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5 Strategies To Keep Your Mind in the Present on the Golf Course

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Staying in the present is one of the most important areas of the mental game that sport psychologists work on with golfers. Nearly every week, winners from the PGA Tour to the LPGA Tour will attribute a part of their victory to their ability to stay in the present. They may use different terms (staying in the moment, focusing on the task at hand, or concentrating on the process), but their overall message is the same; they were able to manage their mind and stay focused on the present. Keeping your mind focused on the present is not a principle only reserved for golf’s best players; it’s one that should be practiced by all golfers who want to play their best.

Being focused on the present is a relatively straightforward concept in golf psychology. While a golfer’s body can only be found physically in the present moment, a golfer’s mind can wander nearly anywhere. It can think back to past circumstances like a mistake a golfer made on a previous hole. It can also go into the future and think about a shot or hole that’s coming up. Sometimes a golfer’s mind will even stroll to thoughts outside of the course to something like an errand or a business deal. There is no shortage of places the mind can go that are not occurring in that present moment.

Unfortunately, the more a golfer’s mind strays away from the present moment, the harder it is for that golfer to play his or her best golf. This is especially true right before a shot. There is no time more important to be in the present than during the pre-shot routine and while swinging the club. Being immersed in the moment and giving each shot 100 percent is one of the most important factors to a sound mindset and mental game.

While being in the present moment is one of the simplest concepts for golfers to understand, it is also one of the most challenging skills for them to consistently implement in their mental game. No golfer has ever mastered it, and no golfer probably ever will. I see countless golfers put so much pressure on themselves to do it perfect or not do it at all. They impose an all-or-none attitude on themselves, and this is potentially one of the biggest reasons in golf psychology that players struggle to stay in the present. They figure, “I tried it, but my mind wandered after two holes (or maybe two seconds). So, I might as well just accept my mind can’t stay in the present.”

The truth is that everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Arnold Palmer to Jason Day to Dustin Johnson are tested by the golf gods; on the course, their minds wander more than you would believe. That’s because no golfer’s mind comes “golf ready.” Staying in the present is a part of the game we all battle each time we go out on the course. In golf, you have “outer-game challenges” like bunker shots and “inner-game challenges” like staying in the present. Just as you wouldn’t abandon your swing after one bad shot or bad round, you shouldn’t abandon being focused in the moment on the course. The more time and energy you dedicate to staying in the present, the better you will become at managing your mind to stay in the moment.

Just as the idea of being focused on the present is a simple concept, and so are many of the solutions. I have found from my experience as a mental coach that the simplest solutions are often the most powerful and easiest to implement. As with every strategy in sport psychology, the more time you dedicate to practicing these techniques (on and off the golf course) the more ingrained these mental skills will become.

Each of the 5 strategies are great ways to manage your mind to be present focused on the golf course. The key is finding the strategies that work best for you. Try each of the strategies and use the one(s) that fit your personality.

1. Gain a Better Awareness for When You Start to Lose Focus with Self-Monitoring

Many times, golfers lose focus without even realizing it. They will be on autopilot thinking about something from the past or in the future without any awareness that they are even doing it. Just learning to become aware of when your mind shifts out of the present is often enough to help it get back into the moment.

In psychology, the practice of paying attention to your thoughts and actions is called self-monitoring. It is a very powerful strategy that helps people learn to manage bad habits that they would like to learn to control. In this case, it would include golfers setting a goal to monitor their thoughts and pay attention to when and how their mind wanders from the present moment.

One simple exercise I use to help golfers learn to monitor their thoughts is called: “Left Pocket – Right Pocket.” I recommend you do this drill during a non-competitive round the next time you want to work on staying in the present. Put about 50 golf tees in your left pocket and start with your right pocket empty. Every time your mind wanders out of the present, take a tee out of your left pocket and put it in your right pocket. Do not judge the thought or even try to shift your thoughts in the beginning. The initial purpose of this exercise is to heighten your awareness. If you naturally have fewer thoughts or manage the thoughts you have, that is even better. But when starting, let the primary purpose be to recognize the thoughts and over time you can build on the exercise – especially with some of the other suggestions from this article.

2. Know What You Want to Focus on Before You Start to Lose Focus

Many times, when a golfer tries to refocus they either try to do too much or refocus on the “wrong” thing. For instance, a golfer’s mind may begin to focus on the future and think about birdieing a hole. Their mind then refocuses to the present, but they make an overly aggressive decision or decide to make a swing that doesn’t fit their game.

