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Mental Golf: Creating Golf Confidence
By Dr. Winters

Question: Dr. Winters, everyone talks about the importance of being confident on the golf course. What exactly is golf confidence and how do I create it?

This is a question that often comes up in my work. Many people have different ideas about what confidence means. Quite often, golfers aren't sure if they can define golf confidence or articulate its exact meaning, but they seem to know when they have confidence -- and also when they don't.

When they don't have confidence, they're not sure how to create it or get it going again. In my work with National Golf Coach Association Coach of the Year for 1996, Cindy Ho of Longwood College, she stated that, "Golf confidence comes and goes, and that's the biggest challenge, day in and day out, to find something that will keep you being confident on the golf course. The consistency of your confidence, that's so important."

As Coach Ho suggests, many golfers find that their confidence ebbs and flows during a round and sometimes leaves them permanently! As a sports psychologist, a number of golfers tell me that they experience negative thoughts and feelings and are unable to access the "positive feelings" they were experiencing when they were playing well. Therefore, in order to tackle this golfing dilemma, I believe a good place to start and develop confidence is to identify exactly what golf confidence means to you and how you make sense of it.

Brenda Langdon of Charlottesville, VA provided a definition of golf confidence that I thought was excellent. A former high school athletic director who loves to play golf for recreation and competition, Langdon defined golf confidence this way: "I think confidence in your golf game is the same as confidence in everything you do. It's setting a goal and knowing that you can execute whatever it takes to achieve that goal. In golf especially, it means to trust your swing under pressure. It also means that you don't spend time worrying about bad things that might happen."

According to Langon's definition, the ability to set a goal, execute or play the way that you want to, and remain focused on achieving that goal, is vital to building confidence. Also, her definition suggests that when you feel confident, you don't allow yourself to worry about the results or have doubt. I think that Langdon's definition is extremely insightful. I would like to add that golf confidence is knowing that you can execute a shot or swing and be successful at that particular moment in time. It is this knowing, or having faith in yourself, that lends strength to your conviction that everything will turn out O.K.. And this is not just a mental concept, but a physical one as well, because when you feel confident, intense internal feelings swell up within you and create a feeling of positive momentum. This embodiment of positive feelings allows you to feel powerful and reinforce within your mind and body an internal "knowing" that you will play well.

To extend this definition to a tournament setting means that you will be filled with confidence and have the self-knowledge or feeling that, not only will everything turn out O.K., but will not allow yourself to be bothered by occasional poor shots or poor results during a tournament round.

Golf confidence means that you believe in yourself and you have faith that you will play the way that you want to play! I also think it is important to understand that having confidence is not a guarantee of successful performance, but rather it gives you a chance to perform to your ability and potential. It provides a way for you to see how good you can be.

Many other components of the human experience need to be considered as elements that contribute to one's confidence. These elements include patience, commitment and emotional resiliency. You need persistence, mental toughness and trust -- the ability to bounce back after a bad shot or hole.

Golf confidence is a "do it to yourself" and "do it for yourself" project that starts the moment you make up your mind to take charge of your attitude, and become powerful and self-energized! The first step, therefore, is to create consistent. Personal reflection and awareness help many players on the professional tours to re-create feelings of confidence when things aren't going well or when they want to visualize success. According to PGA Tour rookie Charles Warren, "The ability for me to create confidence is simply to tap into my past successful feelings and experiences. I think about what I did to prepare for the event, how I was practicing and warming up, who I was playing with, what my attitude was like when I was playing well, and quite simply, thinking about anything that provides me with a positive feeling for playing well."

The following simple mental exercise will help build confidence.

Exercise for Creating Golf Confidence

By answering the following few questions, you'll become aware of your thoughts and feelings while playing golf, which in turn, will reveal the important mental and emotional keys that help you to feel confident.

Questions for you to think about and answer:

  1. In your previous golf rounds, remember a time when you played extremely well. What was it like? What was happening prior to your playing (the drive to the golf course, your warm up and practice sessions), and also during the round?

  2. Are you able to remember some of the positive thoughts and feelings you experienced? If you can, make mental notes or write them down.

These thoughts and feelings could be items such as the people that you played with, or the way in which you warmed up prior to playing -- anything that you feel is important or significant needs to be written down and noted. Anything that provided you with a sense of confidence are key elements that facilitated a great day. These items are extremely important because these specific thoughts or feelings are the mental keys which allow you to play your best golf.

A Final Word

So, the next time you go to the golf course, simply recall the feelings that you have written down in your mental exercise. Tap into the power that these keys give you, to feel good about your golfing experience. Use these mental keys to feel relaxed and confident, knowing that you experienced good feelings before and that you can create them again by simply retrieving them from your memory bank and applying them to your present golf performance.

May you always play with confidence!

--Dr. Robert Winters

Dr. Robert Winters is a leading sports psychologist, author and lecturer. He works with amateur golfers and touring professionals around the world and is the mental game consultant for NBC and Total Sports Network on the world-wide internet system, www.golf.com. He is also Director of Golf for NIKE Golf Schools at The Boca Raton Resort and Club in Florida and also at Williams College in Massachusetts. Dr. Winters can be contacted for indivudal or team consulting via e-mail at: mindpowersports@aol.com

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