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How to improve your mental and emotional strength on the golf course

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About 6 months ago, a young, aspiring golfer was referred to me. He was just turning pro and having a difficult time making the transition from amateur to professional golf. The primary problem was he didn’t have some of the key fundamentals and skills to move forward and develop as a player. He was struggling with the transition and the day-to-day responsibilities of a professional golfer, and he did not have the tools to maximize his capabilities: the achievement factor. So, no fun and no results.

With the pressures of professional golf, financial burdens and expectations, he was considering quitting and starting something new… or being proactive and doing something about it. Fast forward 6 months. A mental/emotional development process helped him develop the critical skills he needed to both achieve his targets, put him on the right path, bring a great attitude to the game, and enjoy his golf.

From the Player’s Dad: “This has been the difference. Adding some structure in his mental game was the key to bring it together and put things on the right track. He is confident, has a real plan, and he’s excited to continue the journey with new skills.”

Why Mental/Emotional High Performance Should Be Important to You

Working in high-performance sports everyday, I see the emerging trend to put more emphasis on the mental and emotional game as the golf industry approaches limits in technical, physical, and equipment advancement. The next frontiers are in proactive mental/emotional development and the fuel factor, maximizing the value of nutrition.

Forward-thinking modern players like Jordan Spieth understand the importance of mental/emotional performance development. Listen to any of his interviews and you’ll hear consistent references to all key areas of mental/emotional performance. The Champion Golfer of the Year said it well after winning The Open in July:

“You have to conquer the golf course first and foremost,” Spieth said. “You also have to conquer yourself, your own emotions, you have to win the mental battle with yourself.”

As the physical gap between players continually closes, golfers will need a stronger mental and emotional framework. “The edge” will be found in the mental/emotional component and other key areas like nutrition.

There are many benefits to developing your mental/emotional game. Here are a just a few benefits that you might not have considered:

1. Build self-awareness. Working with the world’s leading athletes everyday, one of the critical keys to sustainable high performance is the competency of self-awareness. When we assess athletes at all levels, results show that eight out of 10 performers do not have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer. It therefore must be developed for a golfer to maximize his or her abilities. Development of self-awareness through golf will also enable high performance in other areas of your life.

2. Build confidence. What is confidence? How do you build it? How do you keep it? A great mental/emotional development plan will ensure you understand confidence and you bring it with you every time you step on the course.

3. Develop a clear path forward. A detailed, concise player plan is required, including a vision for your golf career and a plan in place to reach your targets. Most players have no plan, no fundamental structure, no defined path to reach targets. For that reason, most get lost along the way and don’t reach targets.

4. Become aware of your emotion. Human beings are emotional. Often your emotions direct you and pull you in a variety of directions. Awareness and regulation of emotions is a key element in mental/emotional high performance development. With development, emotions can be channeled in the right direction and used to maximize enjoyment and achievement.

5. Build focus. We live in a world of distraction: phones, social media, big events, expectations. In order to maximize abilities, a level of mindfulness must be developed to center the focus on what’s important. Mental/emotional high performance development builds a new level of focus.

6. Enjoy the game! The ultimate result of the time you spend in golf is you enjoy yourself and have fun. Many players lose perspective of the primary reasons for playing and get caught up in traps that don’t allow them to fully enjoy the sport they love.

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So what are you waiting for?

There are golfers all over the world who have technical and physical talent, but they never reach their targets or gain full enjoyment from the sport. Be like proactive players on the PGA Tour who embrace the value of mental and emotional development, building their mental and emotional muscles to both have more fun and achieve more.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Got to say SteveK is on to something….
    Look at the nba

    • Demar

      Oct 5, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Very low IQ multi-millionaires…. laughing at the tribal honking cracker fans paying to watch and fantasize about jumping and scoring and big donging.

  2. Vegas Bullet Dodger

    Oct 5, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Bring something to eat and stay hydrated

  3. Dude

    Oct 4, 2017 at 9:21 pm

    This was covered in the movie, Happy Gilmore. Spoiler Alert:

    Chubby takes Happy to the miniature golf course so that he can find his “happy” place. As a result, Happy was able to overcome the untimely passing of Chubbs, the fact that his Grandma’s house was being taken away, and win the tour championship.

  4. John Haime

    Oct 4, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Hi Jake – “how” is a process and individual for everyone. For example – to acquire self-awareness – many pieces need to be looked at – strengths, limitations, triggers, values, purpose etc. This article is a first step to create awareness – you have options to get customized “hows”. Thanks for the great comment!

    • SteveK

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:52 am

      How about my cogent comment? Why do top amateur and pro golfers have an emotional/mental deficiency after playing golf starting from the tender ages of 4-6 y.o.? Is it a parental problem that haunts these emotionally/mentally challenged athletes? Surely you must determine the root causes before you can prescribe a remedy.

