Golf & Mindfulness - a Quick Guide

I’m in these forums because I have a passion for golf, but something else personal development and mindfulness. I work in corporate learning & organizational development, so these are practices I try to bring into my organization as part of my job. Mindfulness, however, is something I really feel applies to golf and is essential to how I play. Hopefully some of you could also improve your game through mindful practices on the course, so I put together this quick guide to what mindfulness is and how it can be applied to help you play your best golf.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is, in short, meditation. I think there is still a strong connotation out there tying meditation to Buddhist monks with incense and prayer bells and while that is not necessarily false, it is only one small type of meditation. You don’t have to be in a Tibetan monastery to meditate (that would be cool though) as you can apply mindful practices anywhere at any time. Another, and in my opinion worse, misconception is that meditation is about cutting yourself off from the world. This is pretty much opposite to the intent of mindfulness which is to actively increase your awareness, both within yourself, the outside world, and how you’re interacting with it. The positive mental and physical impacts of practicing mindfulness have been well-documented and easy to find so I won’t dig into them here, but I will say that I strongly believe that it really can help anyone be their best self in any given situation. Golf just so happens to be something it is particularly well suited to.

How can mindfulness help my golf game?

As said above, mindfulness is all about increasing your awareness. Here’s how I see that awareness, internal and external, helping golf.

· More controlled emotions and less likely to get trapped in negativity

· Better situational awareness

· More accurate and meaningful visualizations

· More satisfaction with results

A key part of any mindful practice I do (and I’ll describe a few below) is to ask myself “how am I feeling?”, naming my emotions and acknowledging them without judgement. For example, standing on the first tee for a round I’ve been excited about I probably feel nervous. I will tell myself “I feel nervous”, that’s all. This nervousness is not good or bad, it simply is. I’m probably not feeling just one emotion either, so I can build the inventory “I feel excited/joyful/tired/stressed.” This is something internal, so it can all be done in a few moments. While I said that these emotions are not good or bad, taking this time to actively name and acknowledge them makes it much easier to set aside the ones that won’t help you in the moment and focus on the ones that will. If you are someone who struggles with compounding negativity out on the golf course, this is something that can have an almost immediate impact on your game.

The same practice for how I feel mentally applies to my physical state as well. I’ll take inventory of how I’m feeling physically, not just what is sore or stiff, but what feels relaxed, where I feel balanced, and adding just a bit more focus to the muscles I know will have to get to work soon. In less than a minute, we can have a pretty full picture of who we are at the moment and better prepared to add in the outside world. That’s the next place we can add mindfulness to our golf.

Being mindful to our environment isn’t all that different than applying awareness internally, it’s just a change of focus. Typically, our senses are acting passively, and we don’t really think about what we’re seeing, hearing, or feeling. Most of the time this is no big deal, but in a performance situation this lack of active awareness means we’ll be acting without complete information, making it more difficult to produce results. Taking a minute to send out senses outward with intention, asking “What am I hearing/seeing/feeling right now?” allows us to build a more complete picture. A key point here is control. We don’t control these external things and usually that lack of control causes stress (whether we acknowledge that stress or not). Acknowledging and naming these external factors doesn’t make them disappear, but it does allow us to better use the information or let it go.

To bring this all together, let’s talk about visualization. We’ve all heard many times to visualize our shots and how that will help us play better. That is true (and visualization itself is a mindful practice), but in my opinion most golfers out there are skipping ahead and not really making their visualizations impactful. Internal and external awareness discussed above is all about building a complete picture of who and where we are. With this complete picture, we can then create an accurate visualization, something we are then much more likely to accomplish. That right there is how mindfulness can most positively impact your game.

So how can I apply mindfulness to my golf game?

