Posts Tagged ‘golf psychology’

The Crucial Role of Imagery in Golf Psychology

Special Report by Dr. John F. Murray – May 12, 2013 – I’m often asked what the most demanding sport mentally is and my answer is always “golf.”  The types of demands placed upon a golfer define the fact that managing thoughts, feelings, and sensations are essential while the potential distractions are immense. The brain must figure out how to do this consistently all day for anywhere from 65 to 80 shots.

A top priority in golf psychology includes having a well thought out pre-shot strategy. Note the emphasis on “thought out.” It does not just happen by osmosis. It must be envisioned and envisioned clearly and properly to work. The golfer must choose the proper club for the task at hand. He or she must also learn how to bounce back from bad shots while staying extremely calm and centered. It goes against nature when the mind and body just want to explode in anger following an errant shot.  But without proper stress management and steady mood states, you might as well take up another sport.

Analogies between golf and cerebral board games like chess and checkers have long been made. I personally think hitting a ball and walking in a gorgeous part of the world is a lot more fun and better physically than sitting in a stuffy room, but the mental demands can be similar. Proper mental skills are needed not only for match day competition, but also in training and developing physical tools for the game (e.g., building a solid swing, getting to the gym).  Without solid fundamentals gained in lessons it’s very hard to move forward in this challenging sport. It’s not like you can just run faster, jump higher or hit harder to get that little ball to fall into the cup. It’s far more refined than that. Athletic ability of course is important in any hand/eye sport, but the mental demands call for more advanced brain development and training that is acquired through proper imagery.

One of the most important aspects of golf psychology is imagery, or “making movies in the mind”. This is a mental technique that programs us to respond as planned, using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery.  Golfers use it to rehearse new skills, practice and refine existing skills, and prepare for particular situations such as the first tee shot. Research in the area of imagery shows that it is very useful in in a number of ways such as reducing the time it takes to warm-up, decreasing tension and fear, and boosting hope and confidence.

Imagery, like many physical skills, needs to be practiced frequently to become effective. It doesn’t just happen overnight. Golfers are notorious for the time that they spend eagerly refining their swings while neglecting the importance of golf psychology.  But the greats were well aware of the benefits of imagery even before the scientists were talking about it.  Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery.

Be careful not to sabotage your game. If your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient, or if you are total beginner, you’ll likely just reinforce bad habits if you try to use imagery. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are solid. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should take lessons and watch plenty of video before getting started.

Imagery can be done while sitting in a comfortable position or lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed.  A longer version of imagery can last anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes and is often used prior to a match. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete round shot by shot. A much briefer form of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to teeing off, the golfer visualizes an ideal shot to the perfect location. Imagery can also help familiarize a golfer to high percentage shot sequences.

Some golfers are better at making images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images or seeing vivid details:

(1)  Begin thinking in pictures instead of words.

(2)  Review photos or videos of proper technique before using imagery.

(3)  Remain in a peaceful state to avoid losing focus.

Here are some good ideals to practice imagery in golf:

(1) Make sure that the imagery is perceived as realistically as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context.

(2) Like any skill, practice is needed, so practice imagery frequently as it may take months before seeing great improvement.

(3) Half of the battle is just having the confidence that imagery will help. Your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect more than you might realize.

(4) Stay relaxed, calm, focused and centered while using imagery.

(5) Sometimes see yourself hitting the shot (from your mind’s eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in as you would see in a movie or picture. At other times, the outside picture view (called the external imagery perspective) is just fine. Mix it up.

(6) There is little point in visualizing mistakes. Imagine great shots. This boosts self- confidence and helps you develop great habits.

There is no doubt that imagery works. It is a very potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game by helping you build positive habits. Habits then rule our behavior and the beauty is that we don’t even have to think about it. You don’t want to be thinking too much. Isn’t it amazing that to become mentally strong in the most demanding sport mentally, you kind of want to turn down the computer!

