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A golf psychologist's guide to clutch golf

10 ways to achieve clutch golf

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

What do champion golfers do better than other professional and amateur golfers? How do they always manage to play their best golf in big events and matches? From Tiger’s chip shot at the 16th at the 2005 Masters, to Spieth’s incredible bunker shot to win the Travelers in 2017, and of course Molinari’s 5/5 clutch Ryder Cup this year, the top golfers clutch perform when it matters most.

A study highlighting the ‘psychological state underlying clutch performance’ has demonstrated how these top athletes always manage to perform when it matters. Whether you are a 28 handicapper, a scratch golfer or a professional, the research suggests that there are 10 characteristics of clutch performance that golfers of all abilities can learn from:

1. Ensure complete and deliberate focus

The golf course can be a distracting place – there are other golfers nearby whose performance you cannot control, and there are 18 difficult holes to battle with along the way. These elements alone are bad enough already but, when in competition, everything is heightened; there are more distractions, there’s a crowd, pressure and expectation. Therefore, golfers who perform on the big stage are those who can drown this out and maintain their focus on the task at hand.

2. Try your best

Every shot and every decision should be made with 100% effort. Champion golfers value their end goals and put in maximum effort so that they can reach them. Golfers who train well, obtain the right amount of sleep and keep hydrated are those who are more likely to achieve their goals.

3. Heighten your awareness

Clutch golfers pay attention to their mental states and surroundings. They not only reflect on what went well but also what they can improve on. Many of the golfing greats track their progress using a diary. A diary can stop the golf course from feeling so lonely by allowing golfers to feel in control, manage their emotions and heighten their awareness.

4. Make sure you are up for it

Be in the zone. Clutch golfers do this in a variety of ways which include warming up under pressure or listening to upbeat or motivational music, which can increase confidence. No matter what method you use, making sure you have your emotions under control before the competition begins is of paramount importance. Check out our blog on the top ten tips to help control your emotions in sport.

5. Avoid negative thoughts

Clutch golfers often question if their thoughts are helpful or not. Performance psychology is about challenging unhelpful beliefs by exploring different perspectives and not just trying to override negative thoughts with positive ones.

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6. Immerse yourself

Champion golfers fully immerse themselves in the moment and their performance. For each shot, a champion golfer will focus only on what matters most and look forward to the next shot as an opportunity to do something special, and not dwell on poor shots that they can no longer do anything about.

7. Be confident

Clutch golfers believe in their ability. If you have practiced well and given yourself the best chance of success, you should be confident that you can reach your targets and are good enough. Confident golfers are clutch golfers and use the past, present and future to stay self-assured, reminding themselves of their previous successes and visualising their future ones.

8. Be in control

A golf course can be an overwhelming environment, especially when the pressure is on. To manage this, golfers should only focus on what they can control (their thoughts, feelings and reactions). Clutch golfers understand that they can’t influence everything, and look to control the controllables instead.

9. Be motivated

Competitive golf motivates different golfers for different reasons. From winning the competition to cutting their handicap, golfers should identity their own reasons for playing, which should boost their motivation and give them the best chance of playing clutch golf.

10. Enjoy the competition

After all, you’re out on the golf course playing a sport that you love. The players that enjoy the experience and embrace the challenge often display the best performances and get the most out of their time on the golf course. Golfers who play well rarely tell you they didn’t enjoy it!

Final thoughts

These tips offer golfers, both professional and amateur, the best chance of success. It is those who can perform when the pressure is on, be it in a medal, stableford or match play, that become champions and separate themselves from those who don’t quite make the cut. Players that step up and embrace the challenge and are confidence and motivated to achieve are those who clutch perform.

Check out our page on sport psychology for golf for more resources and information. 

About the author

Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw

Matt Shaw is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow at The British Psychological Society. In his 5 years of working at InnerDrive, he has delivered hundreds of workshops to teachers and students in schools around the UK. With a background in Sport Psychology, he has helped Team GB athletes medal at the Olympics – experience which he now uses to help students to perform better under the pressure of exams. He is currently writing a book on how to read, understand and use Cognitive Science research to change your mind, working with co-authors Bradley Busch and Edward Watson.

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