Mental Focus for 18 Holes of Golf

Mental focus is different than mental toughness. On the surface, they might seem the same, however, to me they are two completely different states of mind. Although golfers require both, they are not applied equally during any round. And yesterday during my early bird round, it became very clear that my lack of mental focus cost me my first sub-par round of the year!

Before describing my mental error, let me differentiate between mental focus and mental toughness.

Mental focus is the routine of playing golf. It focuses on the ‘how to play golf’. There is very little pressure associated with mental focus, but it encompasses all aspects of my game. My thinking process, the pre-shot routine, club selection, shot selection and so on. You can see, that to accomplish all the different parts of my golf game, I need to be focused on what I am doing and playing in the present.

Mental toughness is a beast of a different nature. It is the shield against stress of a poor shot (s) and involves trust and confidence. After hitting a bad shot, it ensures that you trust your swing and relies on your confidence to make your next shot. It keeps the negative thoughts of “I can’t” out of your mind and ensures you stay grounded and play golf the way you know you can.

17th Hole at Osprey Links Golf Course

Yesterday, I failed mental focus. My mental toughness was excellent because I did not let any bad shot affect my game. I was even par walking off the 16th hole at Osprey Links Golf Course. With an opportunity to shoot under par by birdieing the par 3, 17th hole or short par 4, 18th hole, I was excited to play my next shot.

On my walk to the 17th tee, my mind started to wander. I am not sure exactly where it went, but I my mind was not on the shot at hand. I set my ball up at the right height on the tee; took my normal line to the green; had the right club in my hand; and looking back, I realized I was on automatic. I was going through the motions without any real thought about the important shot I was making. In retrospect, I am very surprised at my lack of mental focus; maybe it is because I routinely par this hole with a few birdies mixed in for fun.

As I took my club away, all seem right. Although I was still on automatic, I never had the sense something was wrong. Well, I hit an inch behind the ball, dug in about 2 inches with my 6-iron and put my ball in the middle of the pond! I was mortified that I had made such a poor shot! Without prolonging my pain, I ended with a double bogey 5! I tell you what, my mental focus was suddenly back, but one shot too late.

I ended up birdieing the last hole for a one over par 72. During the last hole, I did not have any problem with my mental focus or toughness. I was zeroed in on my actions. Alas, I walked off wondering what if…..

Mental focus is very important. One lapse and disaster can happen to your score. Unfortunately, this is a lesson I keep learning (and likely will continue to learn). It is part of amateur golf, however understanding the difference mental focus and mental toughness might save us strokes in the future.

I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!

10 thoughts on “Mental Focus for 18 Holes of Golf

  1. Jim,

    Thanks for sharing this experience — we can all relate! I like your differentiation between mental focus and mental toughness. I guess our mental toughness can rescue us when we have a lapse in mental focus and hit a bad shot. The toughness portion sort of wipes the slate clean and allows us to regain focus for the next shot. I will think about this as I head to the course shortly…thanks.


    Liked by 3 people

  2. I can empathize. I started out slow last weekend. But had a great round going on the back. I was two under on the 9 when I got a bad bounce into the water on 18. I followed it with another that hit the opposit bank and bounced straight up and back into the water. I ended with a triple. Had to stay and play the 9 over after that to keep from leaving mad.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Jim, great round mate, shame about the ending.

    I wonder you know if familiarity breeds loss of focus. I mean, for me particularly, on my home course i know what club to take off every tee, how each green rolls and so on. But we still need to take into account other factors such as weather conditions, cold or heat and so on but it is easy to lose that focus when on your own course and maybe a bit on autopilot.

    On an away course I am totally in focus all the time because of the lack of familiarity, plus I have a visual impairment too and I can’t rely on my memory of the course if I haven’t played it before.

    Having said this I find keeping focus on my course relatively easy but we are not perfect are we and you do get times when it slips and it can stop a great day becoming a phenomenal one.

    in the 60s next round mate!


    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jim, tough break but it sounds like it was a physical error, not a loss in focus. You said you were following your routine and everything seemed normal, right? As long as you were prepared to hit the shot when you swung the club, you can’t ding yourself mentally. Physical errors just happen. Nice playing though. 72; good score!



    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian

      Yeah, you are right that it was likely a physical error. I do follow my routine 98% of the time and it does make a difference. However, I felt that I should have been more focused. Thanks for the advice and perspective.



  5. Argh, so close Jim. An excellent post, very informative and a great lesson on how important each shot is and why we need better focus. Playing 18 today and I’ll see if I can employ your lessons to my round. Go get em today!

    Cheers, Mike

    Liked by 1 person

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