Your New Golf Mantra

your new golf mantra

Mantras, though often associated with meditation, can be anything you repeatedly, intentionally say to yourself.  We were all introduced to this idea as children by The Little Engine That Could – “I think I can, I think I can.”  The purposes of a mantra can be as varied as the sayings themselves, from motivation to finding a sense of calm.  In this lesson, I’m going to offer a simple golf mantra to help you enjoy the game more, and, in all likelihood, play better.

This Lesson Is For You If:

You aren’t enjoying your practice

You’re practicing but not seeing results on the course

High expectations are ruining your fun and performance

Job #1

For those that are new here, my primary goal for Plugged In Golf is to help people enjoy the game more.  I’ve attacked this problem from a variety of angles, including sharing the data on how good recreational golfers actually are [check it out HERE] and discussing how to control your self-talk [read more HERE].  Today’s lesson is about recognizing the power of expectations and how we can get out ahead of them.

The Thief In Your Mind

It’s said that comparison is the thief of joy.  While I wouldn’t argue with that, I’d add that expectations are an accomplice.  In golf, I find that expectations – realistic or not – are often fueled by practice.

While this mantra will work for those with unrealistic expectations, they’re not my focus.  If you think that going to the range once a week entitles you to never slice the ball again, you probably need a professional to get you back in touch with reality.

This mantra is really meant to help the player who is working on their game every possible moment.  When you’re putting in 100% effort, it feels completely fair to expect consistent, positive results.  And when those results don’t come, it’s natural to feel disappointed.  We can work toward fixing that with one sentence.

Repeat After Me…

“Regardless of what I did to prepare, I am not guaranteed anything.”*

There is nothing in life that has a 1:1 correlation of effort to results, but golf’s correlation may be among the worst.  Golf is finicky, and the best players and hardest workers can still shoot bad scores.

That lack of direct connection can be maddening, but it’s also where the magic is.  If improvement and good play were predictable, there would be no point (or at least no joy) in playing.

And so that we’re clear, I’m not suggesting that practice won’t improve your game and your chances of playing well.  We know that it will.  But it’s the expectations and entitlement that ruin not only your enjoyment of the round but also your ability to play well.  Playing from a defensive mindset – “I’ve practiced so hard that I better hit this shot perfectly or else” – will result in worse performance than being free.

*You’re welcome to put your own spin on that.  The magic is in the concept, not the specific words.

Enjoy Practice

Another benefit of this golf mantra is that it frees you to enjoy practice.  When you’re grinding, punching the clock so you can feel entitled to better results, you’re probably not having fun.  Practice for its own sake.  Practice because you enjoy having a club in your hand.  Practice because you enjoy making the ball fly or roll into the cup.

There is no destination in golf.  The best players in the world still want to be better.  If you’re not enjoying the journey, you’re missing the point.

When it comes to strength training, I know that I’ll never be peak Ronnie Coleman, but I enjoy putting in the work and giving myself a chance to be the best, strongest version of me.  I’m trying to find that with my golf.  I hope you can, too.

Matt Saternus
Latest posts by Matt Saternus (see all)

63 Comments

  1. Peter Simshauser

    Nice piece, Matt. Very zen and grounded.
    In a somewhat similar vein, I’m curious if you’ve thought about doing a piece (or potentially a few) distilling and possibly adding to your prior advice about off-season speed training. I will bet that a lot of your readers would appreciate your perspectives on training activities that, with a commitment of +/- 30 minutes 3-5 times a week for the coming months, are likely to yield meaningful speed gains.
    Just a thought. Thanks as always for an entertaining and stimulating site!

    • Matt Saternus

      Thanks, Peter.

      To clarify: you’re looking for recommendations on what people should do to add speed if they’re looking to commit the amount of time you suggested above?

      Best,

      Matt

      • Excellent message. Practice ideally helps us tighten and elevate our distribution of outcomes, but accidents still happen to everyone. I’ve been “practicing” walking for over 50 years now, and I still trip over my own feet sometimes. It’s rare though, and I don’t worry about it happening.

        I hope to gain the same sense of unconscious relaxation and acceptance with my golf. #DoubleSecret

      • Peter Simshauser

        Thanks so much for your reply, Matt. Great call-out on intensity of speed training.

  2. Peter Simshauser

    Hi Matt. Thanks for the quick reply. Yes, that was my question/suggestion. The time commitment was somewhat arbitrary; it could be a little more or less. In my case, I’ve been using the Stack for 9 months and made some decent improvement. I also maintain decent overall fitness for my age (66) through a mix of cardio and lifting. Thanks in advance for any insights!

    • Matt Saternus

      Peter,

      I think anyone looking to gain speed would do well to buy any speed system (Super Speed, Stack, Ryp Stick) and follow their program. I think most of them are 2-3 times per week, probably 10-15 minutes. The big key is going extremely hard. Get fully warmed up first and don’t hold back. My hypothesis is that anyone who isn’t seeing gains (at least at the start, we’ll all hit our ceiling eventually) isn’t training with much intensity.

