We often hear golfers say: “It’s all in the mind”, or “This game is all mental”. As someone told me the other day: “It’s all about being positive. Be positive and everything else will slot into place from there.”


Dr Deon van Zyl

Unfortunately, like in life, the minute you hear the words “all” and “everything”, you have to be very careful and a touch skeptical, as it is often used by an over-zealous dreamer who thinks he has discovered a magic bullet to solve the world’s problems. Such general thinking usually shows a great deal of ignorance too. This game is too big and wonderful to be boxed into simple solutions, and saying “It’s all in the backswing” or “It’s all in the follow through”, is as one-sided as saying “It’s all in the mind.”

A great game is not built on a single factor, but on a combination of technical/mechanical, physical and mental aspects. You can be as positive as you like, but if you have a bad grip, are wrongly aligned, and break all the spine angles during the swing, you will not perform at your best. With a highly technical sport like golf, there is no substitute for good swing coaching and repeated practice to ingrain the correct mechanics. If you want to go to another level, your muscle flexibility and core strength should support your swing mechanics. And then, when you start hitting the ball well because of good technique, practice and physical ability, you will develop a feeling of confidence, of “I can”, which is one of the best mind-states to have for golf.

On the other hand, you can have a good technique and great flexibility, but feelings of fear, doubt or anxiety can inhibit that. The great Bobby Jones observed how fear and anxiety can lead to the impulse to steer, and cause many a bad shot. There is a great phrase which says: “Fearing leads to steering”. If you don’t have confidence on a shot, you will either try to over-control it, and then technically come “over the top”, or you will hold back, and not release. One cannot separate the technical, physical and mental aspects of your game. They all co-operate as a blended unit, and addressing all three will give you a maximum chance of sustained success. Gary Player was always a prime example of balancing the technical, physical and mental aspects throughout his career.

When we talk about the mind, we also don’t just refer to positive thinking. Players who manage their minds well, on and off the golf course, have great thought control, but also demonstrate willpower, emotional composure and other important personal qualities like confidence and resilience. Your mind is not just your thinking ability between the left and the right ears. It is a mixture of thought, feeling, guts and specific character traits.