I hope that you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Psychology of sport: how a red dot swung it for Open champion

London Independent – Steve Connor – July 20, 2010 – The strategy employed by golfer Louis Oosthuizen demonstrates the growing importance of mental techniques in the field of competitive sport

A small red spot on the glove of golfer Louis Oosthuizen is credited with playing a critical role in his winning of The Open Championship at St Andrews last Sunday. The coloured spot was a visible manifestation of the growing influence of psychology in sport – it was designed to help the 27-year-old South African concentrate on his swing in the crucial moments leading up to a shot.

Sporting professionals are increasingly turning to similar mind-training tricks to improve their performance on the field. It may involve mental imagery that allows them to rehearse a game in their heads, or psychological blocking techniques that stop them from dwelling on past mistakes. In the case of Oosthuizen, an outsider who was widely expected to collapse under the pressure on the final day, it was a simple dot on his glove to make him focus on his swing.

The idea came from a sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

The idea came from Karl Morris, a Manchester sports psychologist who was asked to help Oosthuizen improve his concentration before starting his swing after a string of disappointing results in previous golfing events.

“His pre-shot routine was all over the place. I suggested he changed his whole game plan after he told me that when he played in the US Open last month he was making split decisions instead of thinking about what he should have been doing. One of the tips I gave him was to put a red spot on his glove and to focus on it during his swing.”

The ability to focus on the task in hand is one of they key techniques that sports psychologists try to refine when dealing with professional sports people. “There is a lot of evidence that the best sportsmen and women have a lot of psychological skills that allow them to concentrate and to control anxiety,” said Tim Rees, a qualified psychologist who specialises in sport at Exeter University.

Psychological skills may be more important in some sports than others. Endurance sports such as rowing, for instance, require a very different psychological approach from less physical sports like golf where the actual playing of shots constitutes a tiny fraction of the time it takes to complete the course. Rowing and other endurance sports involve intense activity for prolonged periods, whereas there is so much more time for psychology in sports like golf. There is a lot of evidence to show that once someone gets to a certain level of skill, it is the differences in their psychological approach that differentiates people at the very top,” Dr Rees said.

The red spot on Oosthuizen’s glove was one way of focussing his mind on the process of playing a shot, rather than thinking of the consequences. It is a classic example of what it known as “process goals” in sports psychology, when the athlete is asked to focus on something, however minor, to stop them thinking of what happens if the shot goes wrong – it brings them back to the here and now before the shot is actually played, Dr Rees explained.

Other mental tricks may focus on “thought stopping”. Instead of dwelling on a missed shot, whether it is a failed penalty or disastrous return on the tennis court, the athlete is trained to put such negative thoughts into a mental “black box” that can be dealt with after the match.

A simple trick is to get the athlete to think of a stop sign immediately after they make a mistake. “It allows them to park the problem so they can deal with it later. It takes a lot of practice to get it to work but it allows them to focus on what they have to do next rather than what they have just done,” Dr Rees said.

Almost all sports involve what psychologists call imagery. Athletes often describe how the day or night before a crucial game they mentally rehearse what they intend to do – even to the point of walking up to the winner’s podium. (According to Rees this is why so many first-time winners often look relatively relaxed and at home on a podium because they have rehearsed the moment so many times in their heads).

David Beckham, for instance, is said to have stored and replayed mental “video clips” of how the ball will bend when he takes a free kick at goal. Skiers at the top of a run often close their eyes briefly and sway from side to side just before they take off down a slope, as if they are rehearsing the difficult movements they are about to make.

“Imagery is most effective when it is used in conjunction with actual practice,” Dr Rees said.

Physical perfection, skill and technique are obviously critical to athletic performance, but the whole point about sports psychology is that the mind can so often be employed to overrule matter. This is never more true when it comes to the sort of psychological support that can decide whether a player wins or loses.

