Golf Psychology plays a part in Luke Donald scoring 64 at Memorial


I was delighted to see Luke Donald doing so well in the first round of the Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament yesterday, with an opening 8-under par 64 to finish the day 3 shots clear of a very strong field. As a fellow member at Beaconsfield and someone who saw his golfing skills develop there, I’m always delighted to follow his successes.

I was listening to his interview after finishing the round and I was intrigued to notice how much golf psychology he’s learned. I know he used to work with Jim Fannin up until a couple of years ago, but I’m not sure who he’s working with now. Jim still works with a number of golfers on the PGA Tour, including Charles Howell and uses a fairly rigid coaching system focusing on Self-Discipline, Concentration, Optimism, Relaxation, and Enjoyment. Now I won’t deny that these elements are included in my own approach to golf psychology, but I prefer a more flexible approach based on the needs of the individual.

So what elements of golf psychology did I notice in Luke’s interview? Well, the first one that leapt out was his comment, "I guess all good rounds start with a bogey." That highlights his use of Optimism or, as I described it in my recent article about Justin Rose, Positive Reframing for Better Golf Performance. It also took me back to my early days as a competitive golfer with no golf psychology experience. I always felt that if I was one or two over par standing on the sixth hole and was playing well, I would struggle to have a good round. If I was one or two over and playing badly, I then knew that I could only get better and I’d have a good score. It was a shame I didn’t apply what I know as positive reframing to both situations, as I could have scored a lot more consistently.

I also noticed that Luke talked about just focusing on each shot as it comes and "staying in the present" when answering a question about how he handled the streak of six birdies from the 8th hole and playing the last 11 holes in 8 under par. Staying in the present or "In the Now", as we golf psychologists like to say, is one of the key’s to successful concentration in golf. Focusing "In the Now" helps you to avoid dwelling on the shots you’ve already hit and planning the shots you have yet to play. That’s consistent with Luke’s other comment about his run of birdies "It was just kind of a normal, everyday round until I got to the eighth and made a nice putt from the fringe. That kind of sparked off a run of six birdies. Just really got on a hot streak."

The final thing I picked up on was Luke’s comments about his putting – he only had 20 putts in the round. Now when Luke started playing on the PGA Tour, he settled into a rank of 144 in the putting statistics and didn’t see himself as a good putter. It would be fair to say that it was his only real weakness as a golfer. He’s now number 1 in putting on the PGA Tour and it’s clearly down to confidence as much as technique. He talked about confidence on the greens breeding confidence, "Once you feel like you’re a good putter, then it becomes easier," he said.

I thought that Luke must have done some serious work on his confidence using unconscious golf psychology and I wasn’t wrong. Going back to another interview from 2006, I found him using some serious golf psychology language when he said, "Look this confidence isn’t natural, definitely not. I’ve had to work on it." He went on to say "It’s just that I have to keep training my subconsciousness (sic) to believe that I can be the best."

So there’s some strong evidence of the impact of golf psychology on Luke’s recent successes and his magnificent first round 64 at Memorial. Here’s wishing him well for the rest of the tournament.

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