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Getting a-head in golf

As you can probably guess from the slightly corny title, this blog is about

how to get ahead in golf by getting a head for golf

...all rolled into one.

How changing the way you think can lead to better scores and more fun out on the course

It’s based on something I delivered with my fabulous and patient golf coach John Jacobs in support of a charity golf day.

So rather than just coming from a humble amateur like me, it is backed up by the experience of a great professional golfer.

It’s all based on NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what I’ve been using to get my head in the game for the last 20+ years.

It’s also another example of how to use the Magic Triad that I shared in this blog.

So first…

It’s time to remember that you’re in control

Your golf doesn’t control you, only you can control you.

When your golf isn’t going so great, you don’t HAVE TO chuck your golf clubs around, smash them into the ground, sulk or fill the air with foul language.

Your golfing performance doesn’t MAKE YOU do that.

Even though it may not feel like it, it's a choice you've made and you can choose to make a different one and take back control using some of the ideas in this blog. also need to remember that you're an imperfect human and golf isn't a game of perfect either, so set your expectations accordingly :)

So what can you control...and how?

There are three key things that are within your control at all times.

They are all dependent on each other…changing one will change the other two and together, these three things determine your behaviour and therefore, from a golfing perspective, your RESULTS.

The three things you control which can unlock your golfing potential

How you are feeling.

Meaning - how you interpret what is going on around you that gives it meaning, for example

  • what you are focusing on,

  • what you’re saying to yourself, and

  • what you think, decide or believe to be true about your situation.

Body posture/physiology – what you are doing with your body.

Let me illustrate how these three things affect each other and your golfing results...

This is a picture, taken from the championship tees of the par 3, 26th hole at my home course Cumberwell Park...and yes, that thin strip of light green in the distance is the green.

And even though it's not the hardest golf hole in the world, it's certainly well known among our membership for wrecking cards!

So imagine you're on the tee while I run through what you're faced with:

  • Elevated tee

  • Wind normally against

  • Nothing between you and the hole except more tees, a bush, a large lake, a bunker and often some geese or a flock of seagulls on or around the green

  • As you can see, it’s all carry

  • To the left of the green, you have a bit more lake and a slope that angles any bounce in that direction

  • At the back and to the right (to catch any overly safe shots), there are some gorse bushes and a couple more bunkers

A testament to how golf course designers like to play games with your mind!

What happens if you have an untrained golfing brain?

Well....“Do you mind if I change my ball?” is a pretty common reaction.

In other words, it’s clear you believe there is a fair chance that your ball is going in the lake and you don't want to waste a good ball ;)

What do you see from the tee?

…well, it’s mainly the lake, the bunkers the gorse bush and the geese.

And you’ve begun to notice just how windy it is. You begin to wonder “Can I really make that shot?“

You prepare to hit your shot…and now you’re saying something to yourself like “Not in the lake, not in the lake, not in the lake”….which, if you say it enough times to yourself you will notice that what this makes you focus on is “in the lake”.

So, let’s recap…

  • you don’t believe that you can easily get over the lake,

  • all you can see are the hazards and

  • what you’re saying to yourself is making you focus on ‘in the lake’.

Does this have an impact on your state?

You bet it does…the 'meaning' you are creating is that this is a difficult situation...and you are likely to start feeling anxious as a result.

As you begin to feel anxious, your muscles tighten up

…so how you're feeling is now affecting your physiology.

And as it’s not possible to hit a relaxed flowing golf swing with tight muscles.

The result is likely to be a poor shot with a good chance of hitting one of those hazards – and particularly the lake.

So what can you do instead?

Body Posture / Phsyiology

Adopt a body posture and way of moving that oozes “Relaxed Confidence”

  • Chin up

  • Shoulders Back

  • Leg and arm muscles relaxed and moving easily and fluidly

Try walking around like that for a few minutes and try and feel anxious….you’ll find it’s surprisingly tricky, if not impossible.


As part of your pre-shot routine, make sure you interpret your situation in a useful way that leads to an assumption that you'll hit a great shot onto the green. For example

  • Visualise your shot in detail

  • Imagine the shape of the shot

  • Choose the EXACT spot where you want your ball to land on the green and how it will roll out

  • In your mind, see only the green

  • Imagine hearing the sound of the ball flying off the middle of the club face and landing softly on the green

  • Imagine looking down on yourself from above. Seeing yourself doing a really great swing

At this point, I can imagine some of you may be interrupted by an internal saboteur saying something like “I can imagine all I like but in reality, that's not what's going to happen”.

So, how can you combat unhelpful self-talk like that?

First of all, you have to remember that we’ve all had some great shots otherwise we wouldn’t still play. So you have to accept the possibility that you will hit more! And your next shot might be your next GREAT shot.

And then you need to interrupt the voice that says things like

  • I know my ball’s not going to make the green

  • My timing’s just off today, or

  • I never make it over this lake

  • Just put it anywhere other than IN THE LAKE

...and replace it with something more useful and positive, based on what you want...something along the lines of

  • This could be an excellent shot, I’ve hit many excellent shots before!

  • I trust myself to hit a great short.

  • I’m confident I can hit a great shot

  • I've got this

  • Get it next to the flag

How? A few options

  • Imagine turning the volume of the unhelpful voice right down so you can’t really hear it at all. Choose internal peace and tranquillity instead.

  • Shout STOP to yourself in your head and the internal chatter will stop for a moment. Fill the void with a more useful phrase.

  • Drown the unhelpful voice out. Jam your internal frequency by internally shouting something positive over and over and over in your head e.g. “on the green, on the green, on the green”, or “flag, flag, flag”.


You can do the same sort of thing if you notice that you're feeling anxious, pessimistic, or any other emotion that doesn't really fit with a good golf shot.

For example, if you feel the red mist descending after a poor shot or the anxiety building on the first tee, shout STOP to yourself in your head and in the pause that follows, make a conscious decision to choose to feel differently.

ALLOW yourself to change your state. Remind yourself you’re in control and it’s not big or clever to stay in a bad state. Nobody says you have to stay in a bad mood or be anxious if you’re not playing how you’d like to.

Take a breath and remember the last time you hit a great shot.

Vividly imagine how you felt then and you’ll start to feel like it again now.

So in summary...

The important thing is to NOTICE what you’re feeling, what you're saying to yourself, what you’re focusing on and what you believe… and if it’s not helpful, change it!

Remember, you’re in control of you.

...and if you find yourself lacking in inspiration, you could simply pretend you’re your favourite pro for a while and mimic/act as if you're them

  • what would they be feeling now,

  • what would they be saying to themselves,

  • what would they believe about themselves, this shot etc, and

  • what they would be doing with their body.

And if you’re still playing rubbish?

The first thing to do is forgive yourself for not being perfect and then find a way to enjoy the rest of your round that isn’t dependent on how well or badly you play.

Let’s face it

  • In the great scheme of things, how well you play golf today doesn’t really matter.

  • It’s just a game.

  • Golf doesn’t define who you are, it’s something you do.

Congratulate yourself on the fact that you are physically able and have the opportunity of spending a few hours indulging in playing a game.

Focus on the other aspects: you’re getting some exercise, you’re out in the fresh air, probably in lovely surroundings and hopefully in good company!

BUT AS A MINIMUM even if you say “I don’t think I played my best golf today”, your aim for every round should be that you can walk off the course and say “I enjoyed that.”

And remember, when it comes to golf

how you think is as important as how you swing

so you might want to consider investing in coaching for both.

Contact me if you'd like help with the thinking part :)

And if you'd like to try out my monthly emails that provide a roundup of my blogs as well as other insights, you can sign up here.


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