7 Ways to Build Confidence for Golf
“Confidence is the most important single factor in this game.” ~ Jack Nicklaus
If you watch golf on TV, you’ll notice that PGA and LPGA Tour players have something in common: confidence. Without exception, they all exude a confident, self-assured demeanor. Some of this confidence derives from exceptional talent and diligent practice and winning tournaments, but much of it nurtured from within.
Golfers have a fragile relationship with confidence. Absolute belief in their game can be quickly shattered by a couple of bad swings or a missed three-foot putt when it matters.
So what actually is confidence? Fundamentally, confidence is a relationship of trust between you and yourself. The purpose of confidence is not, as many believe, to control the outcome. The purpose of confidence is to give yourself the best chance of success. By the way, confidence is not inborn. It’s a skill to be learned, and like any other skill in golf or life, practice is essential.
According to sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, “Confident golfers think about what they want to happen on the course. Golfers who lack confidence think about the things they don’t want to happen. That’s all confidence is. It’s not arrogance. It’s not experience. It’s simply thinking about the things you want to happen on the golf course.”
Seven Tips to Build Confidence on the Golf Course
You may not be bound for a professional tour, but there are ways to build unwavering confidence in your game. The goal is to be the best golfer you can be–and enjoy the game more.
1. Think Positive
We become the stories we tell ourselves. If you start to beat yourself up over your mistakes, you’ll weaken your self-belief. Self-critical thinking erodes confidence and causes anxiety. The more positive your thinking, the fewer detrimental negative thoughts you’ll have during the round. Positive thinking not only builds confidence, it boosts optimism, which leads to mental toughness, a key trait of every good golfer. It’s normal to feel angry or disappointed at times—golf is a tough game–but indulging in negative self-talk is a no-no. Practice mindfulness on the course.
2. Avoid the Negative Feedback Loop
We all have voices in our heads, but to maintain confidence in golf, the best players block out self-doubt and distraction. The best rounds by both amateur and professional golfers generally occur when players stay out of their own way. They’re able to control their thoughts, keeping the mind as quiet as possible. Remember to trust your natural athletic instincts. Heroics are not required. In golf, less is more, especially at TPC Danzante Bay, which rewards prudent, strategic play.
3. Don’t Medicate Yourself with Swing Tips
Giving yourself technical advice during the round diminishes your confidence. Why? Because you’re admitting to yourself that you doubt your swing. As Dr. Rotella says, “If you are trying to tell your body how to swing, you are telling yourself you don’t know how to swing.” Thinking about body movements takes your focus away from what is ultimately important: hitting the ball to a specific target with a clearly visualized path. The golf swing takes place during a couple of seconds. Mentally reviewing swing tips will usually produce a worse result than trusting in your flawed swing. In golf, trust is a must. If you feel the need to work on your mechanics, wait till after the round and go to the range.
The more vividly you can see the target and the shot you intend to hit, the less doubt and fear you’ll experience. Putting the intention into your subconscious can synchronize body and mind—and greatly increase your chance of success. Ben Hogan, one of golf’s greatest ball-strikers, used to say he only hit three to four shots per round exactly as he intended. It was his commitment to the shot he visualized that made his misses so minor. Practice seeing where you want the ball to go before every shot. When you’re properly focused on the target, it’s as if there were a laser beam linking the mind and the spot where you want the ball to go. The more you’re consumed with your target, the more your instincts and subconscious will help you find it.
5. Develop a Consistent Pre-Shot Routine
When you’ve developed a reliable pre-shot routine, you’ll be confident even in a high pressure situation. If your fundamentals are correct and you’ve mentally and physically rehearsed the shot, you’ve done all you can do to produce a good swing. Focus on the process, not the result. The score will take care of itself. Be committed on each shot. Play with a “conservative aggressive” attitude.
6. React Indifferently to Bad Shots
Replaying poor shots in your mind is extremely counter-productive. The longer we hold onto them, the more negative emotion we create and the longer it will take to regain lost confidence. One of the keys to becoming a better player is to let go of the past and stay in the present. In fact, staying in the present is perhaps the simplest and most important rule for retaining your confidence. If you foozle a shot, focus on the beauty of the surroundings at TPC Danzante Bay. You’ll quickly realize the relative insignificance of what happened. Doing so will put everything in perspective and allow you to move on.
7. Believe Fully in Yourself so You Can Play Freely
“Given two players of equal ability, the more confident one will win nearly all the time,” says Dr. Rotella. “Our bodies react to the degree of confidence we’ve nurtured in our conscious and subconscious minds. Play a shot confidently, and the body performs at its graceful best. Play a shot while doubting your ability to pull it off, and the body more often than not loses its rhythm, grace and timing.”
Main takeaway: Believe in yourself. There is simply no reason not to. Confidence and self-belief are the most important factors in playing golf to your potential.
Final note: The quote from Jack Nicklaus at the top of the page is incomplete. Here’s the rest of it: “…no matter how great your natural talent, there is only one way to obtain and sustain it: work.”
Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’ll recognize the aspects of your game that need work. Practice doesn’t make perfect in golf, but to improve, you’ll need to make time for practice sessions and even seek a lesson if necessary.
In the end, competence boosts confidence.