Go ahead. Pump iron. Do
pilates. Just remember:
A million crunches can’t
make up for a fragile
mind. Call it mental fitness, a
soundness of the psyche that’s as
vital to low scores as a flexible
physique and solid fundamentals.
According to sports psychologist
Joseph Parent, author of Zen Golf, a
muscular mind rests on four pillars.
PILLAR NO. 1: STRENGTH
Nicklaus and Tiger are famous for it.
Mental toughness: performing when it
matters most. “It’s having the strength
to stand up to pressure,” Parent says, and
being comfortable in that spotlight.
EXERCISE: Don’t give yourself gimmes
To get acclimated to pressure, embrace it.
Put yourself under it. For starters, Parent
recommends putting every short putt, even
if someone is waiting behind you. “Act like
the shot matters, and you’ll be more ready
to hit it when it really does.”
PILLAR NO. 2: FLEXIBILITY
Your mind needs to be as limber as your
body. The most successful players adapt
to different courses and conditions. They
think creatively and accept things as they
come. When Vijay Singh was asked if an
Augusta downpour bothered him, he replied,
“Only if it’s just raining on me.”
EXERCISE: Reconsider your clubs
Mental flexibility means keeping your
mind open. Or as Parent puts it, “Just because
you’re in the bunker doesn’t mean
it’s a sand wedge.” To cultivate creative
thinking, take one club and work around
the practice green, hitting many kinds of
shots: high, low, soft, hard. The next time
around, choose just one shot and practice
hitting it with every club in your bag.
PILLAR NO. 3: BALANCE
One shot at a time. Stay in the moment.
They’re clichÃ©s for a reason: They work.
“Not getting too excited, not getting too
depressed,” Parent says. “That’s what
mental balance is all about.”
EXERCISE: Take stock of your thoughts
During your round, count how many
times you find yourself dwelling on the
past or pondering the future. Are you still
simmering over that three-putt? Are you
already dreading that tee shot on 18? Tally
the number of times your mind drifts
beyond the present. Your goal: Get that
number down to zero.
PILLAR NO 4: STAMINA
Any round of golf that matters is marked
by stressful moments and emotional
swings. The key, Parent says, is to minimize
them as much as possible so that
you can conserve your mental energy.
EXERCISE: Bewae of your own Amen Corner
“Everybody has that point, usually midround,
when you’re far enough along to
know how you’re playing but too far from
the finish to slip into cruise control,”
Parent says. That’s your Amen Corner,
a perilous stretch where you might feel
inspired to start playing desperate catchup
if you’re off your game, or get nervous
about keeping a good round going. The
key: Stick to your game plan. Playing
poorly? Don’t fire at pins in a mad rush
to make birdies, unless that’s your style.
If you’re playing well, beware of becoming
too cautious and protective of your
score. Such ill-advised adjustments lead
to trouble, trouble raises stress levels, and
stress burns mental energy — energy you’ll
need to play your best.
THEN AGAIN, A MIND IS A DANGEROUS THING
Just like you can over-train, you can overthink —
the mental equivalent of pulling
your groin. “You see it all the time,” says
former Tour player and Golf Channel analyst
Brandel Chamblee. “Guys fall so in love
with a pre-shot routine that they almost
forget to execute the shot.” So where’s the
happy medium? “My advice is so simple it’s
almost silly,” Chamblee says. “Be yourself.
If you’re gregarious, be gregarious on the
course. If you’re an up-tempo person, play
quickly. If you’re not, don’t. The Bard said
it best: ‘To thine own self be true.'”