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Is Golf A Mental Game At Your Level?

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

I remember watching a TV interview with Ernie Els during The Open in 2002. At the time he was working with Jos Vanstiphout the Belgian Sports Psychologist. He won his first Open that week. One thing he said struck me as interesting...

“When you start golf, it is 90% physical and 10% mental. At our level, this is the other way around”.

That means that there should be a real change from early thinking about grip, posture and the mechanics of a golf swing on to other thoughts which release higher performance. This helped me to realise that many, if not the majority of golfers never progress from a beginner-hood mentality. Therefore if a golfer wants to perform at a higher/ more progressed level, significant time should be spent on this 90%. Where are you on this scale? How much have you ever spent considering the psychological side of the game?

Golfers – Going Around in Circles

Keen golfers practice during the week. Perhaps two, three or more times a week. They have that competition round at the weekend. They have found that ‘feeling’ that seems to produce long, straight and consistent shots.

Now during that competition round they start ok. But, once one or two shots go a little off they start reacting - they tinker and try things and that’s when things go badly wrong. They now limp around the rest of the course and card a score that is a long way from how it all might have been. If only they had managed to keep the elusive ‘feeling’. Then the next week is spent doing the same thing – mostly leading to the same results.

Focus on the Task

During a round, what is that we are trying to achieve? What is the task?

We are trying to hit the ball sweetly with our normal shot shape, towards the target. The keywords here are, BALL, FLIGHT and TARGET.

When over a shot on the golf course, what is in the forefront of your mind? Is it the ball, it’s fight and the target? Or - as is so common in amateur golfers - other things, which I refer to as peripheral stuff?

These could be thoughts like…'I need to try and repeat that swing which worked well yesterday'….'I must really keep my left arm straight' (cliche I know - or any technical swing thought)…. 'I must not go right off the tee here like I did on the last hole'.

All of these things come out of a good motive – to try and do it correctly! I get that but if I asked you to throw a dart into the bullseye of a dartboard and if you did it, award you with £1000 cash. You had nothing to lose and gratefully take the dart and try to focus on the red of the bullseye. While trying to make it look as big as a double-decker bus your thoughts are now invaded by me...

“How are you holding the dart – where do you release the dart – what angle does it rise at – how fast do you want it to fly"?

All these questions may have their place in training time. However, allowing these ‘helpful’ thoughts to blur high focus on the target results in one outcome – a vague remit from the brain to the body! The result of the shots with this thinking will also lack direction. therfore remember this fact - We can not focus 100% on task and another 100% on mechanics - it's just not possible!

Training and Trusting

I think we all realise by now that not even the best players playing there best miss fairways and greens! No one has ever played the perfect game! They never will, golf and the human being just include too many challenges, changing conditions and other variables to allow anything other than brief glimpses of perfection.

Top players swings are not perfect, or they are certainly not perfect all the time. They know this when they get to the 1st tee. They know to play with what they have – They train on the range and trust on the course.

Give up trying to make your swing perfect! No golfer has ever achieved it! How are you as an amateur – even a supper-keen, driven one – any different? However, you can be different, understand that the range is for training and the course is for focus on the task. Hit the ball [sweetly], trusting your normal ball flight and focus on the target.

You have been trying to improve your swing for the whole time you have played the game – I would say that it’s too late to do anything by the time you get to the course. Its time to TRUST! I earn my living from improving golfers swings so that they perform better on the course. But, if I have not told you that you should NEVER take my swing instruction on to the course – then I apologise now!

In my own game, this was the breakthrough that helped me to really enjoy playing and competing. Before that, every round felt like a never-ending challenge, trying not to make a mistake over 18 long holes. I experienced the feeling of being that hamster on the wheel.

Believe me the buzz of hitting a shot accurately to the target – particularly when you really need to – smashes the feeling of relief of avoiding a bad shot!



You probably trust your ability and skill to drive your car. You get in the car with total belief that you are not going to harm yourself or others. While driving you engage in conversations and other thoughts. So why do you worry about your mechanics when you are play golf?

If the challenge for a total beginner is a 90% physical / 10% mental, and for an elite player it is the other way around - WHERE ARE YOU on that scale? If you have never considered giving the psychological part of your game some attention then why not?

I am ready and waiting to help if you want to be a better thinker! together on this will not include technical swing thought. It would highlight new thinking strategies, ways of rehearsing these during practice and taking a new asset to the course.

If you are really serious and want to work together then I would suggest something like the following...

One meeting over a coffee or FaceTime chat

One range session

One playing lesson

Get in touch and I can help you think better and play better!

Pat Flynn is based at

AB Golf & Performance Centre

Long Crendon Road




07779 532375

Playing lessons available at -

Studley Wood Golf Club, OX33 1BF,

North Oxford Golf Club, OX2 8EZ,

Whiteleaf Golf Club, HP27 0LY,

Or even at AB Golf on the TopTracer system!

Recommended reading…

Dr. Bob Rotella – Golf is Not a Game of Perfect & many others

Vicky Aitken- Books Caddy Talk & The Leading Edge

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