I encourage all my players to have a game plan and process goals established before they tee off. A game plan is a strategy for how they want to play the course. Part of that game plan are process goals, which are a few objectives that are under the direct control of golfer. These are things they want to focus on during the round like their pre-shot routine, a swing thought, etc. Having a game plan and process goals established before you tee off will help you know what to think about when you want to refocus so you don’t overthink when your mind begins to wander.

3. What’s Important Now: Ask “W.I.N.ing” Questions 

Often times, when a golfer’s mind starts to focus away from the present moment, their thoughts can go in a million directions and they have difficulty grounding themselves to one key thought. They have many thoughts about what they could do or have to do. This is rarely helpful. The mind works best when it has one clear thought. A great objective is to identify the most important priority in that moment.

Asking “W.I.N.ing” questions is a powerful way to identify the most important thing to do in that moment. W.I.N. stands for: “What’s important now?” When you ask yourself this question, your mind will have little choice but to focus in the moment.

4. Have Well-Established Routines

As previously mentioned, before the shot and during the shot are the two most important moments for your mind to be in the present. A close third place is directly following the shot. This is the time you process the shot by accepting it, learning from it, or managing your emotions. Well-established and practiced routines are a great way to help you manage these three critical times.

  • A solid pre-shot routine helps golfers get into the moment before the shot and prepare them for the shot.
  • A solid execution routine helps golfers get into the moment during the shot and make a fluid trusting swing.
  • A solid post-shot routine helps golfers manage the moment after the shot and either accept or build confidence from the shot.

Golfers should practice these three critical areas on the range so they know how to best be in the moment before, during, and after the shot. The best routines are a combination of mental skills and physical actions.

In addition to these three critical routines, I also encourage golfers to develop solid morning routines, practice routines, warm-up routines, and end-of-the-day routines. The more golfers know how they want to manage themselves in important moments, the better ability they will have to conquer that moment with a present mind.

5. Harness the Moment with the Power of Breath

There is perhaps no more time-tested method to get back into the moment then to focus on your breathing. The practice of focusing on one’s breathing dates back to before 1500 B.C. with the practice of meditation. You don’t have to be a monk or cleric to enjoy the benefits, though. Golfers can adapt this practice into their game without any major changes to their beliefs or lifestyle. Sport psychologist have been using breathing as a method to enhance performance, manage emotions, and regain focus for nearly a century.

Breathing is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to regain composure and get back into the moment. When a golfer is truly focused on their breath, they are in the moment because they really can’t be anywhere else. Breathing is one consistent function within the body that follows golfers around no matter where their mind might want to wander to. I do not recommend golfers wait to realize they are getting out of the present moment to begin building a solid breathing practice. Just like with all the mental training strategies discussed, the more you practice honing in on your breath the better you will be able to successfully implement it when you need to.

There are many schools of thoughts on breathing ratios and methods of practicing breathing that I discuss with golfers. If you have one already, I recommend you continue doing it. If you don’t, one of the most popular I teach is inhaling for 3 seconds and exhaling for 6 seconds. Set aside time each day to practice your breathing. It can be as little as 3 minutes or as much as 40 minutes (20 minutes twice a day).

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Dan Vosgerichian Ph.D. is owner of Elite Performance Solutions. Dr. Dan earned his doctorate in Sport Psychology from Florida State University and has more than 10 years of experience working with golfers to maximize their mental game. His clients have included golfers from The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Latin America, as well as some of the top junior and collegiate players in the country. Dr. Dan has experience training elite golfers on every aspect of the game. He served as The Director of Mental Training at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, as well as a Mental Game Coach for Nike Golf Schools. He’s also worked as an instructor at The PGA Tour Golf Academy and assistant golf coach at Springfield College. Dan's worked as a professional caddie at TPC Sawgrass, Home of The Players Championship, as well as an assistant to Florida State University's PGA Professional Golf Management Program.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Scott

    Sep 5, 2017 at 9:10 am

    good ideas. thanks.

  2. Radim Pavlicek

    Sep 5, 2017 at 3:24 am

    You cannot stay in the present the whole round of 6 hours. That’s not possible.

