When overthinking becomes a hazard.

Golf is a sport that transcends gender, where the challenges of the course and the intricacies of the mind are equally demanding for all players. However, there’s an aspect of golf, and indeed life, that often places women at a distinct disadvantage: the presence of the Inner Critic. In this article, we’ll explore the unique perspective of women in golf and delve into the profound impact the Inner Critic can have on their game. We’ll also provide essential tips to help female golfers navigate the mental challenges of the sport while addressing the persistent presence of the Inner Critic.

We all have an Inner Critic, and women are no exception. This inner voice often leans towards the negative, creating a pattern of destructive self-talk that affects both performance and self-esteem. This Inner Critic can also diminish and limit our abilities by telling ourselves that we may not be experienced enough or have the right skills. A synthesis of 71 studies conducted by Lisa Yarnell and her colleagues revealed an intriguing aspect of the Inner Critic: women tend to be less compassionate towards themselves compared to men.

Your Inner Critic – let’s call it your Golf Gremlin – can be especially potent on the golf course, where the need for self-assurance and confidence is paramount. While the difference in self-attitude may be subtle and almost invisible, it’s a real distinction that can significantly impact a golfer’s performance. Fortunately, this doesn’t have to be the status quo for women or any golfer, regardless of gender. Self-compassion can be cultivated through practice and dedication.

In the world of golf, women often face unique challenges. Whether it’s the pressure of performing in a male-dominated sport or dealing with stereotypes and biases, women may
find themselves contending with additional mental hurdles on the course. The Golf Gremlin can magnify these challenges, adding a layer of self-doubt that can be especially insidious. After all, who do you speak to most of the time? That would be yourself, of course!

Do you often hear yourself saying (to yourself):

  • “You idiot! What did you hit that shot for?”
  • “I can never make that shot”
  • “I always hit it over there”
  • “I just can’t putt!”
  • “I have no chance of getting out of this bunker!”
  • “You fool! Why did you do that?”
  • “I’ve got the chipping yips!”

So, how can women golfers harness their mental strength and steer their Golf Gremlin into becoming their Inner Golf Coach?

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Notice your Golf Gremlin: The first step in dealing with your Golf Gremlin is recognising its presence. Understand that it’s a part of you, but it doesn’t define you. Notice the sensation in your body when the Gremlin pops up. Your body sends you the signal that you’re about to lose it before your brain has realised it.
  2. Acknowledge the negative thoughts: Once you’ve identified your Golf Gremlin’s presence, acknowledge the thought in a short sentence, e.g. “I’m having the thought that I can’t putt.” Not, “I can’t putt,” as this is an absolute and probably not true. Keep it short. Don’t make it a full-blown story as this will make the feeling even bigger.
  3. Practise self-compassion: As Kristen Neff’s research suggests, self-compassion can be cultivated through practice. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer a friend facing a similar challenge. Encourage yourself rather than berate yourself when things don’t go as planned.
  4. Choose who your best self would be: Pick one or two words that describe who you would be when you are at your best. For example, confident, relaxed or present. Be that way for the next five minutes.
  5. Develop a positive pre-shot routine: Incorporate your positive way of being and visualisation into your pre-shot routine. Instead of dwelling on your Golf Gremlin’s doubts, focus on what you do want and your positive way of being.

It’s essential to remember that golf is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Cultivating a positive and self-compassionate mindset is vital for achieving peak performance. While women may encounter unique challenges on the golf course, the power to overcome them lies within.

In golf, where focus and concentration are paramount, it’s crucial to quieten your Golf Gremlin and nurture a mindset of self-compassion. Overthinking can be a hazard, but when combined with a harsh self-critic, it can become a crippling force. Your thoughts should enhance your performance, not hinder it. So the next time you step onto the golf course, remember that you’re not just perfecting your swing; you’re also perfecting your mind, and a compassionate inner dialogue can be the key to unlocking your full potential, no matter your gender. 

• Tracy Tresidder has been practising the art of maximising human potential for more than 20 years. She is an ICF Master Certified coach and author with vast knowledge of physical and mental development specialising in women’s leadership development and golf mind coaching. Mastering the fundamentals of golf are only part of what it takes to be an accomplished golfer. Mastering the mental game will take strokes off your handicap and have you enjoying your golf so much more.

Read the complete guide to lowering your handicap: “Golf Mind Play: Outsmarting your brain to play your best golf”. Visit golfmindplay.com to download the eBook or purchase the hard copy. Also available: “Mind Play for Match Play; how to outsmart your brain and your opponent in head-to-head golf”.