a positive one.

Q: "I feel that I am a very positive person living my life and making decisions. However, golf seems to bring out negative thoughts, which prevent me from playing as well as I feel I can. How can I gain confidence in my golf game?"

A: Confidence is a state of mind that can be developed by positive thinking. A great many golfers seem to dwell on their missed shots. They talk about penalty shots, three putts, slices and hooks as if it is their badge of courage. Think instead about the good shots you have hit many times in the past. Remember the best shots you have hit with each club in your bag. See yourself playing your own golf course in your mind using only the best shots you have hit in the past on each hole. This kind of positive reinforcement will give you the mental confidence to hit those shots again. When Patty Sheehan needed to two-putt from 90 feet to win the U.S. Women's Open Championship, she didn't think about 3-putting. Patty remembered all the times she had easily two-putted from that distance. She told herself she had done it many times before and was going to do it again. And she did!

Q: "How can I block out negative thoughts on the golf course?"

A: In our memory bank stored in the unconscious mind are negative thoughts and well as positive thoughts. From time to time certain situations will cause random thoughts to pop up into our conscious minds. Normally we don't block out positive thoughts. We just listen to them and then let them fade out as we think of something else. Instead of trying to block out a thought, it is a good practice to notice the negative thought and let it fade away without giving it any power. As you do this, replace what you don't want to think about, with what you do. For instance, if the thought is, "I can't make this four foot putt", honor the fear thought and then prepare your mind and body with your pre-shot routine and tell yourself, "I can make this putt easily." If you discipline yourself to this kind of mental programming your positive thoughts will be much more powerful than the negative ones.

Q: "I want to be able to handle "bad" days on the golf course. How do I recover and get back into a calm and positive position? How do I relax when playing poorly and not get so discouraged?"

A: When you are having a "bad day" it probably means you don't feel as if you are in control of your mind and/or golf swing. There are several ways to regain that control. The first is not to think too much about the bad results that you are experiencing with your golf game. Focus instead on the steady, smooth, rhythmic flow of the swing. Focus on having good balance, being steady and centered over the golf ball. Don't swing harder than you can control.

To regain mental control, change all negative thoughts to decisive confident thoughts. Convince yourself that the club in your hand is the perfect club for that shot. Commit yourself 100% to each shot by giving it your full intention and attention to your routine. This is what it means to "hit one shot at a time" and to "stay in the moment." Instead of just aiming at the middle of the fairway, pick a smaller target and make it as specific as you can imagine. Use these thoughts to plan your shot before you start your pre-shot routine, not while you are standing over the ball.

Q: "How can I have my brain, which understands what it is to do, communicate with my body, hands, arms, and legs so that they'll comply?"

A: To learn a skill requires practice. A lot of golfers think they understand the golf swing but have a hard time getting the results they desire. When you began school, you had to go through stages of learning how to write. First, to hold the pen, practicing writing the letter "a" over and over again until you could do it without thinking. Then you progressed through the alphabet, practicing each letter. Then you wrote the letters in words, then sentences. It is the same in golf; practice each learning step of the swing and then practice putting it all together. It is important to have a skilled golf professional teach you the correct steps so you know what to practice.

Q: "I would like to be able to ignore all the distractions such as carts, people moving, and other noises while I am hitting. How can I do that?"

A: When Jack Nicklaus was walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta on the way to winning his 6th Masters, the thunderous ovation from the crowd brought tears to his eyes he was so touched by the crowd and this historic scene. He was overcome with emotion. He was distracted. He caught himself in time and remembered that he still had to play out the last hole and refocused his mind on the task of putting the uphill 50 foot putt.

Distractions such as noises on the golf course are common place. There is also the distraction of your inner voice that brings up thoughts that are irrelevant to your golf game. Did you ever stand over a putt and think about where you were going for dinner? Or something equally unrelated?

If inner voices or outer noises distract you, you have not totally prepared your mind so your body will know what to do. Using a pre-shot routine is a good way to focus your attention. An excellent step to add to your pre-shot routine is the "D-Line." Looking down the fairway at your target, draw an imaginary line between you and the ball. This is your Decision Line (D-line). All thoughts and decisions are to be made before you cross this line. You must be absolutely certain of where and how you are going to hit the ball. At any time after crossing this line if anything distracts you from your plan, go back and begin your pre-shot routine again to refocus your mind.

Keep a mental scorecard with a pass/fail system or a 1-10 system (with 10 being the best and 1 being the worst) and record your level of preparedness for every shot. You might be surprised how many shots you hit without being mentally ready.

Q: What is a good thought to have when teeing off on the first hole?"

A: Relax by breathing deeply. Feel the tempo of your swing. Swing to the target.

Q: "Can you tell me how to improve my mental attitude on the golf course? I want to be more positive in all aspects of my life."

