Mental Training for Golfers: Simple Is Always Best

Overthinking is a bad thing on the golf course

Golfer thinking over what shot to play next
Overthinking is a problem in golf. Keep your mental approach simple. PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images

You've heard the expression "paralysis by analysis"? It refers to the situation where overthinking leads to a person being unable to made a decision or a choice. And in golf, over-analysis can definitely lead to paralysis - and to higher scores.

We spoke to golf mental coach Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D., of, about the best mental approach golfers should take on the course. And what it boils down to is really that old acronym K.I.S.S. - keep it simple, stupid!

Golf's Time Between Shots Can Lead to Over-Analysis

"The adage that 'over-analysis leads to paralysis' is very true in golf," Cohn said. "One of the inherent difficulties of golf for some players is the amount of time they have between shots. In reality, this is both an advantage and an obstacle to overcome. The advantage is that you don't have to hit a shot until you are fully ready. The problem is this extra time can be misused."

Misusing that time means over-analyzing every shot, every putt, which, Cohn says, clogs up your thinking processes and causes your brain to send muddled signals to your body. Clear thinking, precise actions are what golfers want.

The over-reading of greens is a good example of this overthinking process in action. Cohn explains:

"You look at your putt from behind the ball and see the putt as right edge. Then you go to the other side of the hole and see it as a straight putt. After an internal debate, you circle around the putt another time to decide how much the grain will affect the putt. So far, you are doing what any golfer would do, but when you start to introduce several other factors that may effect your read such as grain, wind, outcome of last putt, etc. - the mind becomes bogged down in details."

Cohn uses one of golf's great putters, Ben Crenshaw, in an example. Putters like Crenshaw, Cohn says, "relax and let their imagination account for all the variables. Whatever line to the hole Crenshaw picks initially, he uses. He doesn't second-guess himself as more and more information is introduced."

Don't Run Down a Pre-Swing Checklist - Keep It Simple

The pre-swing checklist of things you're supposed to do is another example of golfers straying from a simple mental approach, Cohn says:

"Another example in golf occurs when I see players who stand over the ball forever, thinking about a checklist of six things they want to accomplish with the swing. This is too much information for the body to assimilate and can also lead to paralysis by overanalysis. Try not to do everything your instructor told you to do in one shot when you play golf. Simplify your approach and focus on one thing at a time over the ball after you are set up and ready to fire."

Cohn says what golfers need to become "immersed in executing" the shot is "a quiet, non-analytical mind."

How to 'Quiet the Mind' Before Golf Shots

But how do you "quiet the mind" before hitting a golf stroke? That's the rub, isn't it? If you're thinking about quieting the mind, you're not quieting the mind!

Cohn offers these initial tips about what not to do:

  • First, don't ruminate about past shots or holes and let them obstruct your thinking.
  • Be totally focused on the shot you have now, not the one you had ten minutes ago.
  • And don't analyze the details of every missed shot and try to fix your swing on the course.

"Meditation instructors teach their students to silently repeat a mantra (a word with no meaning) repeatedly to quiet the mind," Cohn continues. "If other thoughts come to mind, you're instructed to let them pass and focus back on the mantra.

"I don't expect you to meditate on the golf course, but you can focus attention on your breathing just before you prepare for a shot. If other thoughts come to mind let them pass and refocus on the rhythm of your breathing. You can use a simple golf-specific 'mantra' to quiet the mind and focus on the basics of your preshot routine, such as 'see it, feel it, and do it' or 'plan, rehearse, and execute.' "

So ultimately, to simplify your mental approach on the golf course, Cohn says, "(t)ry to keep your swing thoughts - thoughts about how to hit the shot - to only one mental cue, such as tempo. Visual players might want to just try to see the target and let their body hit the shot. Save the swing mechanics for practice after the round."