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The fairway of mentality

BY ROD ENGBLOM | APRIL 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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The technicality of golf usually overshadows the mental aspect of the game. In reality, however, the mental side of golf is just as important as physically swinging the clubs.

Golfers don’t only practice their swings, they also practice their mental game, and many golfers hire a mental-skills coach to aid them to keep a cool mental state when they play.

“I’ve actually had a few mental-skills coaches throughout my career in golf,” Hawkeye senior Shelby Phillips said. “I’ve learned to control my breathing, target focusing, and certain other thoughts that help me when I’m feeling nervous or don’t feel like things are going the right way that I can lean back on.”

The mental-skills coach especially helped Phillips this past year. She went though a rough patch in which she didn’t play well in a tournament at Ohio State and then struggled at the Big Ten Championships last season.

Her summer didn’t go much better, and she didn’t feel that she was playing as well in the tournaments that she entered.

Phillips eventually rebounded from the slump, and she cites her mental-skills coach as a major reason for her improvement.

“I didn’t travel to the first tournament of the year here, which I’ve always played as an Iowa golfer, so that was really hard to go through,” Phillips said. “But finally, my last tournament here, I finally shot 68, but it was a long process. I had a mental coach during the whole thing to try to teach me ways that I could tell myself that I was good enough.

“I just lacked confidence completely.”

It took a full year for Phillips to get out of her slump, and she finally feels that she’s in a position to compete.

The things that go through golfers’ heads before their swing are another important factor of the mental game. Overthinking a shot can have a real effect on the outcome, and thinking too much is something that they try to avoid.

“Usually, I just think about target,” freshman Jessica Ip said. “Anytime that I think about my swing, I tend to mess up my shot. When I find myself thinking about that, I will just step back and take a few breaths and refocus.”

Thinking about the target takes away any bad thoughts that players can have about their swing, enabling them to only focus on what they need to do.

In the end keeping their composure is the key. Golfers have to live completely in the present, forgetting bad shots and leaving bad holes behind them.

“It’s all about managing your emotions,” head coach Megan Menzel said. “Whether it’s anger or frustration, players will tend to get too quick and miss things.”

Follow @RodEngblom on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa women’s golf team.


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