  3. Chipolte

    Sep 3, 2017 at 1:26 am

    staying in the present…. aka dumbing down

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Instruction

A shockingly simple drill to hit the golf ball farther

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One of the biggest requests I get on the lesson tee is for more distance. Everyone wants to hit the golf ball farther. Obviously. That being said, there’s many things that go into producing distance, such as…

  • Swing Length — how long is the swing or how long does the club stay in the air before hitting the ball?
  • Swing Width — are you at full extension at during the swing or do you get soft arms?
  • Impact Point — the horizontal and vertical point of contact that influences gear effect, launch, and spin rate.
  • Spin Rate — how much backspin does the ball have?
  • Height — how high is the ball in the air?
  • Launch Angle — what is the angle of the ball off the face during impact?
  • Ball Speed — how fast does the ball leave the blade?

But one thing remains true: if you want more distance, then you must swing faster with all of the above being maximized for your current swing speed. So how do you create more speed? Simple — set up the drill as shown below.

Use between 6-to-10 balls and swing 100 percent all out with no regard for where the ball lands. Then repeat the drill and make your normal speed swing and you will find that your clubhead speed will slightly increase. Do this drill 5 to 10 times per practice session and you will train yourself to swing faster.

However, it’s up to you to figure out how fast you can swing yet maximize the qualities listed above so you can maintain consistent contact.

Remember, you don’t have to get complex to solve your distance problem. Try this first and see what happens!

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Your Body Is Your Most Important Piece Of Equipment; It’s Time For An Upgrade

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Clubs, balls, shoes, mental training, lessons. Golfers are always searching for the next thing that is going to transform their game. If a product has promise, golfers are like addicts; they must have it… regardless of the price. What’s usually ignored, however, is the most important piece of equipment for all golfers: their body, and how their physical conditioning pertains to golf.

Everything becomes easier by getting in better “golf shape.” You will likely hit the ball farther, have better energy and focus, fewer aches and pains, improved ability to actually implement swing changes and the durability to practice more.

When trying to improve your physical conditioning for golf, it would shortsighted not to mention the following requirements:

  1. Discipline: There will be times you don’t want to train, but should.
  2. Patience: Small, incremental progress adds up to big improvement over time.
  3. A Path: Make sure you use your time and effort efficiently by having a training plan that matches your goals.

If you can adopt these principles, I am confident you will be very happy with the return — even more so than the latest driver, putter or practice aid.

I like to compare having a well functioning body to a painter’s blank canvas. By ensuring you have adequate coordination, motor control, mobility, stability, strength and speed, you have the basic tools necessary for a high-performance golf swing. Of course, you will still need to develop a functional technique and specific skill level that matches your goals. On the flip side, if you are deficient in these areas, you are like a dirty canvas; your options are limited and you will need to make compensations to achieve anything close to the desired outcome. In simpler terms, movements that are universally desirable in the golf swing may be very difficult or impossible for you based on your current physical state.

Earlier, I mentioned the term “appropriate training,” and now I am going to discuss one of the ways to identify what this means for you as a golfer trying to use physical training to support a better golf game. The TPI (Titleist Performance Institute) Movement Screen is a great start for everyone. It is a combination of 16 exercises that are used to assess your current movement capabilities, identify limitations and provide you with your “Body-Swing” connection. The “Body-Swing” connection is a term coined by TPI that illustrates the link between physical deficiencies and potential swing tendencies based on its “Big 12” model. The Big 12 swing characteristics that TPI has identified are as follows:

  1. S-Posture
  2. C-Posture
  3. Loss of Posture
  4. Flat Shoulder Plane
  5. Early Extension
  6. Over The Top
  7. Sway
  8. Slide
  9. Hanging Back
  10. Reverse Spine Angle
  11. Casting
  12. Chicken Winging

It’s important to note these as tendencies rather than flaws, as great ball strikers have demonstrated some of them. When done excessively, they make high functioning swings more difficult and may make potential injury more likely. Rather than going through all 16 screening exercises (which would be a very long read), I have selected five that I feel provide a lot of useful information. They can often broadly differentiate the playing level of golfers.

1. Static Setup Posture

There is a lot of debate in golf instruction about what is the correct way to assume posture for the golf swing. Some prefer more rounded shoulders akin to what was common in years gone by: Jack and Arnie being good examples. Others prefer a more extended thoracic spine (less curved upper back): Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott are good examples. I’m not a golf instructor and clearly both types can hit great golf shots. I am more concerned with the lumbar spine (the lower back, which doesn’t seem to get as much attention when the setup is being discussed).