      • John Haime

        Oct 5, 2017 at 8:06 am

        Hi Steve,

        Re – you first comment. When I see “people who play golf for a living have a low IQ” – I stop reading and won’t take time for statements with no basis of fact and are insulting to professional golfers.

        In your second question – you are pointing out the entire problem. Almost everyone is reactive – waiting for things to break before “fixing” it. The solution is a proactive approach to develop the mental/emotional skills in the first place – just like you might develop the basic fundamentals of the golf swing. And yes, if the athlete does not have these fundamentals, then they are open to issues and getting in their own way – and the root cause is the starting point. Thanks!

        • Steve K

          Oct 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

          IQ tests are a test of broad intellectual capacity and most professional athletes do not have a high IQ because the game of golf and most other sports does not require such intellect.
          Athletes are specialized people who function athletically and intellectually in their particular sport. They don’t require a high IQ and the point I was making that their mental and emotional development is stunted by a lower intellectual level.
          Nothing wrong with that observation…. and you have taken my statement out of context where I say “… it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.”
          Golfers are no great minds as with most top athletes. They only live for their sport. Of course there are some exceptions that I am not aware of. In general they are fine people with a specialized brain power that may not include mental and emotional strength. “IQ” and “EQ” (Emotional Quotient). That’s a likely ‘root cause’ of the problem.
          Don’t let political correctness blind you to the ‘root’ causes of psychological problems in top immature athletes.

  5. SteveK

    Oct 4, 2017 at 11:21 am

    Improving mental and emotional strength is in essence a maturation process. Children have low mental strength and emotional control because they are creatures of instinct and feeelings. They grow out of their childish mentality by the age of 40!
    People who play golf for a living are probably low IQ (85-90) people because golf is not intellectually challenging…. it’s a masochistic endeavor requiring an obsessive-compulsive mentality and a huge commitment to solo practice.
    Sure, golf is a specialization and pro golfers have reached the top of the specialization physically. Was it Bobby Jones who said that golf is played within the 5 1/2 inches between the ears? Some pro golfers do mature and they play with great mental and emotional strength. Most don’t.
    As for recreational golfers, they are simply children seeking fun on the golf course with their incompetence and equally incompetent buddies. Geerheads are an example of the immaturity of golfers who revel in the artistic shapes and subjective feel of new model golf clubs. The OEMs know how to market their toys to customers with weak mental and emotional conditions.
    There is a child within every adult male… and I believe somebody wrote a pop-psychology book on that topic.

    • SteveKisadummy

      Oct 4, 2017 at 3:45 pm

      Congratulations on writing the dumbest comment of the year. 10 months into the rear and we have a runaway winner. I had though I had seen it all but you have shot as low as possible and hit a bulls eye. You are a true meatball.

      • SteveK

        Oct 5, 2017 at 12:46 am

        And you fall into the category of 85 – 90 IQ and it’s obvious my comments cause you much personal anguish … and I am a much smarter ‘meatball’.

      • Steve K

        Oct 5, 2017 at 11:06 am

        No, my comments are cogent and valid, and they explain the cause of low mental and emotional strength in top athletes … people who don’t need a high IQ to function at a high athletic level.
        Not only is their IQ generally low, their “EQ” Emotional Quotient is low. Athletes live for their sport and themselves as performers. This is well known in psychological circles.
        Stop with your political correctness that protects the feelings of those on this ‘safe space’ WITB forum.

  6. Jake

    Oct 4, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Where is the how? This is what you need to do. How to do those things is missing.

    • Think or Thwim

      Oct 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      If you recognize your mental and emotional problems playing golf visit a professional sports psychologist, not somebody who claims to be competent to diagnose problems that may have their roots in a medical condition. e.g. hormonal imbalance.

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WATCH: What to do when you’re short sided

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney shows you how to avoid compounding a mistake when you’ve missed the ball on the wrong side of the green.

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Why flaring your left foot out at address could be a big mistake

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In his book “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf,” published in 1957, Ben Hogan recommended that golfers position their right foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line, and then position their left-foot a quarter of a turn outward at a 15-degree angle (Note: He was writing for right-handed golfers). The purpose of the left-foot foot position was to assist in the “clearing of the left hip,” which Hogan believed started his downswing.

Through this Hogan instruction book and the others he wrote through the years, there four categories that defined his advice;

  1. He accurately described what was occurring in his swing.
  2. He described a phantom move that never occurred.
  3. He described something that occurred but to a lesser degree than indicated.
  4. He inaccurately described what was happening in his swing.

As evidenced by today’s modern video, Hogan did not open up his left hip immediately as he described. This piece of advice would fall into the fourth category listed above — he inaccurately described what was happening in his swing. In reality, the first move in his downswing was a 10-12 inch shift of his left hip forward toward the target before his left hip ever turned open.

