theo-bezuidenhoutIf there is one question I get asked as a sport psychologist more than any other it is: what makes the pro’s better than us mere mortals?

There are the obvious distinctions between the Rorys’ and the Joe Soaps’ of the world. The obvious ones being: genetics and ability, hard work and even excessive hours of practice. However there are also elements that have nothing to do with fat percentages, flexibility or X-factors. Enter the mental game.

In this month’s Swing Thoughts we look at some psychological approaches that professional players such as Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and others use to ensure success.


They make time. This may be the most simple, yet most important aspect to the mental game of successful players: they spend time on it. In my experience if you were to spend 10-15 minutes a day on your mental game you would in all likelihood be spending more time on it than most top amateurs and even some professionals! Why I hear you ask? Unfortunately even in this psychologically enlightened age there are players who refuse to accept that psychology can actually help.

So start simply by imagining the first five or six holes of the course you are going to play the weekend once or twice a day with the most vivid and detail orientated imagery you can muster. Also do not be afraid to include all your senses in your imagery including feel for the shot and even the sound of the ball off the clubface as you “hit” a great shot. Tiger is well known for doing this before he plays so why not try it? Honestly what’s the worst that can happen? Fourteen Majors?

rory-mcllroyPro’s work with pro’s

If one looks on the Web there is a good chance that you will find a myriad of “sport psychologists” and “mental coaches” that all have new and interesting theories. If you delve a little bit deeper though all is not so rosy. Unfortunately there are a lot of fly-by-night mental “gurus” that have neither the qualifications nor the experience to be helping amateurs, let alone professionals.

Highly regarded golf individuals such as Dr. Bob Rotella and Dr. Karl Morris are qualified and registered sport psychologists who have had great successes with several top players. Dr. Rotella more notably with players such as Brad Faxon, Tom Kite and even Ernie Els, while Karl Morris has sharpened the mental game of players such as Graeme McDowell and our own Louis Oosthuizen.

So when looking for someone to assist with your mental game there are a few questions to ask:

What did the person study and how long? (Having a Masters degree in psychology is a massive advantage in this regard)

Is the person registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa? (A crucial recourse if the person is not up to a professional standard)

Under what registration category do they fall? (In South Africa sport psychology is not a separate registration category and “sport psychologists” reside under “Counseling Psychology” or “Clinical Psychology”)

Just as one would not just enlist the help of any quasi-expert on your swing one should also not use the advice and help of someone who is ill-equipped to deal with the mind. In the end of the day it is my opinion that one’s mind is just a tad bit more important than your swing. So choose your helpers wisely.


In psychology there may be as many theories as there are psychologists. If you decide to work with a psychologist decide on a course of action and then very importantly commit to it.

In Padraig Harrington’s case he consulted with Dr. Bob Rotella for the first time in 1997. His reward for his commitment and patience came only 10 years later at the 2007 British Open! Most players I consult with do not have the patience to work on their mental games for 10 days let alone 10 years.

It is also very important to accept that improving on your mental capabilities will often be a tough road as it often feels that there is little improvement at the start of the process. This is often also the case with professional golfers.

In Padraig Harrington’s case he even lost a few tournaments from very advantageous positions before he won his three Majors in two seasons. Something that he felt was needed for him to become mentally tougher and not something that dissuaded him from the mental game completely. Even though quick results were hard to come by. n

It is therefore crucial to realize that to improve your game you needn’t always be digging in the dirt of the range for answers but that the grey matter between your ears can also make a difference.