What keeps golfers from reaching their potential and hitting more good shots? Most of the time, the problem is interference from intrusive thoughts and emotions. Golfers have a lot going on in their head. For example, while standing over a simple short putt, golfers may think, “Do I have the right line? The last thing I need is a double bogey.” What golfers need to do instead is to be calm and fully present. The skills needed to achieve that calmness and focus can be developed through the practice of meditation.
Golfers’ heads are usually filled with multiple swing thoughts such as, “Take the club back slower, stay on plane, don’t move my head, keep my elbow in.” On top of that, stream of thoughts are disruptive with emotions such as, “I would feel great with two more pars … I’m afraid I’m going to hit into the water again…I hate this hole.” It’s no wonder that we so often hear golfers moaning, “I lost my concentration.”
Too few golfers have thought about how to improve their calm and focus. It is increasingly common to hear high-level players praising meditation. Phil Mickelson credited meditation with helping him win the 2021 PGA Championship. Rory McIlroy meditates 20 minutes before every competitive round. And who has had the strongest focus in the history of golf? Tiger Woods, whose Buddhist mother introduced him to meditation early in life.
There is no shortage of advice on how to meditate, and those who want to learn can easily find instruction. Learning to focus attention on your breathing is a great place to start. Take 15 minutes, three times per week and get started. Once a golfer learns the basics, it’s possible to practice mindful breathing during the hours spent between shots.
So, when you are standing over that short putt, facing a carry over the water or feeling self-conscious in front of other players, the ability to become calm and focused will greatly reduce your percentage of poor shots. This is how good scores happen. Your meditation will also enhance your general health through stress reduction. Though results are not immediate, even three weeks of regular practice will bring noticeable benefit, and you’ll see improved scores.
Meditation can help you better manage and persevere through all kinds of situations both on and off the course. It fosters equanimity, which is one of the most important foundations for good golf. You may even begin to smile more at the constant challenges that emerge on the course – and in life.
In your golf game, meditation skills will help you get out of your own way and allow your best natural swing to emerge. It will increase your ability to clear your mind and decrease the number of times you lose concentration.
In golf (as in life) so many things don’t work out as we want them to. Meditation helps us stay present and reconnect with our best capabilities under adverse circumstances. Whatever else you’re doing to play better golf, you cannot afford to forego learning about and practicing meditation.
Dr. Goldberg is professor of psychiatry at Brown University, founder of Dr. Rich Golf and author of Better Golf Better Life. He provides mental golf coaching and spends a portion of the season in Palm Springs. For a consultation contact [email protected] or visit www.drrichgolf.com.