The Mental Game and Rivalries in Golf

Strategies For Playing Against Rivals

Rivalries are the toughest mental challenge in the sport of golf.

Rivalries can lift some golfers to the next level while stalling the progress of other golfers.

The degree of difficulty increases greatly when the rivalry is longstanding, especially when the rival starts advancing at a faster pace.

To illustrate the mental challenge that rivalries present, let’s examine the rivalry between high school golfers: Dan J. and Steve W…

Dan and Steve were neighbors growing up; Both went to the same school and participated in the same youth sports.

At the age of eight, Dan and Steve signed up for a local golf instructional class and both were quickly hooked on the sport.

The two young golfers took lessons together and quickly improved their skills.

Dan and Steve entered the same tournaments and usually scored within a few strokes of each other.

They loved the competition!

As they hit their teen years, Dan started winning tournaments but Steve would barely finish in the Top-10.

By the time they were juniors, Dan was significantly better, and as Steve tried to keep up stroke for stroke with Dan, his scores steadily worsened to the point he wasn’t able to produce the same results as when he was 14 years old.

Steve felt anxious before every round and his confidence, as well as his zest for the sport, plummeted.

The rivalry that was once fun became too much for Steve to bear.

As a result, Steve decided to quit before the start of his season year.

The mental aspect of the game that sets some rivals apart is focus.

More specifically, outcome-focus versus process-focus.

Outcome-focus is when a golfer is overly concerned about results: achieving a certain score, beating a rival, winning a tournament.

Outcome-focus places undue pressure on you, which only steadily increases if you start off a round poorly.

It’s at this point that you lose trust in your game and distractions will dominate your thoughts.

Process-focus is attending to the task at hand.

When you are immersed in the moment, you are focused on the things that contribute to hitting a successful shot.

When you focus on the process, each hole is a seen as a challenge rather than a threat.

A positive process focus enables you to stay poised despite a bad shot and trust your game and, with trust, comes confidence.

Nowhere is rivalry more prevalent than when it comes to sibling rivalry.

Take for instance Leona and Lisa Maguire…

The Maguires are twins who will make their first LPGA starts as professionals together at the 2018 ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The two learned golf together, went to school together and eventually played for Duke University together.

Leona Maguire rose to No. 1 in the Women’s Amateur Golf Rankings and stayed atop the ranking for a record 131 consecutive weeks. Leona was also a two-time National Player of the Year and won 10 times at Duke.

Lisa Maguire, though accomplished, has not achieved the accolades that her sister has accomplished.

Lisa is a winner of the Great Britain and Ireland Women’s Order of Merit and rose as high as 35th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

LISA MAGUIRE: “There’s always been that sort of competitiveness between us. We’ve kind of grown up doing everything together so it’s natural enough that there’s a bit of rivalry.”

Even though Leona and Lisa grew up competing against each other, Lisa has been supportive of her sister’s success and even caddied for Leona at the Rio Olympics.

Lisa has stayed focused on improving her game instead of trying to match her sister’s success.

LISA MAGUIRE: “We’re just at different stages right now. There had to come a point—obviously we weren’t going to do everything together for the rest of our lives. We’re at a crossroads, one of us can go left, one of us can go right, and that’s exciting at the same time.”

Lisa is committed to improving HER game, not trying to match or out-do her sister.

Adopting a process-focus will help Lisa achieve more of her potential while enjoying the ride along the way.

It may sound backwards but, if you want to achieve more, focus on the process or little things that contribute to success and the results will take care of themselves.

Tips for Competing Against Rivals:

Healthy rivalries can boost your play on the golf course but only if you focus on your game.

Prior to playing a round of golf, have an overall plan of attack for playing the course.

Instead of getting wrapped up in your score, get wrapped up in your strategy.

Instead of thinking about a cumulative score of 80 strokes, think about one stroke… This Shot!

In order to stay focused on the present stroke, it would be helpful for you to use a cue word or phrase, such as, “Right here, right now!” to stay in the present moment.

Remember to keep your mind focused one stroke at a time.

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