Become a complete golfer: Part 4, Mind

Rob Labritz
Pritchard/PGA of America
In the fourth installment of our six-part "Become a complete golfer" series, PGA Professional Rob Labritz zones in on the mind.
By T.J. Auclair
PGA.com
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Published: Thursday, February 09, 2017 | 10:36 a.m.

Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of a six-week, six-part series with PGA Professional Rob Labritz, offering up tips on how you can become a complete golfer. Each feature will focus on one of six topics: Body, Game, Game maintenance, Mind, Nutrition and Equipment in an effort to help you become the best golfer you can be.

"Ninety percent of golf is mental, and the other 10 percent is mental too." -- PGA Professional Jim Flick, who was one of game's great instructors

If Flick was right -- and anyone who has played the game would be hard-pressed to argue against him -- wouldn't it be worth your while to dedicate time to your mind when it comes to golf?

BECOME A COMPLETE GOLFER: Part 1, Body | Part 2, Game | Part 3, Game Maintenance

PGA Professional Rob Labritz sure thinks there's value in that.

In fact, Labritz believes there are five important elements that come with preparing the mind for golf: Weekly preparation, daily, tournament, on course and the importance of breathing for your mind.

Here, Labritz explains each one.

1. Weekly preparation

"This involves getting organized for the days you're going to play and practice," Labritz said. "Lay it all out. OK -- I'm playing these days... Let's make a list of what you're specifically going to work on those days using the game maintenance guidelines we talked about in the last installment.

"Organization is the main key. I live by my iPad and iPhone and I add everything I need to do to my reminders or calendar. Between lessons, meetings and my game, I get that calendar loaded up so I know exactly when and where I have time to practice and what it is I'll be working on. If you get really organized both in life and with your golf goals, you're going to be better prepared for your golf rounds."

2. Daily preparation

"Did you ever notice how Tour players when they're playing golf are, for the most part, pretty boring?" Labritz asked. "It's because they're very balanced. You've got to be very balanced on the course. All the great players are very balanced. They don't get too high or too low.

"On a daily basis, you want to not get too high emotionally, or too low on other things -- in life and in golf. Daily mental preparation is just getting ready for the course and preparing to play, whether it's a tournament, a men's club event, or a quick 18 with friends. Prepare to get ready to play. That means you're not running out of your car, hitting three quick putts and pegging it. Instead, set you day up for the round and have it all in order. The night before, or the morning of, have your shoes ready to go. Go through your bag and check on your golf balls, tees, ball marker, gloves, divot tool. Check your equipment. There's nothing worse than getting to the course and realizing you forgot something.

"If you have this daily prep routine, you'll be ready and organized when you get to the course. I like to be there an hour to an hour and a half before my tee time. Then I'm not rushing. If you're rushing, you're bringing in unnecessary stress and you're not mentally prepared to play good golf."

3. Tournament preparation

"When I'm preparing for a tournament, I like to add physical activity to my practice sessions," Labritz said. "What do I mean by that? For example, after I hit 10 putts in a row, I might run in place for a minute or two, or do sit ups or push ups. Immediately after those, I get right back to putting -- or whatever facet of the game it is I'm working on. Why? When you do something physical, you're going to get the blood flowing and the adrenaline is going to rise. That's as close as you can get to replicating the the feelings you're going to experience in a pressure situation. What you want to do is not take a long time between the physical activity and the shot. Just try to breathe and calm yourself down while executing the shots. It's preparation for your brain. The morning of the tournament, generally while I'm stretching, I do things to calm myself down. You're going to be more excited on a tournament day. Harness that. The more balanced you are, the better you're going to play."

4. On course preparation

"This is one of the areas where I see most people failing and they don't even know it until someone points it out," Labritz said. "It really comes down to positive self-talk and never dwelling on anything negative, ever. If you have greatest round of life going, embrace the positive thoughts and keep them going; or if you're off to the worst start imaginable, it doesn't mean the round is gone.

"It's one of these things where I've heard, 'this is a great start today.' To me, that means the person is already thinking about playing poorly. Like, 'this great start can't be sustained throughout the round.' Why? Keep talking positively to yourself and don't let in outside influencers like the guy in the group who might talk sarcastically all the time. They hit a bad shot and say out loud, 'what a great shot that was.' Or, maybe the outside influencer is that you got cut off driving to the course and you tense up. Let it go, man. When you get riled up, your body and your brain release chemicals that throw them all out of balance. Learning to balance yourself takes time. Once you start getting into a heightened state, your blood pressure and heart rate go up. That depletes oxygen quicker than if you're able to stay calm."

5. Breathing preparation

"We've touched on breathing a little bit in this piece, but it's so important," Labritz stressed. "There are breathing exercises you can do -- like breathing in deeply for three seconds, holding it for three seconds and then blowing it out of your mouth for three seconds -- that can really teach you to calm yourself down. It gets you oxygenated again.

"Another thing that can often help while you're doing those breathing exercises, even on the course when you're out of your comfort zone, is to think about a place that makes you calm -- maybe a favorite vacation spot, or a happy memory. Tune into that. It'll calm your brain and your heart rate."

Takeaways: Golf isn't aout 18 holes. It's about the only shot you're on. If you can remember to only control the shot you're playing, you'll be OK. Focus on what you're doing.

And remember: Don't be negative. That means no sarcastic talk to yourself whatever the situation. If you're in a tough spot, work on that breathing and getting yourself balanced. The more you work on this stuff, the better you're going to play because you'll be balanced.

Rob Labritz, who has played in four PGA Championships (he was low-Club Professional in 2010 at Whistling Straits), is currently the Director of Golf at GlenArbor Golf Club in BedFord Hills, N.Y. He was also the PGA Met Section Player of the Year in 2008, 2013 and 2016, as well as the Westchester Golf Association's Player of the Year in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. You can learn more about Labritz at www.RobLabritz.com and you can follow him on Twitter, @Rlabritz

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for PGA.com and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.