Several studies have shown that the emotional support given to an athlete from family, friends and even professional managers can make a significant difference to sporting performance. Olympic gold medallists Dame Kelly Holmes and Sir Chris Hoy, for instance, have both cited the support of their loved ones as a major factor in their success, and this is supported by empirical research.

In one study of 197 male amateur golfers, for example, Dr Rees found that the social support they received before a game affected how well they did. “While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or kind gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal, or a sprinter achieving a record time,” he said.

Even the emotional support of a relative stranger can boost performance, according to another study by Exeter colleague Paul Freeman. Just listening to an athlete’s problems and offering simple advice and encouragement can make a significant difference to an athlete’s success, Dr Freeman said.

“It is significant that the support I offered, as a relative stranger, had such a marked influence on their results. The findings suggest that amateur and professional athletes would benefit from seeking social support, whether this is from a friend or family member or even from a professional,” he said.

This is why even a manager can make a psychological impact that makes the difference between winning and losing. Tell that to Fabio Capello.

Mind games

Howard Webb

Only 19 men have refereed a World Cup final and with each one the pressure has grown greater and greater as the global audience has expanded . Howard Webb cut a remarkably calm figure in Johannesburg despite issuing a record number of 14 yellow cards as the time he spent ahead of the game with a sports psychologist paid off. “We understand the stakes and how important it is to everyone involved but we also try to put it into some perspective,” said Webb.

Chelsea’s “mind room”

It’s top secret, but somewhere hidden in Chelsea’s Cobham training ground in Surrey is the Mind Room – it exists, but exactly what’s in it and what it does is jealously guarded. It was set up by Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea’s manager, who had used something similar during his time in charge of Milan in Serie A. It is overseen by his assistant Bruno Demichelis, who is also a sports psychologist. The Italian version was designed to relax players and then encourage them to stay calm as they watched their performances, good or bad. “It allows players to improve their resilience through mental training,” said Demichelis.

Lindsey Vonn

The American skier was earmarked as the pin-up girl of the 2010 Winter Olympics before a ski had even touched the slopes. The pressure as she took the lift to the top of Whistler was immense and not helped by injury problems that had dogged her build-up. She used a technique taught to her by Sean McCann, the senior sports psychologist with the US team, visualising how she felt the race would pan out. It worked for Vonn; she swept downhill to a gold.

Victoria Pendleton

Britain’s Olympic cyclists are regarded as one of the best prepared teams in any sport and have a record of spectacular success at the last three Games. They won seven of the 10 events in Beijing, and it is Steve Peters, the team’s psychologist, who is credited with a key role in putting the riders on the mental road to gold. Dave Brailsford, the performance director, describes him as a “genius”. Pendleton was a particular triumph. She has been overwhelmed by the Olympic experience in Athens and spent some intensive time with Peters in the build up to the 2008 Games. “I was a mess, I was really down,” said Pendleton of Athens. “It took me about a year of working with Peter to get my head working in the right direction.” That direction was straight to the top of the podium.

And when it doesn’t work…

“Own the podium” was the decree issued to Canada’s Olympians ahead of this year’s Winter Games. The team was equipped with 14 “mental performance consultants”. Kristi Richards, already a world champion freestyle skier, was told to write all her negative thoughts on a piece of toilet paper and flush them away. She qualified fourth for the finals, but on the big night ended up in a heap after her second jump. She finished 20th, and last.

Hope you enjoyed this article about sports psychology.

Sports psychologist: Anxiety often root of performance problems

Sports psychology feature on Dr. John F Murray below:

Palm Beach Daily News – April 10, 2010 – John Nelander – When their tennis skills are tumbling, or their slice is careening out of control on the golf course, most people think of three solutions: practice, practice and more practice.

But there’s a mental aspect to all sports, whether you’re a professional athlete or just a weekend duffer. Some people who are serious about improving their performance are looking to sports psychologists for help.

A sports psychologist won’t turn you from a 100-shot, 18-hole hack into a par golfer. But a fresh mental approach to your sport can help maximize whatever talent you do have.

