The 1 mental lapse amateurs commit most often (and how to fix it), according to a top teacher

A scenic view of the 11th hole of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

A view of the 11th hole of the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, where lots of trouble awaits pro and amateurs.

Ryan Young/PGA Tour

Mental mistakes can hold back amateur golfers just as often as physical limitations. The list of errors goes on and on: letting bad holes linger, not preparing the right way, not playing the right tees, not understanding your equipment and more.

But the biggest mental mistake holding amateurs back, “easily,” according to GOLF Top 100 Teacher Joe Hallett, is how amateurs visualize their shots. Or, more importantly, how they aren’t visualizing their shots.

“They have the wrong picture in their mind,” said Hallett, the director of instruction at the Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin, Tenn. “They are picturing the sand, they are picturing the water, they are picturing the trees.”

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What Hallett means is that most golfers spend too much time worrying about the trouble surrounding their upcoming shots. And, more importantly, that their targets aren’t precise enough.

“The best players in the world are picking a very precise target,” Hallett said. “When you hear those caddies talk they are always like, ‘OK, where are we going?’ We are going at the cell phone tower. ‘Left side or right side?’ Left side. ‘Top, or about a quarter of the way down where it changes colors from red to white?’ The more they picture that the more distinct of a target they make.”

Another way of saying this is “aim small, miss small,” which is a popular mental thought Jordan Spieth uses to remind himself to zero in on a target.

“For me, that actually helps my swing,” Spieth told ESPN in 2015. “It helps my putting stroke. It helps everything in my game. It’s easier for me to think less about mechanics and more about the mental side, controlling my emotions and really picking a specific target instead of worrying about how my swing looks.”

Hallett’s fix for amateurs? Instead of aiming for just “the left side of the green,” zero in a little more and pick something like a slight turn in the green or a specific object. Get precise.

“Add that into your look of the shot, and all that other stuff starts to disappear,” Hallett said. “It’s like keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on something good. I know it’s corny to say, but focus on something good.”

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Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.