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6 tips to play like a Masters golfer: A golf psychologist's guide

6 tips to play like a Masters golfer: A golf psychologist’s guide

5 min read
  • Sport psychology

The Masters is back, bringing together the world’s top golfers to compete for the chance to win the famous green jacket. After previously writing about how to win the Masters, we thought we would follow up with new tips and tricks that might help golfers to perform at their best.

Our top tips for golfers to play like the Masters

Focus on the right things to read greens better

Whether you are a professional golfer or an amateur, being able to sink putts is, without a doubt, one of the most important factors in playing good golf. Our very own Matt Shaw recently recently researched how professional golfers read greens. Let’s break it down into walking to the green, on the green, and after sinking a putt.

  • Walking to the green – Focus on the environment around you, stay in the moment and interact with the green as you approach it. Do not plan your putt or think about the outcome yet.
  • On the green – Think about where you need to aim the putt and predict where the ball might go. Plan where to hit it, not how to hit it. Don’t think too much about technique.
  • After you putt – Reflect on what happened and why, but not for too long. If you miss, be kind to yourself and focus on what to do different next time. If you hit it, focus on what helped you putt well.

See pressure as a challenge – not a threat

The research suggests that how you appraise your stress has a significant impact. Therefore, it is important for golfers to appraise their stress in a helpful way.

When approaching a tournament like the Masters or any other you may take part in, golfers should try and see any stressful situations as a challenge. This will give you the opportunity for growth and mastery, resulting in more adaptive responses such as positive emotions. These conditions are favourable for success.

Play your best when it matters most

Clutch performance is when your performance actually improves under pressuring circumstances. This is what every golfer will be aiming for whilst at the Masters. But how can you actually achieve this?

  • Increase your confidence by using the past, the present and the future.
  • Increase your perceived control by focusing on the process rather than the outcome.
  • As we said above, change your outlook and view pressure situations as a challenge rather than a threat.
  • Practice performing under pressure to facilitate clutch performances.

Make sure to have a routine

Pre-performance routines can be defined as a pre-arranged sequence of thoughts and/or actions that help the athlete to control their thoughts, emotions and behaviour before a competition. They can include certain behaviours such as practicing your golf swing, or cognitive components such as imagery.

Pre-performance routines are helpful before a competition or tournament such as the Masters because it helps the athlete to feel in control, provides stability in an unstable environment, decreases nerves and helps them focus. They are more helpful than superstitions, whereby the athletes can sometimes become controlled by their superstitions.

Embrace the uncertainty

It’s easy to become concerned with the scores, the scores of others, as well as others’ perceptions of your ability. This can make the golf course a stressful place full of threats, challenges and judgement. Instead, embracing the challenge will certainly improve performance. But how can you do this?

  • When on the course, only focus on yourself – your behaviours, your attitude and your processes.
  • Focus your attention “where your feet are”, which is in the moment.
  • Don’t think too much about the bad shots you have hit, these will soon be forgotten by others!
  • Remember that mistakes are a powerful way to learn. Golfers should see their mistakes as part of the challenge and a chance to learn and improve their play.
  • Being positive is easier said than done, but is a sure way of becoming more confident, less stressed and less embarrassed of others are around you. Helpful self-talk and remembering past success can help you do this.
  • Setting some short-term goals is a great way to embrace the challenge.

Don’t be scared of your score

A common mental setback that golfers face is that they play a lot better when they’re not marking a score card. This is because scorecards can make players more focused on the outcome (their score) rather than the process (what they need to do to play well).

It also means that when players think they are playing well, but their scorecard doesn’t match up, this can have an effect on the quality of their game.

Finally, it can lead to golfers always thinking about what is coming next and it stops them from playing in the moment.

So how can you play with a scorecard better? Here are 5 easy steps…

  1. View your scores as a process tracker rather than an evaluation – Looking at it as tracking your progress will help it seem less threatening and may even be encouraging.
  2. Use it to your advantage – For example, they can tell you yardages, stroke index and what par the hole is. Use the information to formulate a plan for each hole, using information from previous similar holes.
  3. Focus on the opportunity – Instead of thinking about what you have to lose, focus on the opportunities that playing gives you and what you can gain from that round such as taking risks, enjoying your time on the course, and playing great shots.
  4. Use it to close the book – The scorecard can be used as a prompt to end a thought process and move on. When the card goes away, use it as a trigger to say something positive and helpful to yourself before moving on to the next tee.
  5. Reflect – Scorecards are a great tool to learn from. Comparing scorecards over a number of competitions will quickly show if there is a pattern in bad play. Without reflecting, you are not learning, and without learning, you are not improving.
Train your mind as well as your body. Unlock your full potential with sport psychology coaching.

Do the favourites always win?

We know from the research that the favourites don’t actually always win. In golf, the research between 2012 and 2021, found that only three pre-tournament favourites or joint favourites at one of the four Major Championships have gone on to win the event. This comes to only a 7% success rate!

The favourites don’t always win because of a few reasons, such as the fact that having the wrong expectations on an athlete can affect their arousal and in turn cause them to choke or play poorly. Going in as the favourite can also lead to overthinking and making mistakes – sometimes the underdogs perform well due to having less pressure, and therefore end up outperforming their opponents.

For this year’s Masters, some of the Golfers being named as the favourites include Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Rory Mcllroy. It will be interesting to see how they perform…

Final thoughts

Playing in the first major championship of the year is an exciting opportunity for the golfers, but they will need to steady their nerves in order to put on their best performance. Using our top tips will help them focus on the right things and play with confidence – and will help you whichever level you play golf at.

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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