The root cause of most athletic performance problems is anxiety, says John Murray, a sports psychologist who lives and works in Palm Beach. You can boil it down to fear.

“People tend to think about results, and that causes fear, because they’re afraid of losing, or looking bad,â€? says Murray, who has an office in the Paramount Building. “They’re afraid of letting themselves down or their team down.â€?

The enemy is the old fight-or-flight response. As Murray notes: “It’s the same response that would occur if a snake was about to attack you.

“It’s an inappropriate response in this day and age, but our bodies haven’t caught up with that. To break that response, you have to get in and do some serious techniques, like classical conditioning and relaxation work.â€?

The key is not to fight the anxiety response — it’s to make sure it doesn’t get turned on in the first place. A coach isn’t doing an athlete any favors if he stands on the sidelines screaming: “Focus! Focus!â€?

Imagine this calming routine on the tennis court: You’re at the service line. You bounce the ball once, take a deep breath, and then exhale. “Imagine a perfect serve, and then let it rip,â€? says Murray. “I don’t want people to think more, I want them to think less. I want them to be on auto-pilot.â€?

Action versus anxiety

The potential for anxiety to affect an athlete varies with the sport. In general, the more time you spend actively engaged in competitive activity, the less anxiety will be a factor.

Golfers are particularly vulnerable, because only about 1 percent of the time on the course actually involves swinging the club. That leaves 99 percent of your time to worry about what your next shot is going to look like.

For every hour on the tennis court, 15-20 percent of your time is spent engaged in a point. That still leaves plenty of time to lose your focus.

“Contrast that with a soccer match,â€? Murray adds. “There, you might be engaged in the sport 80 percent of the time. In NFL football it’s 33 percent, which is why I say American football is a more mentally demanding sport.â€?

New discipline

Sports psychology is a relatively recent discipline. The American Psychological Association’s Division of Exercise and Sport Psychology will mark its 25th anniversary next year. There are about 800 members nationwide, says Jennifer Carter, president-elect of the organization.

In its very early days, sports psychologists worked mostly with pros or serious amateurs. Now, she says, more weekend athletes are taking the extra step. “It’s usually about self-talk — how the athlete is coaching himself,â€? says Carter, who works for a group practice in Worthington, Ohio, called The Center for Balanced Living.

“People have this inner dialogue going. We say about 200 words per minute to ourselves. If you’re involved in sports, it doesn’t help if you’re consistently critical of your own performance.â€?

Like Murray, most psychologists use imagery to help people picture success on the field, she adds.

Murray has a general psychology practice as well, but 90 percent of his clientele has sports or performance issues — and there can be performance issues in business, too. He sees a lot of high school athletes brought in by their parents who are hoping to see their kids score an athletic scholarship.

He also works with some NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins. He’s worked with major league baseball players and NCAA basketball stars.

“I’m still waiting for the phone to ring off the hook from the NFL,â€? he says. “Why isn’t it? Because NFL coaches are sort of control freaks, and they want to do it all in-house. But my passion is to help an NFL team win a Super Bowl one year.â€?

Hope you’ve enjoyed this feature from the world of sports psychology

We Can Forgive Tiger But Not Forget

Los Angeles Daily News – Jill Painter – December 12, 2009 – Sports Psychology Commentary – Let’s forgive Tiger Woods already.

‘Tis the season of giving, and Woods could use a hearty dose of forgiveness.

It’s not to condone the litany of mistakes he made. Not a chance.

But he didn’t kill anyone, did he?

E-mail jokes, “Saturday Night Live” skits and ongoing cocktail waitress revelations surely can’t compare to the inner torture he’s facing from the revelation of his double life.

No yacht named “Privacy” or banged-up Escalade or private jet could take him to a corner of the world that would provide him a safe haven from his demons that have been exposed.

Woods is a billion-dollar athlete, but money can’t buy his happiness.

