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Cruel or Kind on the Golf Course

Throwing golf clubs

Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening – Lisa B. Hayes

How do you talk to yourself on the course? Are you cruel or kind? Does it really make a difference in your performance HOW you talk to yourself?

Most of the time you hear this out loud. I play in a league and I hear this all the time, “Hey A-hole, why don’t you keep your head down,” “Nice Shot, you F’in idiot.” Or even better, when on the first hole or two a shot is hit out of bounds or unplayable (or whatever) and you hear, “F#@!, there goes this round!” But, dude, it’s only 1 non-optimal (nicely worded, right?!) shot! It actually get’s to be quite comical when you get tuned in to these self-talk patterns.

Just to clear the air—if you think I’m immune to this type of self-talk you, of course, would be dead wrong BUT I am getting better at it and I’ll get into that shortly.

Why this is important is that sports performance studies have been shown that the way you perform is directly controlled by your current dominant thoughts. So in essence, you play as you think.


As you talk with yourself a lot is going on behind the scenes. The thoughts can be powerful enough to produce intense emotions which, of course, can be beneficial or not very. We’ve all seen these in major championships when we wonder, “What the hell was he/she thinking?” Well, chances are they were self-talking in a less than productive manner.

As we talk to ourselves on the course (either internally or externally) these thoughts can suggest images that might not work in our favor. For example, I’ve heard folks on the tee, saying to themselves, “Don’t go left, st-oooooo-pid!!!” Now what kind of image do you think this paints in the mind of the golfer? It literally gives you only half a fairway to work with! And do you think there will be much freedom or effortlessness in the swing—not likely, mate.

Work on thinking and creating positive thoughts and images. If this is new to you, realize it’s going to take some time to integrate. All the supportive, encouraging, creative self talk will become cumulative, so don’t give up. Work incrementally. Keep finding your best thoughts, your best swing, your best results, your best game.


I assume we all know what it is to meditate. One form of meditation is quietly sitting and just noticing your thoughts. Once you are aware of a thought you say a mantra (can be internal or external), which is a word, a sound, etc. to bring you back to a state of quiet.

It can be quite a rigorous process because we all know how “scattered” our thoughts can become. One thought leads to another, then to another and next thing you know you have fallen through the looking glass to the magical world of wonderland!

Funny, you hear this so much on TV, “Stay in the moment,” “Stay in the now,” “One swing at a time,” but it’s easy to just hear these as words after hearing them so many times but quite another to put some intention and rigor to the process—that means, sorry to say, we have to put some conscious effort (yes, work!) into it so it becomes a best practice for us.

I’m being a bit facetious but want to stress that “staying in the moment” is a type of practice (just like meditation). It needs to be a “rinse and repeat” type operation—it’s not a one-and-done type thing.

What I suggest is this to “Stay in the moment.” Realize you can only hit one shot at a time anyway. Give your best to that one shot. So what if you mis-hit it, or even shank it—that’s results based thinking. We need to dis-attach results from our process. See point 2 below.

Ed Grant has some wonderful insight on this in his classic book, Subconscious Golf:

You can’t prevent self-talk, the process is continually happening in your mind, and you can’t prevent the corresponding mental pictures triggered by that self-talk. However, though you can’t prevent self-talk, you can learn to control your self-talk so that it works for you in a positive and productive way.


The specific words you use seem to matter, it turns out. Research published this year suggests that talking to yourself using the word “I” could stress you out instead of bringing on feelings of self-love and acceptance.

Psychologist Ethan Kross of the University of Michigan led the work, studying the pronouns people use when they talk to themselves silently, inside their minds.

“What we find,” Kross says, “is that a subtle linguistic shift — shifting from ‘I’ to your own name — can have really powerful self-regulatory effects.”

The same thing happens to other people. “We’ve done studies that look at exactly that phenomenon,” says Kross. “And your experience is borne out by our data. It’s almost like you are duping yourself into thinking about you as though you were another person.”

I found this to be quite interesting when I thought about it and Nicklaus came immediately to mind. He would often talk to himself in the 3rd person, like, “Come on, Jack” or “Geez, Jack” It’s still polite language yet it provides some distance as Mr. Kross mentions. Something worth trying.


1. Be Quiet – This is the one I am most actively practicing. If you hit a bad shot just say nothing. Don’t say a word, don’t slam your clubs, stomp your feet, etc. Just calmly walk over a put the club in your bag. What this can do is begin to re-wire your brain in a positive way. You’ll begin to unravel the wiring in your brain that associates (and intensifies) so called “bad” shots.

I mean why consider it bad – isn’t it just a shot? It may not be an good golf shot but it’s still a golf shot. Leave it at that.

On the other hand, re-inforce good shots. Know that you are able to hit them. Set up physical triggers—like the “Tiger-Twirl” or a positive word, like “yes” or something else. Let’s begin to tip the positive, creative re-enforcement in our favor.

2. Get Some Perspective – If you hit a bad shot, try working on rehearsing a better shot the next time and just letting that one go. I use a breathing key and immediately try to notice my surroundings—the trees, the sky, the wind, the color—to get my mind from churning over that recent display of ugliness.

And the sooner you realize you will hit some bad shots it gives you a bit of freedom. Because you want to be prepared for the antics your mind will have with you after a non-optimal shot. By being prepared for the mind games (because they will happen, right?!) you will have a plan to more easily slip back into the moment and make that next solid golf shot.

3. Talk Nicer – This is an easy one, right?! Again, we want to tip the scales in our favor. It seems weird to me that anyone would call themselves a F#[email protected]%! A-hole or a dumb F%#! or anything like that. I mean I never say anything to anyone. That’s their thing. But sorry to say—it’s weak. I’m not saying it’s not necessarily a bad thing to let go of your anger then and there and just drop it but by talking kinder to yourself, like, “It’s just a golf shot,” or “Yep, it sure went left,” you lessen the intensity and prevent that groove from getting psychologically deeper.

4. Use a Trigger – The minute you notice (that’s the key – noticing/awareness) you are thinking about birding the hole or beating your opponent or shooting a low score, etc. try to come up with a phrase (some trigger) like “now” or “breathe” or a physical gesture like slapping the side of your leg—be as creative as you like—and let the thought go and get back to the moment and the shot at hand.

5. Reacting to Others – This applies when someone says something like “Nice shot!” and you immediately reply, “Yeah, even a loser can get lucky every now and then” No, no, no. Let’s think back to No. 1 above. The less you say (and therefore think) the better. All you have to say is simply, “Thanks.” It can be easy to be self-deprecating but it’s a bit silly to re-enforce. Much better to be still and silently move on.

It’s your choice. Cruel or kind.


Book: Inner Game of Golf by Tim Galloway
Book: Golf is not a Game of Perfect by Bob Rotella
Book: Subconscious Golf by Ed Grant
Podcast: Ed Grant: Train & Use Your Mind Like the Pros with Subconscious Golf

The post Cruel or Kind on the Golf Course appeared first on GolfDashBlog | Accelerate Your Golf Performance.

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Cruel or Kind on the Golf Course


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