Being intentional and active with mindfulness means applying practices and techniques. There are a bunch of them out there and I highly recommend using a resource, like Headspace, to guide practices. This is especially useful when you’re just getting into things, but I still use guided meditations daily. That said, here are a few practices you can use right away. These are the types of things I do between holes or even between shots when I can’t really pop in the headphones and follow a full guided meditation. They can be done all together or individually:

Three breaths and mental inventory

Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. Focus on where you feel the breath coming in (stomach/chest/diaphragm?) and where you feel the motion of the exhale. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, just focus on the breath.

With the third exhalation, close your eyes, return the breath to normal, and ask yourself “How do I feel?” Do your best to name the emotions as specifically as possible, form an image in your mind of what that emotion “looks like” if that helps as well. Don’t try to force yourself into how you “should” feel, but just try to acknowledge what you are feeling without judgement. Once you have taken this inventory either start the next practice or open your eyes and move on.

Body scan

With eyes closed, bring your focus to either the top of the head or your feet. From there, scan that focus down or up your body (personally, I visualize a Star Trek-esque sci-fi scanner in my mind, but that just helps me). Take inventory of how each part feels physically (loose/tight, heavy/light, relaxed/tensed etc). During this practice, try to remember that there’s nothing wrong or “broken” that needs to be “fixed” in this moment, it’s all about awareness on what it is. A side effect of this practice though is that if, for example, your scan tells you your slouching, you’ll naturally start to stand up a bit straighter, so allow that to happen as well.

Mindful awareness

Start with the eyes closed and acknowledge what you feel around you. If standing, start with the feet, how does the ground beneath you feel? Is it soft or firm? Level or uneven/bumpy? Are your feet balanced on it? This is another moment where we’re not trying to apply this information yet, just noting it. Next, actively listen to your environment, what do you hear? Is there a dominant noise? Try to let it fade more into the background and see if you can hear other things instead. Open your eyes and find an object of focus (a flagstick works great). What information does this focus produce? Is the object moving or is it still? Even the small details like color and shape, actively acknowledge them.

Closing thoughts

With these practices and others you can take as much or as little time as you can manage. Start small and try not to chide yourself for not doing it correctly. There really is no right or wrong hear. If a thought distracts you, simply acknowledge the thought and return the focus. This itself shows that you are actively engaged in mindfulness and will benefit from it. Also remember that just like no two golf shots are exactly the same, no mindful practice will be the same every time. Some days it will seem easy, some days more difficult. I also don’t really believe anyone can ever be an “expert” at mindfulness, at least not within themselves. It is always a practice and something you have to be intentional about. If it ever became something without intention and effort, then it wouldn’t be mindfulness anymore.

So, is it worth it? I’m not going to promise that these practices will save strokes or help you hit specific performance goals, but I am very confident that it will help you play your best golf. Your best golf in this sense is getting the best results out of the realities of your situation, the swing you have and the environment your in. Your best golf is always changing, but even as it does, mindfulness can help you walk of the course more satisfied and without regret. That’s the type of feeling that really makes you want to come back and keep playing.


Great post, thanks for taking the time to share! I will bookmark for future reference.

I have been keeping a mental score in addition to my actual score. I assess each shot and either I fully committed, ignored distractions, etc. or I didn’t. Per “Mastering Golf’s Mental Game: Your Ultimate Guide to Better On-Course Performance and Lower Scores”

It helps keep me focused on the present, but sometimes I have trouble snapping out of a bad mental stretch


Zen Golf is another good book that helped me the most, especially the breathing exercises helped me slow down and refocus. I have a tendency to get ahead of myself if I’m having a great or horrible round, and taking a minute to breathe brings me back and usually play better


Probably one of the most impactful topics for golf. Being present for 18 holes is very difficult. Amazingly enough, a four and a half hour round of golf only requires us to be present for about 45 minutes to an hour if you count each stroke as about 30 seconds of being present. It’s amazing how hard it is to maintain that focus for such a short period of time. Practicing mindfulness is the best way to cure this. It’s been a huge part of my golf game. Not only has it helped me to be a better golfer, I truly believe it’s helped me to be a better person.