He’s surely living in a very dark place.

He is in danger of losing his family and would have no one to blame but himself. He’s soiled his reputation and legacy. He’s losing sponsors. He might never be the same golfer.

He seems like a robot, but he’s not.

Woods finally admitted “infidelity” on his Web site Friday and said he was taking a break from golf.

“I want to say again to everyone that I am profoundly sorry and that I ask forgiveness,” he wrote. “It may not be possible to repair the damage I’ve done, but I want to do my best to try.”

Woods is asking for your forgiveness.

We forgave Michael Vick for running the Bad Newz Kennels in which innocent dogs were murdered, some by his own hands. The Eagles quarterback was applauded when he ran into the end zone for a touchdown on Sunday.

We forgave the Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who was ruled by drugs, alcohol and women. Once sober and with his career back on track, he became a wonderful comeback story. He hit home run after home run in the Major League Baseball All-Star home run derby in 2008. That he did drugs didn’t matter anymore.

We cheer for Kobe Bryant and have forgiven him after his infidelity. The woman alleged rape, but the charge later was dropped.

Doesn’t Woods deserve our forgiveness, too?

“A lot of how we might forgive him as individuals differs greatly as how we’ll view him as a role model for society,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist. “Those are two separate issues. We don’t forgive someone in that he’ll be the same role model as before, but you can forgive him on a human level and realize even great presidents had multiple affairs.

“In some ways, it’s very shocking to us. In other ways, it’s the same old same old.”

Woods isn’t perfect. He’s far from it.

We realize such as the parade of women who allegedly had affairs with him continues to grow. There’s so many we’ve numbered them. No. 14 is a 48-year-old fitness instructor from Florida.

Whether it was one or 100 doesn’t matter. His behavior was unacceptable with his first affair.

It’s so bad that Jamie Jungers, one of his alleged mistresses, claimed she was with Woods the night his father, Earl, passed away.

Who trumpets that as though it’s some badge of honor?

Let’s forgive him and hope he emerges a man who has atoned for his mistakes and does more good with his money and power. He’s done many charitable endeavors, especially with the Tiger Woods Foundation, but maybe he can do more.

Golf fan Nick Weiss, a 27-year-old who lives in Santa Monica, doesn’t condone what Woods did but he’s willing to forgive him.

“Everyone, including me, thought he was superhuman – a machine,” Weiss said. “He preached moral values and family and always put on a show. He was clearly hypocritical. He got a little crazy, and I lost respect for him.

“Everyone has demons in their closet. Unfortunately for him, he’s in the public eye. He made numerous mistakes, just like A-Rod and God knows how many other athletes. I forgive him. I want to see him back on the tour.”

Murray doesn’t believe Woods’ image ever will be the same, but he believes forgiveness is possible.

“He wasn’t accused of raping anybody,” Murray said. “It was immoral, but it wasn’t illegal. More than anything, I think it’s the shock of the fall. He was on this incredibly high platform and he’s obviously fallen from it. He is probably under enormous amounts of stress and so are his wife and everyone involved with him.

“Let’s have a little compassion.”

We can’t pretend we’ll forget.

But we can forgive.

I hope you enjoyed this insight from the world of sports psychology.

Imagery in Golf is as Important as Shot Selection

Golf Psychology – November 11, 2004 – Dr. John F. Murray – Golf is perhaps the most “mentalâ€? sport of all. What does this mean? In my opinion, it accents the types of demands placed upon the player.

For example, high priorities include having a well thought out pre-shot strategy, selecting the right club, recovering from an errant shot, and staying calm and focused in the most stress-inducing situations. It’s much like playing chess, but a whole lot more fun and better for the body! Mental factors are also essential in developing physical tools for the game (e.g., efficient swings, proper footwork, fitness), for without quality instruction and knowledge, progress can be very difficult. Unlike in some other sports, sheer athletic ability and brute strength play a less prominent role. What is really needed in golf is more advanced software. Enter imagery.

