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Practicing Mindfulness in Golf

By Brendon Elliott, PGA
Published on

Tommy Fleetwood reads his putt during the third round of the 102nd PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park.PGA of America

By definition, mindfulness means:
  1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
  2. A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
In golf, if we keep thinking about a mistake we made on a previous hole, or project how our score will turn out at the end of the round, our minds become filled with images of the past or future. It’s as if we’re daydreaming. Lacking mindfulness of the task at hand leads to poor decision-making before the shot and distracts us while we’re swinging.
In talking with renowned Performance Psychologist, Dr. Joe Parent, author of acclaimed books such as Zen Golf, Zen Putting and Golf: The Art of the Mental Game: 100 Classic Golf Tips we see a much broader view of how being mindful in golf can dramatically improve your performance.
Zen Golf begins with taking a different perspective, focusing on positive capacities rather than what we think we’re doing wrong. From that attitude you can apply the fundamentals of mindfulness to golf through proper preparation, execution, and response to results. Preparation includes clarity of your plan, commitment to your intention, and composure in mind and body. Execution is being focused and is in the flow of a synchronized body and mind. With this, response to results means reinforcing successes and learning from mistakes.
As Dr. Parent explains:
We spend much of the time “asleep” to the present moment, preoccupied with thoughts about the past and future. However, our inherent capability to be aware means we can “wake up.” According to the dictionary, to “enlighten” means to shed light upon our experiences, to “wake up” to what they really are, and to free ourselves from ignorance and confusion. Rather than struggle with our game under the clouds of fear, doubt, and frustration, we can clear our minds and tap into our inherent confidence. Like the sun appearing from behind the clouds, if we clear away the interference, our confidence will come shining through.
For example, we might have a habit of sabotaging every good round that we play, always messing up the last few holes out of anxiety. If we don’t realize what’s going on, we might think there are problems with our swing, and try any number of “fixes” that don’t address the real issue. We need to become aware of what is actually getting in the way of playing our best.
This ability to be aware of all the aspects of our experience can be cultivated and strengthened through the practice of mindfulness. Just like muscles that atrophy from lack of use, if we don’t apply awareness to its fullest capacity, it becomes dull. It needs to be exercised to keep it sharp. Use it or lose it.
Dr. Joe explained to me that It’s helpful to have an anchor, something in the present moment to return to if we wander into a daydream. The most common and useful reference points are our posture and breathing. Our body is always in the present, and our breathing keeps going whether we’re aware of it or not, so it’s always available.
“The practice is simple: place your attention on the feeling of your breath coming in and going out. You can count the breaths if that helps you stay focused. When you realize that your mind wandered into a daydream, you are already “awake” and back in the present. Just smile, acknowledge wandering mind, and reconnect to your posture and breathing.”
For more information on Dr. Joe Parent, or Zen Golf, go to https://www.drjoeparent.com/