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No matter what skill level you are currently playing at in the sport of disc golf or traditional golfer, there is always room for improvement within the mental side of the game. While incredibly frustrating at times, it’s actually quite impressive when you sit back and think about how much your own thoughts can affect your game. While honing the “one shot at a time mentality” and “blocking out” anything other than the shot you are currently on takes years of constant practice, there is a slightly easier mental game requirement that you do have a bit more control over when playing disc golf —thinking positive!
In my honest opinion, I never see myself feeling the pressure of playing tournament disc golf as much as I did while playing traditional golf. While a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was in high school and playing large state and regional tournaments while trying to keep my ranking and win-loss record intact; I believe that a lot of the associated pressure came from many of the nuances that disc golf is, and always will be, missing. Some examples of these nuances are: the varying speed and undulations of the greens from course to course, the tightly tucked pins that are almost impossible to access, the range fully stocked with players working on the final tweaks before tee time, the large galleries and television cameras, and the intimidation of a highly ranked player, amongst many other factors.
Nuances aside, there is still a large cross over within the mental side of the game, and while good course management and the “one shot at a time mentality” goes a long way, so does thinking positive. The majority of this article will be coming from a traditional golf perspective, but is completely applicable to disc golf.
When I played my matches in traditional golf tournaments, I knew I was going to win. This shouldn’t be mistaken for cockiness, as it was all about positive thinking. I was never a great putter, but I won my matches because I eliminated the big numbers (anything more than a bogey) by hitting the high percentage shot and typically let my opponents dig their own grave. If I was playing the #1 player in the state, I would fire at tucked pins cause I knew pars weren’t going to get me anywhere, but if I was playing anyone else, I would play my boring style of golf and let the pressure of the dwindling number of holes force my opponent to take more risks than they felt comfortable doing. In turn, they would miss greens or muff chips and give me the match without me having to be overly aggressive.
The reason I brought up the fact that I was never a great putter was because I would spend my fair share of time on the range alone while everyone was on the putting green. Before my tee time, I would work on getting my yardages dialed in so I knew exactly what club or type of shot to hit in any given situation. Then, I would drop my bag off at the first tee, walk to the putting green, nod at my opponent and take a few putts. I was never overly chatty in my matches and the vast majority of players knew my state ranking, so I let that work in my favor — ultimately encouraging negative thinking on their part, as they knew they had their work cut out for them.
For better or for worse, negative thinking is typically highlighted at the worst of times. Perfect examples of when not to have negative thoughts are where you’re deep in a match when pressure is high or on a difficult shot over water when you need to win the hole. As you approach your disc/ball and envision your shot, for many people your last thought right before you pull the trigger is: “don’t hit that tree.” This is EXACTLY what we are talking about, and something you can easily control. Instead of saying “don’t hit that tree” to yourself, think “put it 10’ pin high right.” Focus on what you want to do, not what you don’t want to happen.
My game went to a whole new level when I started thinking positive, and we urge you to give it a try. It’s almost more cautious than it is negative when you think “don’t hit that tree,” but it needs to be fixed either way. You need to tell yourself the shot you are going to hit or that you WILL win the match, not what you don’t want to do or that you HOPE to win. After you envision your shot, take a deep breath and tell yourself your game plan. Don’t look at the water, bunker or trees and think “don’t” — look at the location where are going to put it and think “do.”
It sounds simple, but it will be a HUGE benefit to your game. Think about when you make every putt you look at — your confidence is up and you are thinking positive. You couldn’t miss a putt if you tried and that’s because you’re thinking “make it.” Now take the example of positive thinking and use it on difficult shots where you originally might have a negative thought enter your mind. Disc golf and traditional golf are fun on so many levels, and many mental snags are out of our hands, but thinking positive is something you can control and we hope this beginner tip helps take a couple strokes off your next round!