When it comes to optimizing your performance on the links, Gary Player nailed it when he said, "the difference between an ordinary player and a champion is the way they think." Every golfer knows that their mental approach to the game is at least as important as their physical performance. But what often gets overlooked in discussion of performance-enhancement strategies is one of the most important components of a strong mental game: confidence. It may sound obvious, but it's a truth all too many of us don't take into account-if you want to play well, you have to believe in your ability to do so.
The problem for most golfers is that we've been conditioned to be self-critical in a way that can really undermine performance. I've seen it over and over in my students: when they do something just right, they barely react. But when they make a mistake, they really beat themselves up. And, especially over time, that approach to the game leads to self-doubt. It's just inevitable: if you dwell more on your mistakes, you'll end up seeing yourself as a worse golfer than you really are. Unfortunately, for many people, that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
In contrast, top players like Greg Norman have developed confidence-building strategies that keep them from losing their mental toughness even in times when other players might collapse into self-criticism. As Norman puts it, everybody " likes to hear words of encouragement as he faces a tough shot. Unfortunately, unless you play golf with your mother, you can't depend on hearing these things. That's why I talk to myself. Not aloud, but inside my head. The tougher the shot I'm facing, the more I talk."
Norman's strategy works because it provides positive reinforcement. By reminding himself of what he's doing right, he builds the kind of confidence that helps keep his performance strong even when he experiences setbacks.
What else can you do
to build confidence? Here are some quick tips:
Approach each putt believing you'll make it. But if you don't, be realistic: remind yourself that even the best players in the world only make about 50% of six foot putts.
Even if you feel that you need to be aware of what you're doing wrong, don't lose sight of what you're doing right. After each shot, go over what went well. Say things to yourself like, "Contact was solid," or "My tempo was good," or "I planned that shot well."
Keep a daily diary of the positive aspects of your game.
Review the diary weekly, and visually recall what you did well.
Become more aware of the conditions under which you achieve optimal performance. Be especially attuned to your state of mind: e.g., do you play better when you're energized or when you're relaxed? The more you understand about yourself as a player, the easier you'll find it to create confidence-building experiences for yourself.