The psychological approaches that give players a winning edge in golf

With the first round of the British Open taking place on Thursday at the Royal St George's course in Sandwich, sports psychologists have been discussing mental approaches that can give golfers a winning edge.

Dr Barry Cripps, a Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the British Psychological Society, has been talking about the pressure of seeing your name on the leaderboard.

He says: “You see this phenomenon in tennis. Every year at Wimbledon we witness a giantkiller, someone who comes from nowhere, galloping through the early rounds with ease. This may be because they have little pressure on them from outside and few expectations until they reach the final rounds. Then they 'see themselves on the leaderboard'.

“This leaderboard syndromeoften defeats less experienced athletes. Earlier this year we have just witnessed just such an effect in golf at top level. Rory McIlroy had a disastrous final round at the US Masters after going into the final round as the clear leader. But he was able to learn from the experience and a few weeks later he coped with the pressure of leading to win the US Open.”

Carol Seheult, also a Chartered Psychologist, spoke of the need to maintain focus to the very last hole. “Often there is someone in a tense finish who does not get distracted and comes through to win. It’s no good playing well and then losing everything at the 18th. This is what we psychologists call ‘mindfulness’: the ability to concentrate completely on the present moment, on the next shot.”

She also said that everyone in elite competition feels the tension. “Everybody in elite sport is scared. The people who win are the ones who accept they will feel fear and can play well in spite of it.”

For more on psychology and golf see our feature Get in the Swing of it.