Get in the swing of it

As The Open Championship is in full swing, our hopes of a British contender winning the Claret Jug are high with the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and the US Open winner Rory McIlroy.

But is playing on home soil a help or hindrance?

Although a home advantage exists in golf, there can be a great amount of pressure on golfers to perform well and exceed audience expectations.

So what should golfers do to increase their performance levels? 

Chartered Psychologist, Dr Paul McCarthy from Glasgow Caledonian University gives an insight and examples of how a golfer can psychologically increase their performance levels.

Pressing home the advantage

Since 1979, the results of The Ryder Cup show that the home team has won nine of the 15 competitions. This advantage emerges from familiar surroundings which increases confidence and expectations of success. 

Getting your head out of the way

Golf is a game executed best without conscious involvement in the mechanics of the swing. If golfers accept that point, this allows ones swing or stroke to occur athletically.

Therefore the game of golf could be reduced to three steps: walk, focus and play; walk to the ball, focus only on the needs of the shot and play the ball to the target.

Focus on the shot

Playing the perfect game is built on an intractable foundation: executing one shot at a time without a thought of expectation for the score on that hole or regret of a missed birdie from the previous round.

Therefore once a mistake has been made, golfers should learn from it and reassure themselves that it was just one shot among many that will be taken in a game.

Red alert

Some may think that clothes may not influence ones performance. Recent research suggests that red is associated with success in sport. The colour can connote a sign of dominance and threat. It has been said that those who wear red are more successful in sport. Interestingly, Tiger Woods is famous for wearing red in final rounds of major tournaments.

Walking the walk

The body language a golfer displays on a course can affect one’s self-confidence and opponents. Research has shown that maintaining the correct posture and eye contact with an opponent reduces how confident the other feels about performing well in a sporting setting.

Choosing and deciding

A golfer playing on home soil can benefit from knowing the layout of the course. This can improve their chances of managing the course and avoiding any pitfalls.

This knowledge means that a golfer knows the best areas to lay-up shots to the green. Being more familiar with an environment makes it easier to recall images in the mind, which is perfect for the game of golf.

Completing the scorecard before the round

Golf suffers with the demons of expectations. Golfers expectations change when they examine their scores on their scorecards.

For example, a golfer who has dropped shots on two successive holes might raise their expectations of recovering at least one of those shots on the next hole.

Such expectation draws their attention away from the task at hand, which hampers their chances of executing the shot at hand.

Dealing with distractions

It can take less than a second to swing a golf club, plus around a minute to execute and plan a shot. Therefore there can be a lot of ‘thinking time’ around the game itself. This ‘thinking time’ can contribute to high levels of anxiety among players, so establishing a set routine before any game can help keep these distractions at bay.

For further insight to psychology and the world of golf, why not take a look at the lead feature from the October 2010 edition of The Psychologist?

There’s also an interesting news story about how using psychological approaches can give golfers the winning edge.