Golf is an

emotional game


We all know that golf can be a game of highs and lows. You may often experience a variety of emotions in one round, on one hole or even on one shot. So why is it important to identify and understand your emotions on the golf course?

Beth Yeoman (a Trainee Sport Psychologist, with the British Psychological Society) considers the role of emotions in golf, offering insight into how you can actively stay in control during your round. 

How do our emotions affect our game?

Our emotions play a huge role in everyday life and that is no different on the golf course. It is suggested that our emotions affect us physically (e.g. make us feel tense), mentally (e.g. affect our decision making) and motivationally (e.g. our desire to carry on or give up). Overtime these emotions can even take their toll on our health. But how does this happen?

It is suggested that your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviours are all connected. For example, if you feel nervous about a two foot putt, your thoughts are likely to be that “I’m going to miss this putt” and the outcome is often a missed putt. This missed putt reinforces your belief that you are going to miss the putt and as a result you feel even more nervous over the next two foot putt you are faced with. This can be a damaging spiral. However, the impact of emotions varies depending on the individual.

What the research suggests

Research suggests that emotions are not simply split into bad emotions and good emotions. For some, feeling calm and relaxed is when they play their best golf, while for others they play their best when they feel fired up. Based on data collected from over 2000 athletes, the model called the individual zones of optimal functioning (IZOF) was created. This model suggests that each athlete has an optimal zone or range of emotions that result in peak performance. For example, you may perform at your best when you feel low to moderate levels of nerves. Whereas, your playing partner may perform at their best when they feel moderate to high levels of nerves. It is therefore important to understand what your emotions mean to your performance.

What emotions are helpful for you? 

Start by listing all the emotions you experience whilst on the golf course. You can do this over time by keeping a diary after every round of the emotions you felt in that round. Rate how intense this emotion was on a scale of 0 (barely felt it) to 100 (extremely intense). Next, write down any thoughts, physical changes or performance outcomes that related to this emotion. From this you can start to see a connection between your emotions, the intensity of these emotions and the outcomes these have. Below is an example of how you may record this.

Staying in your zone

Now you are aware of what emotions you have on the golf course and how these impact on your performance, how do you keep your emotions in check? Below are some tips on how you can stay in control of your emotions on the golf course.

Self-monitoring Being aware of your emotions. Spotting when your unhelpful emotions are starting to creep in. Continuing to reflect after your round on how you felt and the impacts of this.

Self-talk – As previously discussed, our thoughts are connected to our emotions. Therefore to control your emotions, you can focus on changing your thoughts through self-talk. For example, if you perform best when you feel relaxed, then tell yourself to “stay calm”.

Framing the situation – Stay in the moment and remain focussed on the process and not the outcome. Take one shot at a time and ask yourself what you have control over? (e.g. your concentration, your thoughts, your emotions)

Like all other aspects of improving your golfing performance, this will take time and practice to master the skill of being in control of your emotions. Take the time to practice these techniques on the practice ground and during friendly rounds with friends before using them within competition.