Dr. Sport: Taking a Mental Break
by Bob Phillips, Ph.D.
Many of the golfers I work with complain about running out of steam after ten or eleven holes, especially on the third day of a long tournament. The advice I give them has been helpful to many. I suggest that they plan to take a mental break after the ninth hole and then again after the fourteenth hole. Of course they can use this technique at any time, but if they plan it, they are more likely to actually do it.
One of the most important things to manage during this unofficial "time out" is your pace or tempo. Most of the problems with tempo come from unknowingly speeding up either to "catch up" if you’re behind, or to "rush to the clubhouse" if you're ahead or at least playing well. Either of these reasons can spell disaster for your remaining holes. To avoid these tempo errors take the time during our "time out" to check your tempo and to slow it down to match what you know and have practiced as your best tempo. If you have not yet identified your best tempo then you are flying by the seat of your pants and you are not practicing good mental management. Know how to identify this tempo and how to retrieve it if you are not on it.
Another reason for the "time out" is to check for any body tension. No, you will not bring it about if you start thinking about it. This is psychology, not mythology. In Focused Golf we do things on purpose and with practiced control. If you find any tension, (tight muscles, numbness, stiffness or jumpiness in a swing or putt) the fastest way of alleviating it is to go after it. Tighten up the tense muscles, really go to it and make it as tight as you can. Then when you relax it you really gain control over it. So from now on remember to find it, tighten it, relax it and forget it.
The third part of a time out is to get back into the now. Make your mind focus on what you are doing right now. Do not worry about the score, the leader board, your bets, your last shot or anything other than right now. If your mind or body have not been giving you the quality of golf you have earned in practice, then take a moment and recall when you were in the "zone" and playing comfortably at your very best. Recall the feelings of that time and taking two deep breaths and ask yourself this question, "How would it be different if I were playing that way right now?", and let your body feel the answer. Step into that answer and smile. Remember that you are a walking warehouse of strength and experience. How and when that experience comes into play is up to you.
You can find time for this "time out" by simply stopping your cart a few feet further from your ball and use that extra walking time to do the things I have outlined above. With a little practice you can take this "time out" in as little as sixty seconds. Every player gets the same amount of time, how you use it can make the difference between being pushed by time or using it as another mental tool.
Bob Phillips, Ph.D.
Clinical and Golf Psychologist
The Sport Psychology Training Center