Mental Golf Training: Simple is Always Best

Guest writer: Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D…

The adage that “over-analysis leads to paralysis” is very true in golf. One of the inherent difficulties of golf for some players is the amount of time they have between shots. In reality, this is both an advantage and an obstacle to overcome. The advantage is that you don’t have to hit a shot until you are fully ready. The problem is this extra time can be misused. When you use that time to over-analyze every shot and putt, the brain gets clogged and sends poor signals to the body. The mind can only process a certain amount of information at one time.

A good example of this is over-reading greens. You look at your putt from behind the ball and see the putt as right edge. Then you go to the other side of the hole and see it as a straight putt. After an internal debate, you circle around the putt another time to decide how much the grain will affect the putt. So far, you are doing what any golfer would do, but when you start to introduce several other factors that may effect your read such as grain, wind, outcome of last putt, etc. – the mind becomes bogged down in details. Great putters, such as Ben Crenshaw, relax and let their imagination account for all the variables. Whatever line to the hole Crenshaw picks initially, he uses. He doesn’t second-guess himself as more and more information is introduced.

Another example in golf occurs when I see players who stand over the ball forever, thinking about a checklist of six things they want to accomplish with the swing. This is too much information for the body to assimilate and can also lead to paralysis by over-analysis. Try not to do everything your instructor told you to do in one shot when you play golf. Simplify your approach and focus on one thing at a time over the ball after you are set up and ready to fire.

A quiet, non-analytical mind is necessary to get into the flow and become immersed in execution. How do you quiet the mind? First, don’t ruminate about past shots or holes and let them obstruct your thinking. Be totally focused on the shot you have now, not the one you had ten minutes ago. And don’t analyze the details of every missed shot and try to fix your swing on the course.

Meditation instructors teach their students to silently repeat a mantra (a word with no meaning) repeatedly to quiet the mind. If other thoughts come to mind, you’re instructed to let them pass and focus back on the mantra. I don’t expect you to meditate on the golf course, but you can focus attention on your breathing just before you prepare for a shot. If other thoughts come to mind let them pass and refocus on the rhythm of your breathing. You can use a simple golf-specific “mantra” to quiet the mind and focus on the basics of your pre-shot routine, such as “see it, feel it, and do it” or “plan, rehearse, and execute.”

Try to keep your swing thoughts (thoughts about how to hit the shot) to only one mental cue such as tempo. Visual players might want to just try to see the target and let their body hit the shot. Save the swing mechanics for practice after the round.

Dr. Patrick J. Cohn is a mental game coach who works with golfers of all levels including PGA and LPGA Tour players. His website is