It has long been conceded by most who play that golf is a very mental game. Arguably the most mental of the major sports contested. Variations on the quote Jim Flick made years ago about golf being 90% mental and the other 10% mental abound and mental game coaches have become as nearly likely side-kicks on the range or the putting green at every tour stop as swing coaches with many of them having written self-help books that are among the best sellers in sports literature. With this in mind, it is constantly amazing to me that for a fact that is so generally conceded, I actually see very few average players investing any real time working on the mental aspect of their games. There are a number of potential reasons for this. 1. There are still far more swing coaches out there and accessible to the average player than mental game coaches and very few swing coaches wade too deeply into the more psychological aspects of the game. 2. There is still somewhat more of a stigma attached to seeking help with your mental game that doesn’t exist when it comes to seeking help with your golf swing; apparently it’s less embarrassing to admit you swing like a hacker than think like one. 3. There is still an out-dated belief amongst the majority of players that when it comes to the mental side of the game that you either you have it or you don’t, and that some players are just pre-disposed to be more mentally tough than others. 4. A great deal of what makes up a strong mental game takes work to develop, but at least on the surface, seems like so much common sense, leading to the mis-guided belief that having an intellectual understanding of the basic tenets of a strong mental game should be enough to actually translate into having a strong mental game.
The likelihood is that it is a combination of more than one of these factors that leads the average player to not being either willing, able, or to believe that they actually can seek help or improve this side of their game, but it is that final aspect that speaks to a seemingly very real disconnect I have come across when it comes to developing the mental side of the game for even many of the game’s better players. The brain is like a muscle, in many respects, and it is only with consistent use and focused intent that we can develop the habits that are necessary to have a strong mental game. There are no magic bullets or quick fixes. When it comes to working our actual muscles we unquestionably accept this. If we were referring to bodily exercise, it would sound incredibly ridiculous for anyone to say, “I have a basic understanding of what I should do to develop six-pack abs, so therefore I should have them.” But this is precisely how many players seem to approach the mental side of the game. Many of us know we are supposed to do things like stay in the present, put bad holes or shots behind us, not think too far ahead, visualize our shots, and not engage in negative self-talk, but how many of us actually practice them or have even investigated methods for successfully doing so. Doing any of these things consistently are habits that need to be developed and habits, by their nature, are things that must be done repeatedly (on the average about 65 days in a row by latest research) and worked on diligently in order for them to become unconscious actions.