SPINNING OUT

Those amateur golfers who strictly adopted his philosophy, opening the left hip immediately, ended up“spinning out” and never getting to their left foot. The spin-out was made even worse by the 15-degree angle of the left foot Hogan offered. That said, based on Hogan’s stature in the golf world, his advice regarding the positioning of the feet was treated as if it were gospel and adopted by both players and teachers. Since that time his hip action has been debated, but the positioning of the left foot has remained unquestioned — until today.

THE FLARED FOOT POSITION

The flared position of his left foot may or may not have been of assistance in helping Hogan achieve the desired outcome in his swing. That really is not the point, but rather that over a half-century there has never been a voice that argued against the flared foot position he advocated.

The rest of the golf world accepted his advice without question. In my opinion, the left foot position advocated by Hogan has harmed countless golfers who slowly saw their swings fall apart and wondered why. His well-meaning advice was a poisoned pill, and once swallowed by golfers it served to eventually erode what was left of their left side.

DEAD WRONG

The subject of this piece is not to debate Hogan’s hip action but the piece that accompanied it, the 15-degree flare of the left foot. I’m of the opinion that it is not only wrong. Because of its toxic nature, it is DEAD WRONG.  The reason has to do with the tailbone, which determines the motion of the hips in the swing. The more the left foot opens up at address, the more the tailbone angles backward. That encourages the hips to “spin out” in the downswing, which means they have turned before the player’s weight has been allowed to move forward to their left foot and left knee.

As a consequence of the hips spinning out, players move their weight backward (toward the right foot), encouraging a swing that works out-to-in across the body. You can see this swing played out on the first tee of any public golf course on a Saturday morning.

FOOT FLARE ISSUES

The problem with the 15-degree foot flare is that it promotes, if not guarantees, the following swing issues:

In the backswing, the flared left foot:

  1. Discourages a full left- hip turn;
  2. Encourages the improper motion of the left-knee outward rather than back
  3. Reduces the degree that the torso can turn because of the restrictions placed on the left hip.

In the downswing, the flared left foot: 

  1. Promotes a “spinning out” of the left hip.
  2. Does not allow for a solid post at impact.

STRAIGHT AHEAD

In working with my students, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most advantageous position for the left foot at address is straight ahead at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The reason is not only because it encourages a positive moment of the player’s weight forward in the downswing, but it also improves the player’s chances of making a sound backswing.

THE POWER OF THE LEFT HEEL

There is an inherent advantage to placing the left-foot at a 90-degree to the target-line. It is the strongest physical position against which to hit the ball, as it provides a powerful post at impact that serves to increase both power and consistency.

JACK NICKLAUS

A number of years ago, Jack Nicklaus appeared on the cover of Golf Digest. The byline suggested that in studying Jack’s footwork, they had discovered something that up to that point was unknown. The “secret” they were describing was that after lifting his left heel in the backswing, he replanted it in the downswing with his heel closer to the target line than his toe. The intimation was that this might be a secret source of power in his swing.  This was hardly a “secret,” and something that Nicklaus was probably unaware of until it was pointed out to him, but it’s a demonstration of the fact that his natural instinct was to turn his foot inward, rather than outward, on the downswing.

THE DISCUS THROWER

The discus thrower whirls around in a circle as he prepares to throw. On the final pass, he plants his left toe slightly inward, relative to his heel, because this is the most powerful position from which to cast the discus. This position allows the thrower to draw energy from the ground while at the same time providing a strong post position from which additional torque can be applied. The point is that as the discus thrower makes the final spin in preparation for the throw, he does not turn the lead foot outward. Why? Because if it were turned outward, the potential draw of energy from the ground would be compromised.

The same is true when it comes to swinging a golf club for power, and you can test the two positions for yourself. After turning the left foot into a position that is 90 degrees to the target line, you will immediately note the ease with which you can now turn away from the target in addition to the strength of your left side post at the point of impact. Conversely, when you turn your left foot out, you will feel how it restricts your backswing and does not allow for a strong post position on the downswing.

REPAIRING YOUR SWING

Do you have trouble cutting across the ball? You might look to the position of your left foot and the action of the left hip. The first step would be to place your left foot at a 90-degree angle to the target line. The second step would be to turn you left hip around in a half circle as if tracing the inside of a barrel. The third step would be to feel that you left your left hip remains in the same position as you scissor your weight towards your left toe, and then your right heel, allowing the club to travel on the same path. The combination of these changes will encourage the club to swing in-to-out, improving the path of your swing.

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WATCH: Over-the-top vs. over-and-through: 1 destroys a swing, 1 can save it

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This video is about OVER-AND-THROUGH, which is very different than being over-the-top. Over-and-through is a great recovery from a backswing that is not quite in the right position. Over-the-top is flat-out a full default to the ball. See how you can bridge the gap with getting your swing to deliver better to the target!

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