They say golf is a sport that, more than any other, tests you against yourself, and that’s true. Yet while we play out our own personal battles for low scores, ultimately it is when we compete against others that things get real.
There is no greater satisfaction than playing your best ever round of golf to emerge victorious against players who ‘should’ have beaten you. And overcoming better opposition is not an impossible dream, as our experts, performance mindset guru and author Geoff Colvin, former US Masters winner Trevor Immelman, and sports psychologist Martin Parry, can reveal…
GEOFF COLVIN, Performance Mindset Guru And Author
Praise Your Opponent Sports psychology usually focuses on your own internal world, but never forget you are in competition with another thinking individual – you shouldn’t rule out the notion that you can impact others and the way they view themselves, and in ways that seem counterintuitive at first…
“If you are vocal in talking up an opponent, it’s been scientifically proven that three things can happen,” says award-winning performance mindset author and speaker Geoff Colvin. “Firstly, they fall into something akin to a comfort trance, where all the adrenalin and intensity they might usually attach to their game becomes secondary to the sense of dominance and authority that someone else is putting on them.”
Praising someone actually builds its own pressure, and it’s a pressure that person isn’t perhaps used to having on them
You might think that this would calm your opponent and help them out – not so, says Colvin: “Inadvertently, this actually builds its own pressure, and it’s a pressure that person isn’t perhaps used to having on them. They have moved from a perception they will perform and win, to an expectation that not only will they perform, and win, but win well, and this is the second point.”
“Thirdly, when bad shots occur – as they invariably will – the interruption of the comfortable, winning process, and the negativity attached to not playing well, compounds in the mind, and self-doubt creeps in, causing added tension, pressure and a greater likelihood that further shots will not be up to a usual standard.”
Of course, overdo this trick and you’ll tip your hand, but even worse you run the risk of losing focus yourself. “The trick for any underdog golfer is to seize and exploit this trick, whilst also keeping a firm grip on what they need to do as regards their own game,” says Colvin.
I have always ignored scoreboards because knowing someone else’s score always took me away from focusing on my own game
TREVOR IMMELMAN, Former US Masters Winner
Never Become ‘The Chased’ Immelman has famously always ignored scoreboards, to the extent that when he stood on the green at the 2008 Masters, ready to putt for the title, he had to ask his caddy if he could three-putt it for the win. “You can actually do it in four,” came the response!
“When you are in a good position – that doesn’t even have to be a winning position… it could be just a case of performing better than you had expected – once you get in the mind of what someone else is doing, you become the chased,” Trevor says.
“Knowing someone else’s score always took me away from focusing on my own game – you might excuse a poor shot if your opponent also played one; or worse still you might subdue the elation from a brilliant shot just because your opponent did something else that was impressive.”
Not only can becoming the prey weaken you, for Immelman it can even rob you of the win. “There should be no let-up in your own focus, and I genuinely don’t think I would have been in that position if I’d been obsessing over other players’ scores.”
Pay Attention To Pregame Recovery It sounds obvious but the best way to come into an important round of golf against a tough opponent is to be fresh, says Trevor Immelman, the South African pro golfer who won the US Masters at Augusta in 2008.
“If you have been hammering the course for the past couple of days, or putting in hours and hours on the driving range, or the putting green, you will get to a point where you fall into physical and mental fatigue,” he says.
“Much like a long-distance runner who will wind down the miles in the days leading up to a race, you’ve got to trust rest and recovery so that when you play a big round you are going in fresh and with purpose.”
He discovered this for himself when his best ever win (at the US Masters) followed a long period of inaction when he was coming back from a cancer diagnosis and surgery on his diaphragm, the previous year.
“To my amazement, I discovered I was better and more versatile than I had been previously. The other bodily restrictions to my game – that I was actually unaware of – had healed and loosened, and over the course of a few months I began playing some of the best golf of my career, and the very best on that glorious weekend at Augusta, where everything came together.”
So, if you know you have a tough game coming up, then be kind to yourself rather than going into ‘beast mode’ on the range, or in the gym. Take a week off, hit the beach; anything to relax your body and mind and be in the best possible shape.
If you play a bad shot you need to assess why, or you are opening the door for uncertainty to creep into a round
Get Into A Winning Mindset Before You Even Turn Up Most people only get their game face on as they step onto the first. That’s too late for Parry – you need to take your preparation as seriously as the shots themselves. “It’s got to start within you,” says Martin. “Forget everyone else – playing the best golf comes from being in a composed, prepared mindset.
“From arriving early, to looking the part, to being well fed and hydrated, to starting with a game plan (and sticking to it), to keeping things simple, soaking up the positivity of good shots and not becoming despondent about bad shots… all of these will put you in a positive frame of mind and in the best position to beat a superior opponent.”
Fail Forwards Martin Parry, sports psychologist, starts by taking a look at the big picture with his clients. “A round of golf is a journey around 18 holes that will ebb and flow. Understanding and being a part of that journey means building your round and gaining knowledge as each hole goes by, but the scrutiny comes down to each hole, each shot,” says Martin.
“Planning each shot and assessing how well, or not, it was undertaken, ultimately gives you the platform on which you can gain confidence in the holes that follow.”
Of course, the wheels are bound to fall off at some point, as you slice the ball or fluff a putt. “If you play a bad shot you need to assess why, or you are opening the door for the uncertainty to creep into a round, whereby when you play a shot, whether it’s good or bad, you aren’t totally sure how it’s happened,” he advises.
“The best news is that the chances are even a superior opponent won’t be doing this, so the advantage is yours!”
Do this well and you can even turn bad shots to your advantage before the end of the round: “By assessing each element, understanding the factor or factors that might have taken the ball to the left or right of the hole, recognising patterns faster and solving the problems, you will use the failings of failed previous shots as the foundations of successful future shots.”
Whoever you are facing, use a combination of these tips and you’ll raise your chances of pulling off an upset from ‘vanishingly small’ to ‘odds on’!
WHAT NEXT? Got a case of ‘The Yips’? Then read the RSNG guide to correcting this and restoring your golfing confidence.
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