      Best,

      Matt

  3. I love your website and podcasts. The biggest take aways for me have been: 1) get fit and 2) lower expectations/be realistic. #1 has helped me to not randomly by equipment. #2 has helped put things into perspective. I don’t practice enough to have high expectations. #DoubleSecret

  4. Greg Hawkins

    Great reminder to keep it all in perspective! #Doublesecret

  5. Robert Stout

    love the article, if only I could maintain COMPLETE composure… #DoubleSecret

  6. Jeff Greenop

    We all need to be our own version of Shivas Irons. Or just be the ball…
    #DoubleSecret

  7. David Mooney

    There is nothing worse when playing a round of golf when someone in your group gets mad and screams obscenely to the clouds . A man once said “ you’re not good enough to get mad !”

  8. Patrick Kilcoyne

    What a great way to set more realistic expectations for ourselves. Most of us may go into a round with those expectations but lose that perspective after an early round bad hole. Too many times, the course management strategies are compromised and we are choosing high risk/ low reward shots. Thanks for the advice

    #DoubleSecret

  9. Matt. I like the mantra. My plan this coming season is spend a minimum of 10-15 min every day on a golf related activity such as putting chopping and strength. I would like your perspective on off season practice plan when the snows on the ground and the clubs are out away.
    #DoubleSecret

    • Matt Saternus

      Tom,

      It’s hard to get too specific without knowing exactly what you’re able to do and what your game needs, but generally my view is that if you’re doing something to build skills all winter, you’re going to come out really strong on the other side. I have an article on off-season practice here: https://pluggedingolf.com/practice-golf-year-everywhere/
      If you’re trying to get through a full winter, I’d keep it short, add as much variety as you can, and do the stuff that’s as close to real golf as possible (i.e. hitting into a net is better than making air swings, but air swings are 100% better than nothing).

      Best,

      Matt

  10. Very helpful thoughts, Matt. Thanks.
    Judging ourselves rarely seems to help us get better at anything. Especially not at golf. The guys who wrote “The Lost Art of Playing Golf” would probably agree with your expectations commentary. Those of us who play golf would benefit from having the focus of gratitude they talk about, the score is a result, hitting the shot is the objective. I recently found a wonderful sign that says “It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” We should be grateful that we have the time and resources to practice. Most people around the world are struggling with far more difficult problems. #DoubleSecret

  11. Amen. There are no guarantees in life. Great article! #DoubleSecret

  12. Nice post, Matt. This is great advice that fits in with the general concept that the universe owes me nothing. #DoubleSecret

  13. This is me, all the work and this is what I get ? Nice to know I’m not alone. #DoubleSecret

  14. Great advice. No pain no gain.

    #doublesecret

  15. Kyle Antonson

    Great article Matt! I have come to realize that while golf can and will be maddening, managing expectations will help to overcome most any frustrations on the course.
    #DoubleSecret

  16. Todd Williams

    Good stuff. Totally agree. Nothing is guaranteed. Practice like it matters, Play like it doesn’t. #DoubleSecret

  17. Neil Rombardo

    Great article #DoubleSecret

  18. Allan Chandler

    I love to practice. Completely agree that nothing is promised. #DoubleSecret

  19. Great post, I will have to give it a try. I believe to many people think practice at the range on perfect lies, translate onto the course. You need to accept the outcome of each shot, and try your best on the next.

  20. Great post, I will have to give it a try. I believe to many people think practice at the range on perfect lies, translate onto the course. You need to accept the outcome of each shot, and try your best on the next. #DoubleSecret

  21. Patrick Burke

    My mind always need more work than my body when it pertains to golf. I’ve always felt, I played well last time out so I’ll play just as well or better next time. Doesn’t work that way. Love the mantra.

    #DoubleSecret

  22. Hi Matt, Enjoyed the article! Always enjoyed practicing, but dealing with changes in my game almost exclusively due to advancing age. I now enjoy playing more and practicing less! Still nothing better than the feel of a well-struck shot, even if it does carry 10 yards less! Thanks again, Bill #DoubleSecret

  23. Clark Bending

    The mental game in golf is so often overlooked. Too many have emotional ups/downs, get out of sorts, lose concentration. A mantra to remind yourself to center, breathing in practice or on the course is an excellent tool. #DoubleSecret

  24. When u go to the range you hit balls. One after another til u get it right. On the course you have one chance to get it right. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But practice does make u better overall. So keep practicing and HAVE FUN! #DoubleSecret…..

