Imagine turning up for a round at The Old Course at St Andrews to find someone has kindly hired you a caddy – it would be a dream start to what can only be a great day ahead.
You have a couple of practice swings to loosen up, but as you do so you hear your caddy quietly murmur “there are few people watching today, I sure hope she/he doesn’t fluff this tee shot”. You think nothing of it and proceed to stripe the ball down the centre of the vast fairway.
On the second tee, a gust of wind picks up, blowing left to right towards the sea. Again, you hear your caddy comment “Well this isn’t ideal for their slice, they could be in trouble here”. You do your best to re-focus and with a tight, anxious swing manage to hit the ball into the right rough.
On the 4th green you are presented with a dead straight 6ft putt for par. Yet again your caddy snarks, “The last three putts have all been pulls, this is probably going to miss left”. Despite your best efforts to block out this voice, you make a poor stroke and do indeed pull the putt left.
By the end of the round you’re tired and exhausted – how is it possible to play a decent round with a caddy like this one.
Yes, you’ve guessed it, the world’s worst caddy in the world is in fact you. This is the way most golfers talk to themselves during a round of golf.
You wouldn’t put up with anyone else talking to you in such a negative way, but this can often become the norm for many golfers’ self-talk. Your inner-caddy makes playing your best golf a real challenge and consistently bullies you into negative thinking.
The issue is you’ve caddied for yourself since you first picked up a golf club, consequently you are rarely aware of how damaging this self-talk can be to your performance.
The solution is not an easy one, just like retraining the habits of our imaginary caddy in this story, re-training your inner-caddy takes time. Below are the simple steps to take. Unfortunately, just because they are simple steps does not make them easy to change, it will take time and practice to train your inner-caddy.
Step 1: Increase awareness
The first step is becoming aware of when these negative thoughts occur (1st tee nerves, over short, downhill putts). Make notes of when they crop up and what specific thoughts, images or feelings are associated with these moments.
Step 2: Reframing & building strategies
The second step is to work out how you can reframe negative thoughts and images into positive ones. Again, this takes time, but there are a few solutions – the ultimate source of confidence comes from already solving the problem at hand.
For example, if you’ve already won the British Open, you’ll be quite confident you can do it again. Sadly, sport rarely offers us this get out of jail free card. Instead, we have to generate success in associated areas and use this as a source of confidence.
One such solution is to create memories of successful shots you’ve had with the golf club you are currently holding. Every time you hit a great shot under pressure with your Driver, 7-iron, Pitching Wedge…, or hole a clutch putt make a note of it. Write down the the situation and the resulting shot you hit. Replay these successful scenarios again and again in your head, remember how easy the swing felt, how pure the strike was.
Another solution is to document practice achievements and reflect on these when you are fact with negative self-talk. For example, if you know you consistently hole 19 out of 20 putts from 4-feet, why would you fear this one you face on the golf course – it is highly likely to go in (95% chance of success).
Re-training your inner-caddy
Once you are back on the golf course you can start the process of re-training your caddy. When she/he pipes up with an unhelpful remark you can replay your brilliant previous shots you’ve hit with the club you’re holding and use your practice stats to logically argue against any negative thoughts.
This isn’t a magic cure, but over time you can build up a large vault of previous successful shots and practice achievements that help you manage negative self-talk.
The aim is not to banish negative thoughts from your head, even elite golfers still exhibit negative thoughts. Instead, aim to become great at dealing with these thoughts when they occur under pressure. The strategies in this article are two great ways to do so.
I hope this article has given you some simple strategies to improve your performance. For more reading on golf psychology you can check out this draft copy of a future book. Also, if you would a golf performance article like this one emailed to you every Monday come join the Golf Insider weekly post.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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