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One Thing You Can Do to Improve Your Score Immediately: Eliminate Stinking Thinking

I had a playing lesson last week with my coach, Mario Bevilacqua (, and my friend Kathy.  As we played, Mario pointed out that Kathy and I were killing him with our negative self-talk.  Kathy and I agreed we both need to eliminate this from our game.  We started discussing negative self-talk, an issue Kathy and I agree we both need to squarely face in order to improve.  It’s an issue with which most every amateur and even many professionals struggle, Mario said.

In short, research unanimously supports that positive self-talk has shown to improve performance while negative self-talk has shown to increase anxiety (speed of breath, heart rate, muscular response) and serves as a detriment to overall performance.

“Think chunk, worry about a bladed shot, visualize the ball splashing in water or going in the sand before you hit and that increases the chances it’s going to happen,” Mario said.  Mario has been rated as one of Nevada’s top instructors by Golf Digest the past two years and his list of students includes some of the state’s top amateurs and more than one of the world’s top professional women.

Negative self-talk becomes a habit.  Some players never stop the internal negative conversation as they play.  You and I both know many who openly reveal their poor self-talk after shots.  “I knew/was afraid of hitting it into (insert penalty area here),” they’ll say.  You know someone has negative self-talk going on when you see them pull out a “water ball”.  Negative self-talk is our worst enemy on the course.

Yes, it is our worst enemy according to Denver-based Elena King, one of the LPGA’s Top 50 Instructors and a Golf Digest Best Teachers.  Elena is a certified in the Vison54 system which is based on the premise that “We are human beings who play golf, not robots.”  The Vison54 approach is laid out best, I think, in the book Be A Player.  Definitely worth reading.

One of Vision54’s key mental tenets which I tend to forget and Elena always reminds her students of is that your physical skills when you tee off any given day are set, but your mental state—particularly your self-talk—is fully manageable, fully under your control, and it will affect your score.

So how do you take control of your self-talk?  As I stood on the tee box with Mario and Kathy, the phrase “No stinking thinking” popped in my head.  I remembered it from one of the first golf books I ever read The 8 Traits Of Champion Golfers: How To Develop The Mental Game Of A Pro by Jon Stabler and Deborah Graham.  My edition dates back to 1999.  It reveals the 8 mental traits that golfers who won on tour vs. those who lost their tour status did not have.  There are short quizzes about how much of each trait you demonstrate.  Negative self-talk, the need to eliminate “stinking thinking”, is directly addressed in one chapter.  The quizzes allow you to assess your current situation and how you progress over time.  It’s a short read (I try to read a few pages at night before I go to sleep just for reinforcement) and there are new and even used paperback editions you can order online for just 5 bucks. Good stuff!

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