How much of golf is Mental vs. Physical?
Nick Bayley, The golf pro whose opinion I most trust, and I recently discussed some golf theory with regard to a Tibetan Lama (spiritual monk) who loves to golf. It seems that this guy has taken lessons but still can’t normally break 100 and his best score is 97. Now, the lama believes that because he knows all about mental toughness and how to use the mind, he has come to the conclusion that golf is 90% physical.
So how much is golf mental and how much is physical?
Ok, here’s what I think….
With regard to the lama, there’s just too much we don’t know about him or his game to be able to really say that he needs more “physical game” than “mental game”.
For instance, we all know that there are some pros out there that are very good golfers but very poor teachers. The pro says to him in the article: “”Try releasing your hands,” he says. “Fire through at impact. Finish high.”
This probably means absolutely nothing to the lama. And may not mean a thing to you either.
Just because the Lama has had lessons doesn’t necessarily mean he had GOOD lessons. There are more ways to teach the golf swing than stars in the sky. It’s very possible that he was taught something that just doesn’t work well for his body type. It’s very possible that if he had the best lessons he could theoretically receive (for him), that he would be breaking 90 instead of trying to break 100.
He assumes that because he’s had lessons and that he has the strongest mental abilities because of his training, that all there is left is that he has to play or practice a lot more and that is the only way he will get better. This is not necessarily true. He could practice til his hands bleed with a defective method (for him) and he’ll never get better. Witness the amount of “ball beaters” you see at a range on any given day. They practice their bad habits!
Proof of this theory lies in the fact that there are zillions of golfers out there who have had lessons, play regularly, hit thousands of practice balls, buy all the greatest equipment money can buy, and they STILL DON’T IMPROVE. I’ve got testimonials from my own customers who say that.
Statistics show that average scores have not dropped among amateurs in the last 50 years despite all the improvements in equipment. And if you go out and golf with average joes, you can just see that they have very weak mental games. You can hear it in the way they talk and their body language. I think this is because the mental game is rarely taught during a set of lessons with most pros and so most average golfers never get much info there. If the Lama said that he has read and uses concepts from Michael Anthony, Bob Rotella, and Craig Sigl and he still thinks golf is 90% physical, then maybe he has a point. But even then there is one more factor left that I don’t even like to discuss. Inborn talent. There, I said it.
Lama Kunga obviously has a good handle on control of emotions and having the right attitude which is many average golfers biggest problem. However, there is far more to the mental game than just that. Does the lama have a consistent, productive, effective pre-shot routine where everything he does contributes to increasing his chances for a good setup, grip, aim, etc? If he was taught one (unlikely), does he use it every single time? I put all of that in the mental category. You might say that’s part of the physical game but I would disagree because most average golfers know of the value of a pre-shot routine and some elements, but they don’t have the MENTAL toughness to do it every time.
When I say that golf is 90% mental to someone, I say it with the assumption that they have already had some basic, good fundamentals taught to them and they know how to use that knowledge. If they practice that knowledge, so much the better, but, I’m of the belief that once they know a reasonable swing system that produces some good shots for them, then they now enter into the 90% mental category. Because too many golfers have proven to have been able to improve their ultimate scoring using just mental techniques once they get the basics down.
Way before I ever said this, Alex J. Morrison, one of the greatest teachers of the 20th century was espousing this and wrote a book called “Better Golf Without Practice”. Now, obviously if you give a complete beginner some clubs and tell them to hit a ball without any instruction, then yes, they are in the 100% physcial category.
My conclusion #1: There are no absolutes in making sweeping statements like “Golf is 90% mental”
Conclusion #2: All physical instruction is not equal. Obvious to those of us that are really into golf but shockingly not known by a good population of average golfers, including me a few years ago and the Lama according to the article. Once golfers get GOOD fundamental instruction from pros like Nick Bayley, then they spend their efforts on the mental side of things. IF THEY HAVE THE TIME, then yes, physical efforts (practice) will pay off in reducing scores. I just live in the real world where you can tell a client til your blue in the face that they need to practice and they still just won’t as I hear time and time again from teaching pros.
Conclusion #3: Golf is a game that is played “holistically”, meaning, with the whole body and mind working together fused together by all sorts of cellular communication systems between the psyche (mind) and the soma (biology).
You really can’t separate out the Mind from the Body and put numbers to them because these systems are just way too intertwined and without boundaries. This is my latest field of study and interest for golf and other things for our life and I’ll be writing more about this as I get into it more. Wondering if I’m starting to lose it now as I go into some way out stuff. Ha!
Conclusion #4: For pros and golfers and the top levels, I have to agree that the game is 90% or more mental. And for new golfers, 90% or more physical. Between those extremes I think in terms of the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) which I love and adhere to.
Some golfers, at certain times and stages of their game need to devote more to the physical game (which might only mean a one-hour lesson to fix a flaw) to get the greatest scoring reduction for their efforts, and other golfers need to direct more mental efforts into their game.
It all depends on where they are at in that particular time and space. And their particular 80/20 rule can change from week to week. This why I always say “assess yourself.” That is, continually use the feedback you get from any given shot, hole, or round as part of your cybernetic mechanism that completes your feedback loop thereby keeping you on a course to your ultimate goal! Sometimes, you need physical adjustments and sometimes you need mental adjustments. I think that most of us believe it to be quicker and easier to incorporate a physical adjustment and so we tend to gravitate toward that area of fixes.
Henry Ford said “Thinking is the hardest things a man can do”
Greens and fairways!