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"Mental Toughness" and Your Golf

Let me preface this article by saying I am not a psychologist or therapist.


I am a sports performance coach, who strives to understand the inner workings of our human bodies, in order to empower others to uncover higher levels of being.

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Mindset and “mental toughness” is huge in the game of golf (and sport in general).


Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears. - Bobby Jones

Many people equate mental toughness with being emotionless. They say “X golfer is mentally tough! He never shows any emotions!”


Others may point towards work ethic being an indicator of being mentally tough. They say “That guy is always at the range! He is mentally tough!”


Some say DJ is the most mentally tough player on the golf course as he rarely shows emotion.


I would argue Jon Rahm is just as mentally tough, maybe more so… but yet, he wears his emotions on his sleeve.


I want us to rethink what it means to be “mentally tough.”

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In college, I would train 2 times a day, while playing football, going to class, studying, working, yada, yada, yada…


I thought I was the most mentally tough dude on the football team as I had this unbeatable work ethic.


However, I was very misguided.


My college football career was an emotional roller coaster, filled with injuries, poor performances, success, and benchings (as in, multiple)…


And I took on these emotions by equating my life’s mission to successes and failures that occurred on the football field.


If I missed a field goal (yes, I was a kicker), I shamed myself, felt extreme levels of sadness, and sought out sympathy from others.


I only considered a kick to be “good” if it went through the posts.


I feel like many athletes fall into this trap… especially golfers.

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“Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so” - Shakespeare


I think we can learn a ton from this.


When completing a task, the outcome is the outcome... nothing more, nothing less.


The subsequent feelings involved with the outcome are intrinsic, meaning, we give the outcome certain feelings.


When I would miss a kick, I felt extreme sadness, like I let the whole team and myself down.


The outcome is the missed kick, the feelings of sadness are intrinsic… These are two totally separate things.


Or, think about it this way. I missed a kick. I was sad. The other team was happy. Same outcome. Different feelings applied to the outcome based on which team you were on.


Outcome and feelings are independent things.

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In golf, a missed kick is synonymous with a duffed shot, a sliced drive, a bunker shot that remains in the bunker, a skulled chip, a missed 4 foot putt, etc.


These are simply shots that take place over the course of a round. They aren’t inherently “good” or “bad.”


“Good” and “bad” or "positive and "negative" are judgments that we add to the shot.


We need to be able to separate these feelings in order to tap into true "mental toughness" on the golf course.

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This goes for both good and bad shots.


It is impossible to view a “good” shot as good, without simultaneously viewing “bad” shots as bad. “Good” and “bad” are relative to one another. Timothy Gallwey summed it up best in The Inner Game of Tennis when he said…


‘“...Positive and negative evaluations are relative to each other. It is impossible to judge one event as positive without seeing other events as negative. There is no way to stop just the negative side of the judgmental process.”


Meaning, even after a shot in which the outcome is “positive” we need to refrain from thinking it as such and instead need to shift back to the present, view the outcome for what it is, and focus on the process.

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Now, this doesn’t mean being an emotionless, no-fun golfer. Of course we should celebrate the "good" shots, loathe the “bad” ones… however, how we show emotions is not the same thing as how we internalize them.


This is why golfers like DJ and Jon Rahm can both be extremely successful and maintain high levels of "mental toughness" and emotional intelligence, even though they act in very different ways on the course.


The way we internalize emotions and feelings is what matters most.

Redefining "Learning"


Of course, we should also learn from our outcomes.


But understand that LEARNING and JUDGING are two very different things.


Outcomes are simply a piece of the puzzle. Only learning from the results means missing the process that was completed to create it.


Our human body can create an outcome in many different ways, this is a well known concept in motor learning called Biological Degeneracy. Therefore, if we only look at the outcome as the source of learning, we aren't actually getting to the root cause. I am not saying it should be totally ignored, I am saying the outcome should take a back seat to the process.


The Big Conclusion:


Outcomes and learning need to remain separate from our judgments, and until we learn to do this on the golf course, we will forever be trapped on an emotional rollercoaster.


I sure was.


And I hate roller coasters… like for real. Hate them.

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It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I found my true passion for sports performance, the human body, and empowering others.


Once I found a passion that lay outside of the football world, the outcomes that resulted on the football field improved.


No longer did I equate my successes and failures on the football field with my life, because I felt as though I had a bigger purpose that resided off the field. This led me to maintain lower levels of judgement and find greater amounts of presence on the field.

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So, what do I recommend golfers take away from this?


Relating back to your golf game, I believe there are two steps that will help us tap into greater “mental toughness” on the course.


1.) Be present.


Enjoy the company of your playing partners.


Truly listen to the conversation occurring between shots.


Ask your playing partners about their life, their family, their job, their passions, their hobbies.


Take in the beauty that is the golf course.


Focus on your shot when it is time to hit it. Once it is done, take a deep breath.


Don't be emotionless, but be extremely aware of the emotions provoked, and then move on to the next.


Remove judgement. Be present. Enjoy the game.


2.) Find your purpose.


It is crucial that you understand your bigger purpose in this world.


Why do you play golf?

Why do you maintain the career that you have?

Why do you workout and maintain your health levels?

What is your mission here?


Understanding these deep rooted passions and purposes will give us perspective, and it allows one to truly enjoy the game of golf by separating it from their life’s mission. Don’t go on the emotional roller coaster I went on. Find what inspires you, what drives you, what fires you up.


Find what fuels you.


And then you’ll see that true mental toughness on the golf course, is driven by emotional, mental, and psychological health off of the course.


Side note: If you want an awesome read into mental health and the role that it plays in golf... read this by Daniel Rapaport > Golf Digest Article

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True mental toughness isn’t about working harder than others or being emotionless. It is about remaining in the present moment, being unbelievably aware of your emotions without judging them and understanding what empowers you on a daily basis.


It is about overcoming adversity by being present amongst the “good” and “bad.”


Understand, don’t judge.