When Phil Mickelson was looking for a way to get over his crushing loss at the 2013 U.S. Open, he went to mental performance coach Dr. Michael Lardon for help. A month later, Mickelson went to Muirfield and won the Claret Jug for the first time.
Lardon has been helping PGA Tour stars, NFL players, mixed martial artists and Olympic gold medalists for more than 20 years. His new book, Mastering Golf’s Mental Game — excerpted in the August issue — reveals the strategies he uses on tour and shows average players how to use a mental scorecard to evaluate and improve the way they think about the game.
This week, Dr. Lardon helps you tackle some of your most nagging mental game issues as a part of our regular #HelpMeGolfDigest series. You’re not alone — and your golf neuroses are probably easier to fix than you think.
Reader Stephen Elwes was one of dozens who asked about the same problem — getting the pre-round jitters before an important event.
“Let’s talk try to understand this fear a little bit more first,” says Lardon, who is a practicing psychiatrist and mood disorder specialist in San Diego. “Is there anything actually physically dangerous out on the golf course? It’s probably more accurate to describe it as some anxiety about playing badly. Anxiety can actually amp you up and help you hit the ball a little farther. The key is to reframe how you feel as natural, and something you can use. If it really is fear, you want to channel that fear into a productive use. Come up with a specific mental and physical routine you use for every shot, and reframe your fear as being afraid of what will happen if you don’t go through that routine.
Another popular subject was the feeling of being overwhelmed by technical swing thoughts.
“If your mind is getting scattered or focusing on the wrong thing, you need what I call a ‘thought script,'” says Lardon. “If you’re thinking about a bunch of technical things, change it up and follow the script for the shot you’re hitting — something like ‘I want to take my driver and cut this shot off the left tree line. I’m going to finish the shot open and high.’ Pick the shot, recite the thought script to yourself and hit it”
By far the most questions came from people with problems similar to Jim O’Shea’s and Jacob Thompson’s — getting past a bad (or good) hole.
“These are the kind of issues where the Mental Scorecard is perfect,” says Lardon. “In simple terms, you want to be grading yourself on how you go through your process of playing a shot, not on what the results are — good or bad. You do that by establishing a mental and physical routine, and measuring yourself on how well you pick your shot, go through that routine and go into action. The best tour players do these things right 97 or 98 percent of the time. You can get a free scorecard at DrLardon.com
and see how you’re doing.”