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Playing Mindful Golf for Improved Focus and Performance

Review your habits on the golf course during a typical game…

  • Do you check your email or intermittently answer messages on your phone?
  • Do you continue your conversation mid-way through your shot preparation, or worse; when your playing partner is teeing off?
  • Do you often play “there-abouts” golf, hitting the shot when you know it isn’t the correct choice?

If these scenarios sound familiar, then you could be in a perpetual state of multi-tasking that is negatively impacting your focus, performance, and enjoyment on the golf course.

In today’s information rich society, we have greater opportunity and temptation to engage in two ore more tasks at once.  There is an illusion that this approach makes us more productive and powerful.  In contrast, multi-tasking reduces efficiency and focus contributing to poor decision-making, more mistakes, and higher levels of stress.

Performing multiple tasks in rapid succession requires an individual to reorient to each new task, which itself takes time and other attentional resources.  We don’t notice the effect on our performance with mindless tasks such as checking our phone while eating lunch, but when it comes to skills demanding intricate synchronisation of the mind and body a heightened sense of awareness is crucial for performance.

If we consider how the world’s best golfers create peak performance, it is through an approach that combines fearsome focus in the present moment, a singular focus on one shot at a time, and total immersion in the task until to the end result takes shape.  Psychologists call this approach a mindful practice or mindfulness and it is essentially the opposite of multi-tasking.

In golf, mindfulness is like “zoning in” one shot at a time.  Instead of dwelling on your last bad shot or thinking ahead and predicting your score for the last three holes, you bring careful attention to what is happening in the moment.  It is a state of raised consciousness that allows you to make non-reactive, purposeful decisions over the shot at hand.  For example, rather than ripping your driver off the tee because you three putted the last green, you will be ready to commit to a smooth, calm swing and focus on your target instead of your score.

Here are 3 ways to begin mindful practice on your next game or practice session leading to greater enjoyment and improved performance:

  1. Minimise multi-tasking and distractions: Instead of reacting to your phone when ever you hear it, choose to reply to messages and emails in these two zones: 1) before the round, 2) after the first nine holes and before the 10th tee.
  2. Let go of a poor shot or bad hole: In his prime, Vijay Singh had one of the most prominent post-shot routines to leave poor shots behind. Vijay would re-engage his practice swing and visualise the ball going exactly where he wanted it to go, moving to the next shot with a positive image in his mind. To enhance this practice further, place your club back into your bag only after you have wiped the poor shot from your mind.
  3. Avoid “there-abouts” golf: Acknowledge that feeling of indecisiveness over the ball. This is an important habit in playing mindful golf. Walk away from the shot and start again if you are not fully committed and take multiple clubs to your ball if needed.

Dr Jay-Lee Nair PhD | Psychologist MAPS
Book an appointment with Dr Jay-Lee at the Singapore Sports Medicine Centre to learn mindful practice in your game.