A: Here are ten mental tips to use on the golf course to lower your score.

1. Whatever you are trying to do, don't. Trying means steering. Make up your mind to hit to your target and Just Do It!

2. Don't give yourself instruction. Become aware of your body and swing. Imagine feeling your body swinging the golf club easily and effortlessly.

3. Be decisive about what you are going to do. Indecision is the enemy of golfers. Don't hit a shot until you have absolutely made up your mind about what you want to do with the shot.

4. Believe in yourself no matter what the results are. Believe in your ability to play well. Trust that you can improve.

5. Emotionalize only good shots. Emotions of fear, doubt, anger, and anxiety will sabotage your game. Be positive in talking to yourself and others.

6. Feel your balance, rhythm, and tempo. Instead of focusing your attention on a specific part of the body or part of the golf swing, go beyond the mechanics and find your own rhythm and tempo.

7. Leave all problems at home. Golf requires a balanced emotional level. Relax your mind and body with deep breathing.

8. Stay in the NOW. Give each shot your full attention as if it is the only shot you will hit today. Be fully present. Play one shot at a time.

9. Let go of all expectations. Don't add up your score until you are finished. Enjoy each shot as its own reward.

10. Have fun playing the game. Enjoy all aspects of the golf course.

Q: "How do I recapture my passion for golf?"

A: When you play well, golf is fun. Golf is a game, and as such should be rewarding by itself, just for the experience. Golf can be made more enjoyable when all your expectations aren't centered on rewards like praise or prizes. Learn to have fun on the golf course whether you are playing well or poorly. Every golf shot and every golf course has its own unique beauty and challenges. Learn from the challenges and enjoy the beauty.

To play better, set some goals for yourself so you will be able to measure your success. An important aspect to your mental golf game is good goal setting. It is necessary to have a plan to improve. Organizing your plan with specific progressive steps will keep your motivation high. Analyze your game to determine where you lose the most strokes. More than likely it is in your short game, since it comprises 65% of all shots.

To lower your score, learn to love your scoring clubs. Begin by putting for 5-10 minutes every day, either on your carpet or putting green, enjoying the movement of the putter, while holding your eyes transfixed on a spot on the golf ball. See your short game as an art form instead of shots that you "have to make" for a certain score. Enjoy the rhythm, tempo (speed), the sound, and the feel of the putter.

Q: "I want to play better golf but I am afraid of getting into bunkers. How can I get over my fear?"

A: Of course, the obvious answer is to take some lessons from your golf professional to learn the technique of hitting out of bunkers.

A lot of people have fear thoughts when they get into a bunker. The thoughts are from their previous experience of sculling the ball over the green or perhaps leaving it in the bunker. Fear is the projection of something that has happened in the past, into the future, through a large magnifying glass.

Thoughts produce learned emotions. To remove the fear, change the fear thought (sculling) to a positive thought and image. Affirm that you know how to hit out of the bunker. See a slow motion movie of the ball floating up over the lip and next to the pin. Concentrate on the basics learned from your pro and use a mental key such as, "Throw some sand on the green" or "Bounce the club off the sand."

Q: "How can I not let my anger show and affect my play?"

A: Emotions such as anger are caused by the thoughts in your head. If you have expectations of hitting a perfect shot every time, you will experience the emotions of anger, frustration, humiliation, etc. Change your thoughts and you change your emotions. That is a big part of the mental game. Forgive yourself for making mistakes, for not executing the shot as you wanted. You just failed at that skill at that time. Forgive yourself for being human. As humans we learn from our mistakes. Remember that golf is not a game of perfection. It is a game of recovery (from missed shots).

Jack Nicklaus has said, "Even at the highest levels of golf, perfect shots are mostly accidental and extremely rare."

Q: "When I keep hitting bad shots, how do I overcome the feeling of failure?"

A: See something good in every shot. Failing at a task is the way we learn best. Learn from your mistakes so you won't repeat them. Know that failure is a necessary part of learning. Know that even though you have failed to execute a shot, YOU are not a failure. Your golf game does not reflect on you as a person. Your attitude toward your shot does reflect on who you are. Act like a champion and you can become one.

Q: "How do I control my nerves when playing under pressure?"

A: Nervousness is caused by your fear of what will happen. You cannot be relaxed and anxious at the same time. Let go of the "what ifs" and focus on the shot you are going to hit without any expectation of the outcome. If you focus on the end result such as the score, it can make you feel overwhelmed and discouraged when you don't achieve it. This will sabotage the whole process of relaxing and staying focused on hitting one shot at a time.

Relax your body by swinging the club, tightening and releasing the grip to release the pressure. Shrug your shoulders up to your ears and then let them fall down. Breathe deeply several times to relax your body and clear your mind.

Positive Mental Imagery
128 Forest View Drive
Flat Rock, NC 28731
Email: pmi4@bellsouth.net