Shortly after my poor round at St. Andrews, I started to think a little more about my game, both my physical game and my mental game. Sure, we all know about the physical game of golf… grip, stance, posture, swing plane, back swing, downswing, follow-through, etc. But if you actively played golf, even for a short amount of time, you’ll at sometime hear something or someone, either an advertisement, a round partner, or an instructor, say something about the mental game of golf.

My most recent, notable discussion (or rather, examination) about my mental game, aside from the last round of course, was during my lesson with Greg Baresel. One of the first things he asked me, before I even took one swing of the club, was “How’s your mental game?” I, probably smugly, said something along the lines of “Pretty good. I’ve previously played competitive table tennis, so I think I’ve adapted a good mental game from that.” Well, I’m here to say… I was wrong.

So, here’s some background: Prior to this starting this project, I played competitive table tennis. Not so much on a national level, but more of a local competitive level, more than your average basement player. I started playing in the early 2000’s, and by the mid-2000’s, I was practicing and training many times a week, sometime up to 10 or so hours a week. Back when I was really into the game, I played around 10 tournaments a year, which is about the same for the average competitive table tennis player. I’ve had a lot of highs and a lot of lows. I’ve both won tournaments, or walked away win-less. When I first started playing, one of the top players in Indiana once told me “You’re going to lose a lot of games”, and he was so correct. Throughout my time playing, there was many times, both during practice and tournaments, where my mental game was tested. I’ve broken paddles (and shamefully left bruises) because of my mental game.

It wasn’t until 2010 until I really started to see my mental game improve. After a bad shot, I could keep my mental game intact. Sure… I could get mad, but the game continues. The point is over, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Move on, and get your head back in the game. One of the things I felt I got really good at was being able to keep a cool head during a match, while on the opposite side of the table, my opponent would show their emotions. I played off their anger, and I loved every minute of it. Anytime I would see an opening in my opponent’s weak mental game, I would try to take advantage of it, and many times, I was successful. If you haven’t noticed up until this point, I’m competitive. By nature, many, if not all of us, are. We want to win, and we’ll do anything to get that feeling of winning. Sure, Mr. “Indiana Top Player”, I’ll lose a lot of games, but, oh man, those wins… they’re sweet.

I stopped actively training and competing in table tennis tournaments last year, primarily because of the time commitment. My most recent rating is 1653, which puts me about average amongst the nation’s active competitive table tennis players. Think about a bell curve, with the scale going from zero to 3000, and around 1700 being the highest point. For someone who trains 2 or 3 times a week, going up the bell curve is easy. Going down though, that takes some time… and a lot of practice. I personally didn’t have the time or motivation to get where I wanted to be. I wanted to be around a 1900 player, but getting to that point would mean training 3-4 times a week for 3 hours each day. That’s a lot of time on the table. If I would practice any less than that, I wouldn’t get to that level.

Switching now to my golf game, I really started this project to (1) improve my game, (2) meet new people, and (3) have fun. So far, so good… I’ve done all three. But recently, I’ve notice my mental game is not where it should be. How did this happen? Over the course of this project, I’ve grown accustom to poor shots. It’s really the nature of any beginner. Much like playing games of table tennis, when you start out, you’re going to make a lot of bad shots, but, oh man, those good shots… they’re sweet.

Fast forward a couple years, where you might not make bad shots all the time. Your handicap is starting to decrease, and you’re making good shots and solid impact. At some point in time, you start expecting your shots to be decent. They might not be perfect, but at least you’re hitting the ball and making forward progress.

So what happens when, being in that mindset, you make bad shots when you don’t expect it, or when you make bad shots one after the other? You can probably guess. A quick search on YouTube shows even the pros get overly frustrated at times:

A good chunk of that poor round was due to my mental game. My mental game was so determined to make good, solid, long shots that my physical game failed to produce, then making those bad shots one after the other, from hole to hole, took a toll on my overall game. I let my mental game get out of control, and as an effect, my physical game suffered, and I shot one of my worst rounds within the last year or two. Trent tried his best to keep me in the game, either by offering advice or trying to switch the topic to something other than the round, and I tried everything I could to not worry about the past and think about the future, but in the end, I was so determined to get to that level where wished I was, instead of actually playing at the level where I should have been. Along the way, I made many, many mistakes, both mentally internal and physically external.

Sure, we’ve probably all been there at some time. Like I said, by nature, nearly everyone is competitive. So “losing it” mentally, for those who don’t know how to control it, will happen. It’s really up to you to be able to control it. Golf is a very individual and personal game. The only way your opponents will ever affect your game is if you allow them to affect you mentally.

Not only does a poor mental game affect yourself, but it also affects the people around you. I’ve played many rounds where the people I play with have poor mental games and get angry quickly (some of those people are my good friends too). It’s really no fun to play with someone when they are at that point mentally. I’m sure everyone can agree with this.

I personally think it’s difficult to train or instruct someone on how to develop a better mental game (both with golf and table tennis), and the last thing I’d ever want to do is give advice on how to improve your mental game. I can’t really even be sure that these products, books, or instructors who teach the mental game of golf will ever have the end-all-be-all fix to this aspect of the game. It really just comes down to the individual… how they control their thoughts, how they react to situations, and how they move along to the next shot.

At this point in time, I don’t think being competitive in this sport is good for me or my game. Sure, I’m meeting a lot of people playing in the league, but as I mentioned above, I also started this project so I can improve my game. I feel that when my mental game gets out of control, I’m actually taking a step back from improving my game. And that, my friends, is just not fun.