What sets champions apart from the also-rans? The mental game. And the cornerstone of the mental strength of champions is confidence. This is not a temporary, conditional confidence that disappears when they are not playing well. Champions believe in themselves and their abilities regardless of the circumstances: their confidence is unconditional.
For most of us, things going our way our builds our confidence. But if anything goes badly, we start questioning our ability and start asking, "What's wrong with me?" From there, worried that we might mess up again, we feel less confident about our next effort. We start to feel nervous, self-conscious, and uptight. And that prevents us from making a fully committed swing, leading to a poor shot. Fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Unconditional confidence means taking a broad perspective, independent of moment-to-moment results. We can see ourselves and our abilities as basically good and the difficulties we encounter as temporary experiences. With this attitude, our self-esteem doesn't depend on how well or poorly things go. We are better at weathering the ups and downs within a hole, a round, or even a tournament. We can handle difficulties with poise and accept successes with humility. Being fearless in the moment is the expression of true confidence.
For champions, this doesn't mean that they expect everything to go perfectly every time. What it does mean is that they feel they can handle whatever happens. When they hit one sideways, instead of assuming something is wrong with their swing that needs fixing, they reflect on what may have interfered with making a swing with trust and commitment. This approach makes it possible to quickly turn things around.
So when you’re struggling with your swing or your short game, reflect on the times you’ve played your best. Know that you never lose your abilities; they just get covered up—usually by too many complications. Go back to some simple keys for your swing and your putting stroke. Never stop believing in yourself, and you’ll find your way back to playing your best.
— Dr. Joe Parent, author of ZEN GOLF: Mastering the Mental Game and a PGA TOUR/LPGA Instructor. Learn more at drjoeparent.com