“Your swing is only part of the game,” according to Mike Diffley, head pro at Pelham CC and coach to numerous championship winners for decades in the NY metro area. “You have to have a good grip and everything, but if you don’t have the right mindset, you’re in big trouble.”
Diffley has a wealth of practical tips on training your mind to produce the best results on the golf course. “One of the most important things is to get into a routine,” he says. “Not just a physical one, but a mental routine as well. It will help you go into every shot with a positive mindset and give you the ability to just let go and let the swing happen.” Diffley breaks the pre-shot mental routine down into five steps:
Diffley recommends taking your practice swing from behind the ball, not next to it, then taking a deep relaxing breath as you walk to your address position. Develop your mental routine the same way you hone your physical swing, by practicing it.
Going to your mental routine is essential when things go wrong on the golf course. “You’re never going to play a round without a hiccup,” Diffley points out. “When you hit a bad shot, you have to gather yourself, calm down, and go through your routine for the next shot. It’s fine to say something unprintable when you chunk a chip or hit a big slice, but you need to get over it in five seconds. Good players forget their bad shots, but poor players dwell on them.”
It’s also important to keep things in perspective and manage your expectations. “You work 50 hours a week at your real job, you’ve got three kids, you get out to the golf course once a week if you’re lucky,” Diffley says. “If your score is all that matters to you, you’re setting yourself up for misery.” Enjoy the company of your friends, the athletic workout of golf in the great outdoors, and celebrate the occasional good shot you hit, he advises, but don’t fixate on your score. “If you’re a 12-handicap, does anyone really care whether you shot an 84 or a 91?”