Becoming a Golf Animal

Flipping the Switch

The mental side of golf is typically treated like the swing – something that takes time to improve.  You need to put in the work over weeks or months to see meaningful development.  But during my recent trip to Hilton Head Island [learn about that HERE], I sustained some of my best play thanks to one simple idea.  I didn’t do weeks of breathing exercises, I just keyed in on a notion I got from Dr. Saul Miller [listen to our podcast HERE] that I’ll share with you in this lesson.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You want to feel more aggressive and free on the course

You want a simple key to unlock your mental game

golf animal - eagle

What Animal Are You?

During our conversation, Dr. Miller shared the idea of “stimulating imagery.”  He asks his clients to “pick an animal that would give you the feelings you want to have if you’re playing great.”  

Dr. Miller has a strong preference for the type of animal you choose.  He said that 99% of elite golfers pick predators with 2/3 favoring big cats.  You can see this in the nicknames of the greats: Tiger Woods, the Golden Bear, and the Shark.

Contained in this simple imagery of an animal is a world of positive mental effects.  Paraphrasing Dr. Miller: predators make things happen, they’re assertive.  Prey are careful, tentative, trying to avoid mistakes.  Trying to be careful creates tension; being assertive allows your energy to flow.

Dr. Miller also pointed out that you’ve never seen a lion shaking his head or judging himself.  He’s never sad about a mistake.  He goes for his target, he succeeds or fails, and he moves on to the next target.  This is the ultimate mindset for a successful golfer.

golf animal - lion

Three Days as a Lion

Over the last few years, I’ve fallen into a pattern of playing badly on golf trips.  This stems primarily from wild driving, which was on full display on our recent staff trip to The Loop [review HERE] and other courses in Michigan.  I was determined to not let this happen at Hilton Head, so I tried to practice more in the weeks prior.  Reality, however, was not interested in my plans, and my practice routine was only marginally better than normal.

When I heard Dr. Miller’s idea about being a predator, I decided that would be my focus for the trip.  I hadn’t put in the hours of work, but I could control my mindset.  This was tested on the very first hole of the trip – the ultra-narrow first at Harbour Town.  Standing on the tee, I blocked out the negative possibilities and methodically told myself, “I am a lion.  I’m here to be aggressive and make things happen.”  With a smile on my face, I mashed a drive down the middle of the fairway.

I kept that mantra and that imagery alive for the next 53 holes, and the result was one of my best stretches of golf in recent memory.  Not every drive was perfect, but there were far more great shots than bad ones.  This imagery unlocked a tremendous amount of freedom and joy in my game, and I hope it does the same for you.

Matt Saternus
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8 Comments

  1. A good article on the mental aspect of the game. On some of my better days, I try to think positive about a challenging shot. I try to forget the shots that didn’t go right and move on to the next. On not so good days I think what could go wrong and linger on my mistakes. Now, how to stay in the better days attitude is the next challenge.

  2. Thom Gonzalez

    Matt,
    Being prior military, I find this mindset and practice to be so true. Your senses tend to become sharper prior to any mission or operational events. However, maintaining this posture over 4 1/2 hours of a golf round is the challenge.

  3. So I guess it was a good thing Earl didn’t name his son, “Skunk”, right? 😃

  4. HI MATT
    TM STEALTH IRONS WITH RECOIL ESX460 F2 SHAFTS VS PXG 0311 XP GEN4 WITH CYPHER 40 SHAFTS.FOR A SENIOR GOLFER.
    THANKS

    • Matt Saternus

      Robert,

      Our advice is always to get fit. There’s no way for someone to make a credible recommendation for you between those two without working with you in person.

      Best,

      Matt

    • Ummmmm… Not sure at all what this had to do with the mental game blog in any way.
      But… go get a professional fitting and let that guide your decision.

  5. I am not so sure that lions are these assertive, aggressive, hard-charging beasts that we think that they are. They don’t grow old in the jungle just charging into a situation unless they have given it some thought and have a plan. The plan is that whatever they decide to do, they are not going to lose the fight that they start.

  6. Jeff Patterson

    PXG Gen 4 every day of the week ! But agree getting a proper fitting is a must .

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