Great point. Nobody should expect themselves to stay focused for the entire 4+ hours of a round. I do really think mindfulness helps to create a natural moment to “switch on” and the rest of the time I can enjoy the walk :grinning:


Inner Game of Tennis, life changing!


That’s the thing, I used to think I needed to be in that focus for the 4+ hours and would get so frustrated with myself when I couldn’t. Then I realized it was an unrealistic expectation and started asking myself questions about when did I really need to be “on” and I found the answer, once I start setting up the current shot. The last one and the next one don’t matter because we can’t do anything for either of them. I’m still learning this and getting better, have a long way to go. But as you said Cory, enjoy the walk/drive. I’ve never seen an “ugly” golf course, although some are definitely prettier than others. However, the nature you see and hear when you take the time to look and listen is amazing.


One of biggest topics out there that can take strokes off the game quick.


great post, mindfulness is important!

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Such a great book. I give it frequent rereads.

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100% agree, nice response!

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Great post! I’ve studied mindfulness a little bit. I have a couple of things I will do while playing golf or tournaments in general that help with mindfulness. You discussed one on the breathing but you can also take a deep breath and breathe out through the nose feeling that breath hit your lip just under the nose. That’s pretty simple.


That’s a good one! I recommend everyone check out different techniques or even develop your own because there is no one thing that will work best for everyone with mindfulness (and even for me it varies from day to day).


Here is a relevant article I did on mindfulness that I think can help others as well


“Simplicity, the Fluid Motion Factor” by Steven Yellin is another really good book. It certainly takes a good amount of practice to ingrain a good, positive mental routine and approach. My goal for the next six months is no swing changes, just building and ingraining a solid mental routine.


Great post and a fascinating topic! As I enter my 40s, this is one of the most fascinating parts of the game. What is my mind focusing on during a round, during a shot? Where are my eyes? What is my objective? Should I have a short, simple swing thought? Should I be clearing the mind and just reacting to what I envision? I agree routine is huge, but what should the routine consist of?

One of my favorite meditations for mindfulness both on and off the course is from Tich Nacht Hahn: “”I am breathing in, I am breathing out.” Having no thoughts related to golf is very interesting. See if you can do nothing but that for 4 hours! You can play and play quite well without having a single thought in your mind. What, then, is your body responding to when it swings, when it analyzes, if there is no thought other than “I am breathing in, I am breathing out”? Just your “subconscious” driving you on, just like your heart beat or any of your other countless subconscious body functions? I truly don’t know. But I like experimenting with these things. One great thing is you can experiment with them regardless of how you are playing that day.

I think people play their best golf when their mindset or focus for the day closely matches with how your body is feeling that day. We are all constantly working on our swings, and some days those swing thoughts or feels match up perfectly with where your mind is at, and that’s when you play your best.

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Great point. I think one of the mistakes people make with the “mental game” (especially if you watch too much YouTube golf videos like me) is the idea that there’s one way to do it. There is no one mental practice that will work well for everyone, there is not even one that will always work well for one person everyday. Approaching the task with the intention of being present while giving yourself the the freedom to say “this isn’t working today” and trying something else is essential.

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Great summary of a quick mindful practise during golf. One comment is people can’t visualize on the golf course. Would that be because of the type of learner they are and seeing isn’t their forte? I find that I can see what my shot will look like in the air before I hit it. What do other people see?


Good point. Visualization might be an overly specific word when it’s more about anticipating the shot you want to hit. For some that might be “watching the movie” in detail, other might need to be a bit more abstract. Some folks might be able to “feel” the motion of a good swing before swinging and others might “hear” the sound of a well struck shot. Whatever works to get in that positive predictive mindset.

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Great post! Meditation and mindfulness has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. We started researching how powerful our subconscious minds are a few years ago and it brought me to use meditation to help me rewire many areas of my life. Mostly, my golf game. My golf game has been the hardest area of my life to change. I have a very deep passion for the game and for many years anger and disappointment were a large part of it. Meditation has helped me turn that anger into joy and my scores have improved because of it, and with much less practice. Great Post