What happens when you’ve done all the physical practice on the range, but it doesn’t come together on the course?
Author and golf mental game guru Rick Sessinghaus – coach of two-time major winner Collin Morikawa – reveals to RSNG.com how to marry the mental side to your physical game, and ensure you make the cut.
The majority of golfers – all ages, all abilities – have, at one time or another, found themselves standing on the first tee as a swarm of uncertainty begins to circle. The doubt of whether everything that’s been practiced can actually be played out over the 18 holes in front of them is, of course, real… but what to do with it?
There are a very fortunate few who are able to shake away this mass of hesitation, of uncertainty, of almost helpless indecision – the type of deliberation that can make or break an entire round even before you’ve hit your first shot.
“I know it sounds like a cliché,” Sessinghaus begins, “but I always like to initialize any of my mental and mindset advice with one thought – it’s about taking one shot at a time.
“It’s such a straightforward idea, but never truer than in golf. You literally cannot plan a second shot because, for want of a better reason, you don’t know where the first shot is going to land. So at least that part is sorted.”
While that advice follows common logic, it still doesn’t address how a competitor needs to approach that first shot.
“So much in our approach will determine our action,” he continues. “And this concept is similarly simple - walk confidently up to the mark, play a few practice swings, and then assert all of the groundwork you have invested up to that point, with positivity and focus on a good result.”
Sessinghaus realized early on in his coaching career that, where golf is concerned, it’s almost always down to the person, the individual. Thus, the effects that come from an individual’s actions (rather than a playing partner’s) will go a long way to determining the outcome.
“Disregarding the elements or the fact that we may be playing against an opponent, we should always focus and concentrate on our own game. Blocking out external influences is therefore not just a product of good, positive influence; it’s actually an essential part of what we need to do.
“Having a regular, efficient routine that prevents any possibility of holding up our process of playing a shot, is also essential. You will usually have anywhere between 20 and 30 seconds to play a shot.
“In that time, we want to make a firm decision on the club we want to use, and the shot we want to play… then execute that. If we are confident about each of those three steps, the rest should fall into line.”
There’s never been a golfer in history who hasn’t played a bad shot
It’s easy to forget that almost everything you do in life has a defined, dynamic, deep mental requirement, and golf is no different. You could have the best practice, the longest drive, the most fantastic laser-accurate putting technique – but if you can’t implement one of those elements, or more than one, you have an issue.
Allowing fears to become prominent in your mind is another sure-fire way of losing the art of control, and control is a prerequisite for any golfer who favors the fairway over the water hazard.
Thus, if you can harness the mentality required, you can achieve anything you wish.
“I’ve spoken to players of all abilities and asked them what they fear within golf,” Sessinghaus explains.
“Many of them were concerned about topping the ball, slicing, hooking, or even worse – the shank. It all boiled down to doing something which either made them look amateurish or silly.”
As Sessinghaus says, golfers need to get out of the habit of worrying about putting the ball into the water, into a bunker, or anywhere else for that matter. The more they think about it, the more the body tenses up and that’s when bad shots happen.
“There’s never been a golfer in history who hasn’t played a bad shot, and we’re talking about in the history of the game, here. Anybody who has ever picked up a golf club has played a bad shot.
“Simply though, eliminate those negative thoughts, because if you’re not confident, you’re far likelier to mishit or miscue.
“And finally, incorporate as much of the mental game into your physical game as possible. Why do you go to the range and hit golf balls? In order to improve your physical game. Why would you not think about improving the mental side too?”
Sessinghaus says the key to training your mind to forget about errors is to break down exactly what weaknesses you have, and to be totally honest with yourself about them. “Only then can you even begin to overcome those fears,” he says.
The crucial part is to make the routine repetitive, easy to remember and hard to get wrong
Implementation is the part where all of the prior, invested work is put into practice. To facilitate that, Sessinghaus says we should keep to a schedule, using counting to guide our approach to the tee and the shot.
“Count to a certain number in your head – a number that will easily incorporate practice swings, can accommodate getting your stance right, and in which, of course, you can play your shot,” says Sessinghaus.
“If you can follow that, you will then make it a proper routine and something you can incorporate into your game. You may then see gradual, and perhaps even dramatic, changes to your golf game.”
Older habits can be sometimes difficult to get out of and it’s not unusual to find yourself going back to them at first. However, once you start to experience good results with the new ideas, the likelihood is old ones will be left behind.
“With any onboarding of information or guidance, it’s important not to take too much on, too soon,” says the renowned coach. “You don’t want to overwhelm yourself and get into a stress through trying to remember different methods.
“If you can, try one out and start in your attempt to learn it, master it and perfect it. Once you’re comfortable with the first, move onto the next. Before you know it, you’ll have changed the parts of your game you were previously unhappy with.”
Mastering those elements is a key part of making the switch to becoming not only a confident golfer, but also someone who is content with their game and who looks forward to playing.
“There’s nothing better than loving a sport or pastime and being eager to do it,” says Sessinghaus. “After the memory of a previous bad round of golf has worn off, we usually get that determination back to play again and put things right.
“And if that determination is built into the crucial mechanic of it being repetitive, the action will be almost as robotic as that floating drive from the middle of the fairway that lands within three feet of the hole. Perfect!”
WHAT NEXT? Find out how Colin Morikawa deals with the conflicting emotions of victory and defeat in this RSNG.com interview…
Photos: Shutterstock/ REX