The Mental Game: Your Sacred Ritual

Guest writer: Dr. Karl Morris

I was recently in the USA with Graeme McDowell as he had become concerned about his pre and post shot routines. He simply said to me ‘my routines have got a little wishy washy and need sharpening up’.  Listen to what he has to say HERE.

  • When you hear the word “ROUTINE” what does it conjure up in your mind?
  • Does it seem exciting and appealing or somewhat dull?
  • Same old routine, it’s just part of my routine.

It may seem we perceive a ROUTINE as being something of a drag to do.

What about the word “RITUAL“?

Does that strike a slightly different chord in your minds eye? It is our secret RITUAL, it is something of a sacred ritual. Maybe a slightly different mental picture emerges by the use of a single word.

One thing we know for certain is our mind likes to be absorbed in pleasurable RITUALS or ROUTINES. We go through our day and each and every one is littered with routines our brain has established to create a sense of certainty and familiarity in a world of chaos.

Our brain tries to create comfort and security by establishing known PATTERNS and HABITSthat give us the calmness of predictability. I often look at all the adverts for nicotine replacement therapy for people attempting to give up smoking yet the actual efficacy of these products is pretty low because the smoker is craving two things, one is the nicotine but the other is the RITUAL and ROUTINE attached to smoking. Go to any city and walk past office buildings and you will see groups of people stood outside the building having a ‘fag break’ and engaging in conversation with each other and uniting in their joint ritual of smoking. The brain just LOVES these rituals and finds it very hard to give them up despite the logic behind the health reasons to do so. The craving for familiarity and security is incredibly strong. In the main, when we follow a routine we feel pretty calm and we have a sense that ‘things will be ok’.

  • What has this got to do with your golf?

Well, for me EVERY golf shot has THREE phases to it. The pre-swing phase, the swing phase and the post-shot phase. The outcome of EVERY shot you EVER play will be determined by these three phases. Yet, the golf industry only ever looks at ONE of those phases, the shot phase. Leaving out a HUGE slice of the mental and physical action. Watch any tournament broadcast on TV and the pattern is always the same. Golfer hits poor shot, the ball goes way left or right and the ‘expert’ then focuses on what the player ‘did’ in the swing that was different from the previous shots. He came too far from the inside on that one or over the top on this one. This MISLEADS all of us into thinking the only thing that changes from shot to shot is the mechanics of the swing. The phase before the shot is never looked at and the phase after the previous shot is NEVER even considered.

But, just imagine if a player missed a short putt on the previous green and explodes with rage in his post-shot phase. Screams and shouts and gets various chemicals coursing through his body and then steps on to the tee on the next hole, a tight and dangerous par three. Do you think his reaction and routine to end the last shot MAY have some bearing on the outcome of THIS shot? Of course it does but we NEVER look there for the reason why we have hit just such a poor shot in this moment in time. We like explanations for everything and to explain a poor shot in terms of mechanics is the easy way to explain the chaos. I am not for one minute saying swing mechanics don’t affect golf shots, of course they do but it is NOT the whole picture. Yet, when you begin to look at the THREE phases, you will see patterns which will give YOU, as an individual, the opportunity to work at and become the best player you can possibly be.

Just consider for a moment what you do BEFORE you hit the ball in that 40 second sanctuary of the pre-shot routine is 100% down to you and under your control. The bit in the middle when you hit the shot unfortunately will always come and go a little due to the fact our brain is not wired to fix movement in a totally consistent way time and time again. (Has ANYONE in the history of the game got to the point where they NEVER hit a bad shot?). The phase after the shot is yours and yours alone to determine HOW your react to the shot you have just hit. Phase one and phase three COULD be really consistent which is the good news if we choose to work on them and build a ROUTINE or RITUAL that stands up under any situation.

Have a think how you personally could improve these areas. I don’t mean you shouldn’t work on improving your swing, of course you should, but see through the illusion that this is the ONLY thing going on when you play golf.