Like most golfers, our correspondent Philippa Kennedy doesn’t find it easy to control negative thoughts on the golf course, but she now knows how to change her thought processes and ultimately have a more enjoyable round.

Some people are beaten before they even start a round of golf. I say ‘people’ but I think this applies to women more than men and I include myself here. I can talk myself out of a match in an instant. The thought process goes a bit like this:

“Oh not her! She’s already beaten me twice. I’m going to be knocked out in the first round. How humiliating. Oh well, there’s always next year.”

I used to think it was just me until I came across an advertisement for a seminar on ‘The Golfing Mind - Breaking the Pattern’ by PGA Fellow Professional Nicky Lawrenson.

Nicky, who has worked as an academy director at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, the Roda Golf and Beach Resort in Spain and The Belfry, specialises in helping people break this particular mode.

She believes that the ‘panic mode’ that afflicts people like me, releases stress hormones that stop the blood going to the parts of the brain that are used for logical
thought processing.

The first step to recovery is to recognise this. Nicky calls it ‘conscious awareness.’

“I like to understand some of the science behind why certain things happen. The body is geared to either face what is happening or run. It’s important to understand how you perceive a situation from a psychological point of view and how it affects you physically.

She talks about repeating certain thought patterns as you approach a shot and it feels like she knows what’s going on in my head when I stand over a ball in the rough when all I can think of is the time I gave it a whack and buried it forever even deeper.

Then there are the ingrained images of what should be short chips that end up scudding across the green and into a bunker on the other side.

For some of us these thoughts are hardwired and we begin to believe that’s just the way we are and this will always happen. Not so, according to Nicky, who
says that the brain is a malleable organ and it IS possible to change these thought processes. Science backs this up, she adds, quoting various neuroscientists.

That’s all very well, but exactly how do you banish the ‘gloomy gremlins’ I ask.

Nicky admits that it’s not easy, she suffered from them herself: “When I was playing the mindset was a bit of a block. It was definitely in the area that could have been improved.”

Firstly, you must establish a routine.

That’s different for everybody and it doesn’t matter what it is, but you should try to do the same thing every time. This will help you to stop going into ‘panic mode’.

You should have a clear visual of what you are trying to do and banish last minute and negative thoughts. Go into your bubble.

“When you are fearful you generally try to control the outcome. You focus on trees on the right, water on the left. That tends to be the last thought that goes through the mind. The more you focus on what you don’t want to happen, the more you are trying to control the outcome,” says Nicky.

It’s worth quoting Albert Enstein here.

He once famously said he didn’t play golf because it was ‘too complicated’.

However, another of his quotes is relevant: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Breathe! It sounds daft but many people forget to breathe. Eliminate short shallow breaths and breathe from the belly button.

Keep hydrated, even on an overcast day. Don’t rush out grabbing a coffee on the way and not much breakfast. If you have an early tee time, get up a bit earlier.

Keep snacks in your bag. Prepare them beforehand. In an energy slump you won’t make the best decision. Watch the good golfers. They are always sipping water and eating. If chocolate helps, eat chocolate!

Keep your lower body stable with a relaxed upper body. Trust your swing.

Don’t verbalise negative thoughts.

Finally, stop worrying about what other people are thinking. They’re probably deciding what’s for supper rather than what a lousy putter you are.

Above all remember that you don’t HAVE to do this. Ultimately you are there to have fun.

The above is an extract from the latest issue of Women & Golf magazine, on sale Friday 18 August. Never miss an issue click here to subscribe and enjoy W&G delivered to your door.

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