From Golf’s Great Competitors, Come Great Mental Routines

What can we learn from this little insight into one of the golf’s great competitors?


I recently read an article by Dr. Bob Rotella that highlighted an admirable trait exhibited by golf’s great competitors. In it he recounted that he had bumped into Graeme McDowell on the practice ground before the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional. GMac was having trouble with his pitch shots and felt really uncomfortable playing them, hitting them fat and thin.

Dr. Bob asked him if he felt comfortable when he was putting and McDowell replied that when he is putting he just gets into the target and thinks of rolling the ball. He never puts pressure on himself to make the putt. He then asked McDowell what his pre-shot routine was like for pitching and it emerged that it was almost non-existent and that he was more concerned with technique and the strike, so Dr. Bob encouraged him to hit the next five shots using his putting pre-shot routine. GMac was amazed when he went on to hit five sweet pitch shots that all came to rest close to the flag.

While for one thing McDowell has the same mind as we all do and, from time to time, this mind leads us down the wrong road. Before going out to play a tournament is not the best time to question your technique and work on swing mechanics, yet McDowell’s mind dragged him into a place that was not useful for him. How often do our own minds take us to places that are not useful before an important game, questioning our ability and creating self doubt?

Even for the best players in the world, when there is doubt and anxiety and the mind becomes unbalanced, the body cannot execute the shot as you would like it to. As soon as McDowell became more focused and concentrated and he chose to let go of the doubt that “trying to swing correctly” brought, his body responded and played the shot perfectly well.

Where in your game can you stop trying so hard to be perfect and become more relaxed and concentrated?

Another point that came to me from this anecdote by Dr. Bob is that the pre-shot routine is as much mental as physical. A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on having the routine be physical motions with a certain amount of waggles, a certain amount of practice swings and so on.

I believe that the right attitude and the right focus for the mind makes the best pre-shot routine you can have. GMac’s attitude when putting is great. He refuses to put pressure on himself to make it, and focuses on something simple, “rolling the ball”. You can change the amount of waggles and you can change the amount of practice swings, if you are consistent with your mental pre-shot routine it won’t matter.

What are you focusing on when you play golf? Take a leaf out of GMac’s book next time you play and see what happens.


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