Making Golf's Mental Game a Game

Iain Highfield
  • Author: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director
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Chris Hanson Golf

The mental game of golf is often described as a game within a game, and the Game Like Training team could not agree with this more. In 2007, when I began to investigate how some of the best athletes in the world applied psychological habits of excellence into their performances, I noticed that often the greatest athletes did not compete against the field, they competed against themselves.  In golf, the top players like Tiger Woods understand that they cannot control the winning score or what the rest of the field are doing. Instead, they focus on engaging in a different kind of competition, one that could be described as the toughest competition of all, the battle with their own mind – the game within a game.Can the top athletes in the world, when the stakes are at their highest, win this battle with their own minds? Can they rid themselves of the adverse psychological and physiological responses the body naturally produces under stress? In Tiger Woods's case, the answer is yes.   Woods’s ability to win the battle with his own mind was not an innate gift. Tiger conditioned his mindset through very intense training developed by his father, Earl Woods, and Dr. Jay Brunza, a sports psychologist with a military background.

Chris Hanson Golf

At Game Like Training, we have studied and modeled the training that Tiger received, and have combined it with the GLT philosophy that has been shaped by our study of the learning sciences. We understand that cognitive stress leads to learning. We know that athletes need to be challenged. We have seen the benefits of players making training more contextual, and we know that competition is addictive and can be used to drive athletes to focus on constant self-improvement.  Therefore, to help the European Tour Players and Division 1 college players we are fortunate enough to support, we have turned the mental game into a game! The first thing we do is apply constraints to the players practice tasks. These are based on the individual needs of the payer. They also increase stress.  Examples of these could be: 

  • If you don't drive the ball over 270 yards in the fairway, you must hit your shot from 30 yards further back and in the rough.  
  • Any putt left short of the hole you must draw back 4 feet, and you receive one penalty stroke if you three putt. 

 We also ask that, in addition to writing down their total score for the game (just like they would in competition,) players score their mental processes. We then spend more time reviewing the mental game score card (or OSVEA score, as we like to call it,) in order to better regulate future psychological processes and help players win that battle with their own mind. It takes time, but players that engage in this practice with purpose will begin to transfer a stronger mindset into tournament play. This evolves as players realize that often, the higher the OSVEA, the lower the number of strokes.  Some players, like European Tour golfer Chris Hanson, take on the challenge of setting their best OSVEA during tournament play. This really helps Chris win that battle with his mind, that game within the game.  To hear European Tour golfer Chris Hanson explain how this has helped his performance, check out our video below. 

Chris Hanson Golf