  25. A great piece gives me much to think about for practice and play. I think your post will help a lot.

    #DoubleSecret

  26. Randall Carrothers

    Excellent article! It brings one back to the plumb line of golf for the sake of enjoyment, not perfection. Well done! #DoubleSecret

  27. Thank you! Good reminder and puts things in perspective.
    #DoubleSecret

  28. More great food for thought, Matt! “The mind is a terrible thing to waste,” but I make it an art and science on the course…. I need a mantra (and golf lobotomy)… #Double Secret

  29. Tim Van Slambrouck

    Thanks for this reminder! #DoubleSecret

  30. Brilliant thought not just for golf but for many things in life. Thanks for all you do for us!
    #DoubleSecret

  31. Good things to consider and practice. #DoubleSecret

  32. Great advice for golf and for life!

  33. #DOUBLESECRET .. probation😄😄

    Wow great article, thank you – am copying and pasting in its entirety to two good golf buddies who love the game but still get down on themselves (oh and a link to the negative self talk article, too!) after a less than ideal shot out on the course………

    Thank you!
    (.. you’re now released from #doublesecret probation 😝)

  34. Adam Young has some great insights into how to practice effectively in his book, “The Practice Manual” which I recommend to anyone willing and able to put in the work.
    #DoubleSecret

  35. “Manage your expectations” is *everywhere* but to throw in “entitlement” to the mantra is such a good reminder and an easy way to free your mind! Love it. #DoubleSecret

  36. Hermann Engels

    Sage advice.
    #DoubleSecret

  37. Wonderful article, will re-read. Thanks. #DoubleSecret

  38. Matt I wonder if you have any tips for practice for the physically impaired. I’m coming odd five leg surgeries and been told my loading and unloading will basically non existent. # Double Secret senior citizen, who loves the game.
    Thanks Matt and Happy Holidays To All

    • Matt Saternus

      Larry,

      I don’t want to claim any level of expertise with physical impairments, but I would say that one thing that I can recommend universally is working on skills over technique. We have some pieces on this site from and about Adam Young’s work and he explains this idea very well.

      Best,

      Matt

  39. I practice, yet when I go to course, that often what I worked on the range doesn’t work on the course and have to dump the swing thought I practiced and just look at the target and play by feel. #DoubleSecret

  40. This is really great advice! I need to work on expectations management big time. #DoubleSecret

  41. Jerold Turner

    #Double – Secret – Yes Expectations have a way of impacting ALL areas of living. Your Mantra is “spot on”.

  42. Thanks Matt, always enjoy your insight.#DoubleSecret

  43. Great post which I will save and read again and again. It is about the journey and the joy….always. #DoubleSecret

  44. Always good to take a moment and step back and think about the mental side of the game, especially as it pertains to enjoyment. I think it’s important for people to remember that we do this for enjoyment and when we’re not experiencing that we need to take a step back and reevaluate. #DoubleSecret

  45. Juan Jose Ortiz

    Great advice #DoubleSecret

  46. I love mantras! Good article.

    If you feel like quitting remember why you started.

  47. Dave Sanguinetti

    When I practice I want to feel like dancin! Dance the night away. #DoubleSecret

  48. When I began trying to learn and play more golf at age 40 after playing only a few times a year to fight with my older brother, I expected every shot to be perfect, mopped around the course, and didn’t enjoy it very much except for the outdoor experience. My brother said I was a drag to play with – that golf is about the next shot, and that even after my poor shots I often still had a chance at par. I took his advice, lowered my expectations, and trained myself to be a positive thinking happy golfer. Not only did this increase my enjoyment, but I started magically to get lucky bounces frequently. I tell myself now no matter the lie “I have a club for that” and make the best shot I can given the circumstance. Golf is the best game and I can’t wait to get out soon.

  49. Kevin Coughlin

    Hi Matt, interesting article as always. I enjoy reading the reader’s comments too. The clubs have been put away for the winter now and I do try to practice swings and watch videos which makes me want to get back out on the range & the course. I love to practice, I try to purchase an unlimited pass at the range every year. Keep those great articles coming. #DoubleSecret

  50. My golf game and enjoyment of it changed when my older brother pointed out in not too nice fashion that I was a drag to play with, that golf is about the next shot, and often, even after poor tee shots or second shots, that par was still attainable. Adjusting my expectations and attitude for the game gave me an enthusiasm and understanding that led to improvement and enjoyment. I can’t wait to play. #DoubleSecret.

  51. Training on how to react to an errant shot, as a friend of mine likes to say, “That shot went exactly where I hit it.” #DoubleSecret

  52. I think you need to keep your expectations on the lower side to help manage pressure on yourself. #DoubleSecret

  53. Matt Carroll

    As a fairly new golfer that started a few years ago at 47, I try to remember that improvement is not linear and this is a good reminder. One day I feel like I’m getting it and the next is a complete disaster. The body and mind are different day to day but I try to make sure I enjoy the *–challenge on those days that I don’t have it. Thanks for the link to winter practice ideas too! #doublesecret

  54. William P. Wilkie

    Nice read. #DoubleSecret

  55. Will Rowland

    Zen Out. #DoubleSecret

  56. David J Sell

    Always love your perspective, and the site. Always a go to for me whenever I’m considering anything golf related.
    Keep up the great work !
    #DoubleSecret

  57. Arnie Markowitz

    Because of a curious nature, I often go to the range to put into practice something I have thought about that I feel could possibly help me on the golf course. I don’t beat myself up if it doesn’t work. Just the idea that I might find a way to play better golf is intriguing.
    I once had a three under par 69 on my home course when I was in my 30’s (5 under after 11). I’m 80 now and have never stopped loving the game of golf, despite now shooting in the 90 range.

    #DoubleSecret

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