Imagery, also called visualization, was described by Vealey and Walter (1993) as a mental technique that programs the human mind to respond as programmed, by using all the senses to recreate or create an experience. Mahoney (1977) described imagery as one of four categories of cognitive skills important in athletic performance, and Suinn (1984) developed a popular version of imagery called visual motor behavior rehearsal (VMBR). Whenever we imagine ourselves performing an action in the absence of physical practice, we are said to be using imagery. Although research into the merits of imagery lags far behind the practice of the technique, many golfers find imagery helpful. It is used for rehearsing new skills, practicing and refining existing skills, preparing for particular situations and readying for an entire round. Studies have shown imagery to be helpful in a variety of ways such as reducing warm-up decrement, lowering anxiety, and increasing self-confidence.

How is this technique implemented? First, it should be recognized that, like any skill, practice is necessary. Most golfers spend enormous time and energy improving their swings and other physical skills, while neglecting mental practice. Ask yourself what percentage of your practice time is spent hitting balls versus developing essential mental skills through techniques such as imagery. You may discover that you are ignoring this crucial part of your game. Jack Nicklaus was a firm believer in imagery. Are you even spending 10% of your practice time using mental techniques?

One note of caution, imagery may hurt your game if your understanding of strategy and/or technique is deficient. In fact, you’ll just reinforce bad habits. Before getting started, make sure your knowledge and basic skills are intact. If you are a professional or advanced golfer, this should pose few difficulties. Beginners and intermediates should schedule regular lessons with their local professional to monitor their progress.

Imagery can be practiced by lying down in a quiet room, fully relaxed, with eyes closed. This longer version lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. It is often used prior to a match and helps prepare the player mentally. Here, the player rehearses a perfect performance, often visualizing a complete match point by point. A shorter version of imagery, lasting only a few seconds, can be used during match play. For example, prior to serving, the player visualizes a perfect serve to a strategical location. Imagery is also useful to familiarize the player with high percentage shot sequences, developing anticipation skills for a quicker and more effective response during the actual point.

Some individuals have a more natural ability to form visual images than others. Here are some tips for those with difficulty forming images:

(1) Try thinking in pictures rather than words

(2) Look at pictures or videos prior to using imagery

(3) Stay in a quiet, relaxed and calm environment to avoid distractions

Here are some general principles to enhance imagery:

(1) Make the imagery seem as realistic as possible by including all senses, in full color and detail, within a similar emotional context

(2) Practice imagery regularly as it may take months before seeing improvement

(3) Believe that imagery works, as your attitudes and expectations enhance the effect

(4) Keep a focused yet relaxed attention while using imagery

(5) Internal imagery is most effective. Picture yourself actually accomplishing the feat (from your minds eye), rather than viewing yourself from the outside looking in.

(6) Only imagine perfection. This will boost your self- confidence and reinforce good habits.

In closing, imagery is a potent mental technique that will raise the level of your game if your basic skills and understanding of golf are solid. Just don’t let your opponents know what you’re thinking!

I hope you enjoyed this golf article on sports psychology.

Golf

Dr. Murray works with lots of pro and amateur golfers to help them improve their mental games and we all know how important that is in this wonderful sport. Stay tuned as this page is under develoment

PLAYING THE BRAIN GAME (GOLF PSYCHOLOGY)

Bergen County Record – Jun 13, 2005 – Greg Mattura – You’re at the first tee, preparing for the swing that will set the tone for the entire round, perhaps the entire day. If it’s in the fairway, it means a good round, and probably a good day.

You take a quick peek behind to see how many people are watching and waiting to tee off after you, and hope this first drives finds some part of the fairway and -

Stop – you’re doing it all wrong.

Welcome to the Brain Game, the frequently frustrating facet of the game that happens between your ears and often does more harm than good. It’s that evil little inner voice that can sap you of enthusiasm, energy and confidence.

