The 2 most important psychological elements of golf

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Golf is an inherently mental game, and if you can fill yourself with confidence, your scores are sure to drop.

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Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book should be required reading for golfers looking to improve their games. Penick had a gift for making the complex seem simple, and his teachings ring true to this day. With the PGA Tour heading back to Penick’s home of Austin later this month for the Dell Match Play, there is no better time to revisit the best secrets from his Little Red Book. This article is all about the two most important psychological elements in golf.

Part 1: How to lower your handicap by five strokes
Part 2: What golfers get wrong about their practice swings
Part 3: The simple fundamentals for hitting a perfect bunker shot

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears.” -Bobby Jones

Jones’ notorious quote about the mental aspect of golf has been recited ad nauseam in the time since he famously uttered the phrase. Yet even with a history of overuse, the original idea rings true.

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Golf is an inherently mental game. Whether you’re playing against a buddy for drinks after the round or coming down the back nine at a major, controlling your emotions is key to success.

Building your confidence starts on the tee box. When you find the fairway off your tee shot, you’re boosting your confidence (and scoring potential) for the rest of the hole.

“Psychologically, the driver is very important,” Penick wrote in his Little Red Book. “If you hit your tee ball well, it fills you with confidence. On the other hand, if you smash a couple drives into the trees, your confidence can be shaken.”

Once your ball finds the short grass from the tee box, you should be filled with confidence, but your best opportunity to inflate that self belief comes when you reach the green. Holing short putts is the only thing better for confidence than hitting a solid drive.

“Sinking putts makes your confidence soar, and it devastates your opponent,” Penick said. “A good putter is a match for anyone. A bad putter is a match for no one.”

If you can start with a solid drive, and finish by holing a short putt, confidence will bookend every hole.

Zephyr Melton Editor

Zephyr Melton is an assistant editor for where he spends his days blogging, producing and editing. Prior to joining the team at GOLF, he attended the University of Texas followed by stops with the Texas Golf Association, Team USA, the Green Bay Packers and the PGA Tour. He assists on all things instruction and covers amateur and women’s golf. He can be reached at