Anticipation Will Mentally Challenge Your Golf Game

Everyone knows what it is like to patiently (not so patiently for some) for something to happen. Of course right now, the anticipation of the golf courses opening in my area is the biggest one. Yet, this really does not challenge my golf game, just my patience. Anticipation of making a pressure/winning shot is a smaller more focused act that will mentally challenge your golf game. How we respond to this emotional situation will make or break our round and unfortunately, most amateurs fall short!

I have said many times that golf is a cerebral game. It takes mental toughness and strength to play at the more elite levels. Well, when you talk to most players, they seem to neglect the ability to play their best when needed most.

Basically, when the round or tournament is on the line, can a player maintain control of their emotions as they anticipate their next few shots! Being mentally strong without control of our emotions is definitely a recipe for disaster. I have been in this situation many times over the years and I would say that I am sitting at 50/50 with respect to rising to the occasion.

Earlier in my career I played much more competitive golf. I was eager to succeed and prove I was ready to play with the ‘big boys’ at my local golf club. As I progressed up the ladder of success I found that I was experiencing more shots that required me to stay mentally focused and keep my emotions in check. I was all part of trying to be a better golfer.

I remember the first time I was playing as team captain for our military regional team. The three day tournament was in Kingston and all the team captains were to hit first on opening day. Let me tell you, I was racked with nerves waiting for my name to be announce. The anticipation of hitting this shot in front of 50 of my friends was something I was not ready to handle.

As it turned out I was fourth to hit. As I stood over the ball, I could barely focus or even see the ball. I took a swing, just about missed the ball and squibbed it about 50 yards down the fairway. I definitely failed during that moment. However, I did recover to make par on the opening hole and tied for third overall in the 54 hole tournament. However, the anticipation of hitting my first ball of the tournament was a lesson in mental control I will never forget.

As years passed and I gained more experience I became more successful controlling my emotions and playing solid golf when anticipation for shots was high! One of my greater successes happen in 2009 when I won our military provincial (regional) tournament. My anticipation level on the open four holes of the last day was very high. However, I was able to perform much better than the above example.

We were playing in Petawawa, Ontario, and I had built a 3 stroke lead over the first two days. On the last day, I figured all I needed was to shoot in the mid-70s and I would walk away the winner. But, I had to get through the first four holes to do. These holes were the round killers for every player, so the night before I started dampening the anticipation of failure and focusing on success.

After lots of deep breathing and positive self-talk, I kept the anticipation (emotional pressure) in check for the first four holes. I visualized every shot and followed my normal pre-shot and after shot routines. After years of preparing for this moment I shot one under for the first 4 holes. I now had a six shot lead on second place. Knowing I was mentally in control of my emotions, I banish the emotional roller coaster of anticipation from my mind. I cruised to a 76 (5 over par) and a 12 stroke win.

Anticipation of a golf shot (s) is an emotional challenge that most successful players learn to control. I believe that experience is the best educator in this matter, but we also require the ability for mental focus to override our emotional responses. This mental skill is honed through experiencing pressure shots while playing. How respond is a key to winning or losing. If we do not try to conquer our emotions through mental acuity, then it is akin to being the best boxer in the world, but with a glass jaw!

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


8 thoughts on “Anticipation Will Mentally Challenge Your Golf Game

  1. I use the same technique I use to fall asleep at night. I shut my eye’s and take a couple of deep breaths and let it out. I can feel the tension release all the way to my toes. Thankfully, I haven’t fallen asleep on the course so far. 😂

    And anticipation is now over for me where getting back on our courses here at the complex is concerned. I walked 18 out there today. It was beautiful. Hot, but everything was in such nice shape after getting a few weeks to grow. The greens were fast and true and the fairways were green and lush. I said hot didn’t I? Oh yeah. It was 90 degrees. Thankfully the humidity wasn’t too bad. And it will be hotter still tomorrow. The last of our really pretty weather was lost to the virus. But we’re back out and that’s something.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi JIm, I will be playing my first round of golf for two months, lockdown eased, on Friday. Apart from the mental stress, I am still recovering from a back injury and have no idea how it will go. The practice areas are still all closed, so it will be just a case of turning up to the 1st tee, and swing, scary.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Pete

      Scary for sure. I suggest you start swinging a club now just to loosen up your back. I am sure you thought of this already, but just a kindly reminder. I look forward to hearing about your success and fun on Friday!

      Cheers Jim

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jim, some good techniques here and a great post! I have experienced much the same and have a slightly different twist on handling the anticipation factor. I try to prepare myself mentally for any outcome good or bad. In your first four hole scenario, I would get ready to either birdie the first four holes, or open with back-to-back double bogeys, or any outcome in between. Basically preparing myself to be ready for anything that happens. Then your mind doesn’t go into shock if one or the other extreme occurs. You hope the approach settles you down into a state of normal.

    Thanks for the thought provoking read,


    Liked by 1 person

    • Brian,

      I see your process and am not sure I would do that. Personally, I will focus only on the positive. However, I am experienced enough to realize that poor shots happen and I think that I am shocked less now, than earlier in my career. Visualize and focus mentally on a positive outcome is my way forward. I enjoy the discussion because it opens my thoughts to different possibilities.

      Cheers Jim

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jim, last September I used this technique in the Northwest Club Championship. On the first hole I bladed a greenside bunker shot into a lost ball and a triple bogey. Didn’t let it affect me because I was prepared for anything and went on to win the tournament by two shots. Not for everyone I guess, and just another tool in the box.



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