The Brain Game is the reason sports psychology continues to gain popularity, particularly for golfers and tennis players.

“In golf, there’s a lot of time to think, and it’s very difficult to fight fear or to try to be perfect, and people get in their own way,” said Lynda L. Cunjak, a psychologist and sport coach with an office in Highland Park. “You have to be able to train your mind as well as your body.”

You can train your mind, but like the game itself, it takes time and practice.

“Golf is the ultimate stress sport. In golf there’s not too many things to do, but there’s too much time to think about it,” said Robert Gilbert, an associate professor at Montclair State’s department of exercise and physical science education who teaches courses in sports psychology.

“The whole secret of sports psychology is to keep your mind off your mind.” It’s about fun and focus

Suggestions from John F. Murray, a clinical and sports performance psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., whose clientele includes many golfers:

1. “Remember it’s fun, so have fun. Having fun in itself will take care of so many mental blocks. It erases so many problems.”

2. “Keep your focus on the moment. Don’t let your mind wander. Keep it in the present. Golf is only one shot. Even though you may shoot 72 shots if you are a scratch golfer, it’s really only one shot. It’s one shot repeated 72 times.”

PRE-COURSE PREPARATION: The Brain Game begins several hours, or even days, before you arrive at the course. It starts with your focus and commitment to avoiding the emotional highs and lows that come during a round.

“You can decide days before you play what is the perfect mental state to have,” said John F. Murray, a licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist in West Palm Beach, Fla., whose list of clients include many mini-tour golfers. “And you don’t let the moment or the disappointment or the excitement in any way, shape or form disrupt the process that you decided is beneficial to perform.”

The Brain Game also includes lots of positive imagery, before and during the round. Imagine yourself at the first tee hitting a good shot. Imagine a good chip, and a putt that finds the cup. Imagine it and you have a better change of doing it.

“You don’t want to just see it,” Gilbert said. “You want to see it, hear it, feel it, taste it.”

PRE-ROUND PREPARATION: When you arrive at the course, leave your troubles behind. Bad week at work? Problems at home? An unpleasant drive to the course? Forget about all that.

“I hear people say that they just need to clear their mind and get rid of those distractions, those stresses in life,” Murray said.

“You are going to be distracted by negativity and by bad events – those events always are going to be around you. So do you respond like [Green Bay quarterback] Brett Favre did when his father died, or do you respond the opposite way and let it destroy your performance?”

PRE-SWING PREPARATION: When you arrive at the first tee, the focus should be on your pre-swing routine. You must have a pre-swing routine, because it keeps you focused on what’s in front of you, not around you.

“Golf is such a mental sport in a sense that so much of the time is spent preparing for the next shot, so you have to be able to prepare the mind with what I call preshot routines,” Murray said.

“So what you’re doing between shots is just as, if not more, important than the shot, because that’s already an ingrained skill that hopefully you have.”

“Most people think it’s about the mind – it’s about the body,” Gilbert said. “Your acting can change your attitudes, your motions can change your emotions and your movements can change your moods.”

BATTLING ADVERSITY: Be prepared to work through adversity. Don’t let an errant shot or a bad hole destroy the round.

“Just like in life, everybody has a terrible day, and you have a choice,” Cunjak said. “You can either continue to obsess about the terrible hole, or you can say, ‘OK, I [goofed], but I have eight more holes to go and I’d really like to have a good time.’Ÿ”

IT TAKES TIME: Mastering the Brain Game takes time. A lot longer than 18 holes. It could take months.

“I don’t think there are any quick fixes out there – that’s a mistake,” Murray said. “If you look at a graph of an arrow going upward, which indicates success, there are many, many faults or failures along the way. But over time, you do improve. So you don’t want to get caught up in the short-term approach to that.”

“Mastering your thinking is not that difficult,” Cunjak said. “It has to be cultivated like any other skill. And if you’re motivated, you’ll do it.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.