See yourself putting better and enjoying golf more with golf psychology


There were some amazing golf and putting psychology lessons on show with Phil Mickelson’s stunning win at the Tour Championship at East Lake this weekend. Yes I know Tiger won the FedEx Cup and the $10 million with an amazingly consistent series of results. But given Phil’s year, both on and especially off the course, his victory on Sunday was a simply joyous and breathtaking turnaround. Phil had looked out of sorts in recent weeks and after his quadruple bogey 8 on the 14th hole in the first round, I had sadly anticipated him failing again over the weekend.

You’ve probably heard about Phil’s putting woes and his comments about how "I’ve hit the ball so well and yet my scores haven’t reflected that." You’ve probably also heard about how "Bones" Mackay, Phil’s longstanding caddie, urged him to get help the week before the Tour Championship from Dave Stockton, one of the best putters in golf and twice a major winner. As if those weren’t sufficient reasons, Stockton also putts a bit like Phil does when he’s at his best.

So what major flaws did Dave Stockton notice in Phil’s putting stroke and what major changes did he prescribe? You’d expect them to be fairly severe given Phil’s recent comments about the inconsistent putting that has plagued him off and on over the last two years. He’s also talked about how his poor putting has detracted from the progress Butch Harman’s been making with his swing over the same period.

Well, Phil described the change in an interview as a "minor tweak" and went on to say "No, it’s very minor. It’s very minor. But [my] hands are back ahead like I used to putt, and the ball is just rolling much better." In another interview, he talked about Dave Stockton’s comments just "reaffirming the way I’ve putted since I was a kid."

So what golf psychology lessons can we learn from that then, Andrew, I hear you say? Well first of all, it confirms that if you’ve hit a particular shot well in the past, then you already unconsciously know how to hit it that well again – without changing your technique. All you need to do is to vividly recall one of those earlier successful shots and allow your unconscious golf mind to get on with the job as you get back into your comfort zone. I’d certainly include this type of visualisation in your pre-shot routine.

All that probably happened to Phil was he missed a few putts, lost his confidence and started to fear putting rather than enjoying the challenge. When that happens with any part of our golf game, we stop enjoying ourselves as much as we did and we start consciously analysing things. It doesn’t take too long before we start thinking there’s something drastically wrong with our swing or putting stroke and we start changing things, even though we seemed to have a perfectly effective method before.

This doesn’t just happen over a long period of time. For many of us it can happen in the middle of a round. Have you ever had the experience of playing a series of shots quite well and then hitting a bad shot, maybe a big slice? Did you badly pull or hook the next shot? If you did, you probably consciously thought you needed to make a swing correction, despite already knowing how to hit the ball quite well unconsciously. Well, you did say that you’d hit a series shots quite well, didn’t you.

Another golf psychology lesson was written on Phil Mickelson’s face all day on Sunday, not just when he won. He was clearly enjoying himself immensely, even before he started scoring well. After the round, he commented that, "Today was a lot of fun" and that’s not the way he’s been talking in recent weeks. Isn’t it odd how golfers seem to play so much better when they’re enjoying themselves, even if some, like a certain future Ryder Cup captain, have a hard time convincing us of that fact.

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