Note the difference between the spinal curvatures of Jack and Rory. I’m OK with either as long as the lower back is in a biomechanically sound position (explained in video).

An overly extended or arched lower back (which I demonstrate in the video) creates too large a space between the alignment rod and my lower back. This is a common issue I see, and it can lead to a lack of pelvis rotation, a lack of power due to the inability to effectively use the glutes and abdominal muscles and lower back discomfort. Cueing a slight posterior tilt (tucking the tailbone underneath you) often makes a noticeable difference in pelvis mobility, power, and comfort.

 2. Pelvic Rotation

Pelvic rotation is essential for X-factor stretch, the ability to increase the amount of separation between the pelvis and torso during transition (moving from the backswing into the downswing). This is often referred to as starting the downswing with the lower body/hips (while the torso is still rotating away from the target or is paused at the end of the backswing). It is critical for effective sequencing and power production. Increasing the separation between your pelvis and torso on the downswing increases what is known as the “stretch-shortening cycle” of your trunk and torso muscles, which is like adding more stretch to an elastic band and then releasing it. If you cannot separate pelvic rotation and torso rotation, it will be extremely difficult to be a good golfer.

In the video below, watch how Rickie Fowler’s pelvis rotates toward the target independently of his torso. This increases the elastic energy stored in his muscles and tendons, allowing for big power production.

 3. Lower Quarter Rotation

The Lower Quarter Rotation Test shares some similarities to the Pelvic Rotation Test, but one key difference is that it doesn’t require nearly as much motor control. Many people fail the pelvic rotation test not because of a mobility limitation, but because they can’t control the different segments of the their body and perform the action they want (motor control issue). The Lower Quarter Rotation Test, on the other hand, does not require anywhere near as much control and therefore looks more directly at the internal and external rotation mobility of the lower body. People who struggle with this test are more likely to sway, slide and have reverse spine angle.

DJ Top of backswing.jpg

I’m confident Dustin Johnson would do OK on the Lower Quarter Rotation test. Look at how well he can turn into his right hip.

 4. Seated Thoracic Rotation

This one usually resonates with golfers, as “getting a full shoulder turn” is something that golf media and players like to talk to about regularly. I think most people understand the concept of a sufficient shoulder turn being important for creating power. Restricted thoracic spine rotation can stem from a few different causes. A common one is excessive thoracic flexion (rounder upper back). To test this for yourself: 1) try the test in the video hunched over and 2) with your spine as long as possible. You should notice you can rotate farther when you sit extended.

5. 90/90 External Shoulder Rotation  

Many popular golf instruction pages on social media talk about the importance of shallowing the shaft in transition and trail arm external shoulder rotation. I understand the reasoning for this in terms of swing technique, but something that needs to be taken into consideration is whether golfers actually have the ability to externally rotate their shoulders. This is often not the case. Two interesting trends I have noticed with golfers and external shoulder rotation:

  1. A larger percentage of U.S. golfers compared to Irish golfers (the two countries I have worked in) tend to have much more trail arm external rotation available. This is mainly due to throwing baseballs and footballs in their youth, which doesn’t happen in Ireland.
  2. Shoulder external rotation, shoulder flexion, and thoracic extension really seem to reduce as golfers get older compared to other movements. Please take note of this and put some exercises into your routine that promote mobility and stability in the thoracic spine and scapula, as these are the foundation for sound shoulder mechanics. Thoracic extensions on a foam roller, relaxed hanging from a pull-up bar and wall slides with external rotation are some exercises I like to use.
MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Toronto Blue Jays

I think this pitcher would have enough external shoulder rotation in his golf swing.

I hope this article gave you some more understanding of how learning about your body and then working on its limitations might be beneficial for your golf game. If you have questions about the TPI Movement Screen or are interested in an online evaluation, please feel free to e-mail me.

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Let’s Talk Gear: Frequency and Shaft CPM

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When it comes to fine tuning a golf shaft and matching clubs within a set, frequency and CPM play a critical role in build quality and making sure what you were fit for is what gets built for you.

This video explains the purpose of a frequency machine, as well as how the information it gives us relates to both building and fitting your clubs.

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