The Mental Game


Mental Insights from J.L. LewisJ.L. Lewis


April 2009



Q: What is the most important thing you talk to athletes about to help them improve their results?


A: I think the most important thing for an athlete to understand in order to improve their results is explained by John Wooden in his quote about results and success.  “If you have prepared yourself to the best of your ability and you give your absolute best effort on and off the court to be the best you can be then you should be satisfied, because that is success, whether you win or you lose.” (Wooden, The Power of the Pyramid) This means that the effort is more important than the result.  You must take into account ability level when you look at results.  If you have done everything in your power to prepare and compete at your highest level, you are successful.  I would rather play my best and lose than play poorly and win,  because I realize that I cannot play poorly and expect to beat players of equal ability level.


Q: How important is a golfers state of mind and its impact on their ability to perform at their best? 


A: The mood or state of mind a golfer has is a large portion of their potential for success. Being able to stay physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually balanced is the key to playing their absolute best. If any of these areas are not in line their games will suffer. I think it is very important for players to find ways to balance themselves, whether its through sports psychology, meditation, positive affirmation training, or whatever form of spiritual practice they choose.  Everything falls into place if a person is continually growing and evolving spiritually. The times I have struggled on the golf course are synonymous with feeling overly excited, nervous or upset.  The same sensations occur when I have had too much caffiene or been in an altercation of some form. There have been days when I just could not get settled down enough to play well.  I believe on these days I was upset about something and never got it resolved before the round.  It is important to make sure you feel calm before the round to have your best chance to play well.  Learning how to get yourself into the correct state of mind before the round may be the most important thing for a player in order to achieve their potential.  Find whatever method works for you and be consistent in your pre-round rituals to play your best.  On days when everything goes well and I play my best there is a feeling of calm no matter what happens.  I am usually not very talkative and have outstanding control over my emotions whether making birdies or bogeys.  On good days I am so focused  that I am unaware of what I am shooting or what the other players in the group are doing. "Good" and "bad" are mental states of mind and knowing how to create the state of mind that allows you to play your best is a great asset.


Q: What recommendations do you have for athletes to assist in overcoming an injury?


A: A positive mental attitude is the most important thing.  Believing you will heal quickly is also a big factor.  Get the best medical attention possible. Take whatever test is needed to identify exactly what is wrong so you have a clear picture of what you need to do to get well as quickly as possible.  Rest as long as you need to. Don’t come back too early if there is any chance you could reinjure or even do worse damage.  Practice mentally using visualization techniques to both heal your injury and practice your golf game while you're injured.


Q: What is the best way to handle erratic emotions on the golf course?


A: I tend to believe there is no one correct way for every player, but every player has a correct way for themselves.  For example, Ben Hogan was a great player and admitted to feeling nervous and upset on the golf course in every round he played but he never showed any emotion at all.  His way was to internalize everything and use those emotions to focus more intently and play better.  This method works for many players.  For me it is easier to immediately let the emotion out and experience whatever it is so I can let it go and focus on the next shot. Tiger Woods is the master of this method and his record shows it.  Players need to experiment with different ways to handle emotions until they find one that works for them.


Q: What process or method would you recommend for players to play their best?


A: Developing a routine on the range that can be used on the course is the single most important exercise a player can do to help themselves handle whatever pressure they may face in competition.  Ben Hogan had the same routine on the range as he did on the course and he practiced doing the same thing before every shot including taking the same exact amount of time.


Q: What type of mental exercise can be practiced off the course to improve your golf game?


A: I like visualization techniques, listening to positive affirmations, working on all aspects of my life and golf game with a mental professional, but most important is to work on having a positive attitude at all times.


Q: What type of goals should be set to achieve optimum performance (statistical, financial, scoring, etc.)? What method of goal setting would you recommend?


A: Goals should be interconnected for best results because whatever the main goal is it is important for all the other goals to serve the number one goal.  For example, my number one goal is to help others to achieve their goals.  To accomplish this goal I need to be the best I can on and off the golf course.  This means the better I play, the more I can do for others, and the more time I can spend doing worthwhile projects like Money is not my number one goal because I have found that if you give your best the money will be the result of a job well done.