What is the difference between players that are successful on tour and those that aren’t? Or, more to the point, why can’t players armed with plenty of talent translate that into good results?

The simplest explanation is: it’s mental, not physical. This statement is nothing groundbreaking but it’s still one that golfers don’t focus on enough. Since writing my book on the mental side of the game, I’ve been helping out a variety of golfers. Most people think I only work with pros and elite amateurs, but I also help golfers with handicaps as high as 20.

My focus with all players isn’t so much on swing technique, it’s more about course strategy, shot selection, mental processes, practice structure and the short game. The interesting thing about lesser-skilled golfers is if they implement the above, shots drop off their handicaps the quickest. To reduce their scores by, say, four to five strokes a round, the simplest way is to make better strategic decisions on the course, have a consistent mental process and, if you’ve got time to practise, build a productive plan for when you head to the range.

The consensus among these players is they need to change their swings and for some golfers, yes, they do need to make some physical changes in technique to improve. However, this requires time and trust in your local PGA pro who’s helping you to practise the necessary reps for the changes to take hold.

If you’re time-poor for practice, my recommendation is to work with your pro on how to manage your game around the golf course, build a consistent pre-shot routine to focus your mind for every shot and work on your short game because this is the physical area of the game where you can save strokes instantly. For elite players, all the above is the same, just at a different level. Typically, they’ve already built the necessary foundations, it’s more a case of fine-tuning what they have.

This leads me to what makes players more successful than others. The answer is they know what works for them and don’t deviate from that in the heat of competition. They trust their games and, most importantly, back themselves when the crunch moments arrive.

The recent Presidents Cup was a perfect example of how elite professionals go about playing golf at the highest level. No two swings among the players were the same, they all had a different way of executing shots and physically were all very capable. But, there’s plenty of physically talented golfers out there. The difference is their belief in what they are doing and when the key moments arrive, having the correct mindset to execute the fundamentals when it matters most. Tiger Woods has been the best at doing this for more than two decades, and his display at Royal Melbourne on strategy and mental commitment over the four days was something very special.

So rather than worrying about what your swing looks or feels like, do a little more work on how to think correctly on the course. That, and some extra chipping and putting practice never go astray either. Your game may not change much but I’m positive your scores will, and that’s what golf is all about: to write down the lowest score possible, not draw pictures on how you did it.


Read on for more from Nick O’Hern and Australian Golf Digest.