Keeping your eye on the prize
14th February 2011 By: 14996
A new year brings with it new resolutions and the opportunity for golfers of all standards to set new goals for the year ahead.

It may seem a little cliché for a sport psychologist to write about goal setting in the first few months of the year however goal setting is a key a factor for success in many endeavours including athletic endeavours. Many people find goal setting a tedious, boring exercise and therefore do not commit to the process, but it is a disciplined way to help you identify how you can achieve repetitive and relative success at any level of golf.

 There are two terms that need to be at the forefront of your mind when undertaking your annual goal setting program: work-rate and honesty.

Many golfers are not honest with themselves about the work that they are prepared to put in to achieve their goals.  The first step in setting goals is to be honest with yourself about your goals and then making yourself accountable for performance assessment at regular intervals to assess your progress.  Set yourself up to achieve your goals by making each of your outcome, performance, and process goals realistic but challenging.

More specifically, research has demonstrated that specific, difficult, and self-generated goals are more beneficial to sport performance than are easy goals, no goals, or do-your-best goals (see Locke & Latham, 1990, for a review).

“Setting goals for your game is an art.  The trick is in setting them at the right level – neither too low nor too high.  A good goal should be lofty enough to inspire hard work, yet realistic enough to provide solid hope of attainment.”

Greg Norman

Here are some simple steps to maximising the benefit of your goal setting:

Step 1 Review your past goals to assess whether they were achieved and the reasons why or why not.  From here you get to understand your goal setting tendencies – whether you are falling short, meeting, or exceeding your goals.

One of the characteristics of mentally tough athletes proposed by Jones, Hanton, and Connaughton (2007) is that athletes know how they became successful.  It is anticipated that reviewing aids the process of understanding what works for each individual player to maximise their opportunities for subsequent success.

Step 2 Decide on the outcomes that you would like to achieve in 2011.  These outcomes will dictate the work rate for the year.  Outcome goals are generally based upon your results but they can involve other people. For example, you may decide you want to improve your ranking or win a particular tournament but the performance of other golfers can influence your results.

The best example I think of in the golf world is when Tiger Woods was out of the mix for a period of time – how different the outcomes were for other tour golfers.  Did that mean that other players were playing any better or worse?  No, it just meant that by taking the number one ranked player in the world out of the field, the chances of winning or coming top 10 changed for the rest of the field.  You cannot control these factors, you can just work the aspects of your game that assist you gravitating towards the results you want. 

There is so much to learn by conducting peer comparison exercises and analysing how your heroes go about their work.  If you have outcome goals such as winning an event or improving your ranking then these are the driving forces that ensure that you continue working hard throughout the year. 

Step 3 Determine the areas of your game that you think will make the largest impact in pursuit of achieving your outcome goals.  Golf is a game where there are several key areas that are technical, physical, tactical, psychological and life. Your outcome goals need to be supported by performance indicators, which are the aspects of your game that need to improve (or be maintained) to increase your chances of getting the result you want.  Performance goals (or performance indicators) are the indicators of change; just like Key Performance Indictors (KPIs) in a work setting. Pick one or two skills from the key areas outlined above that you want to work on.  Your desire to improve these is driven by the fact that these improvements help you to close in on your prize.

Step 4 Work out how to achieve these KPIs; the process.  This is where you can talk to your teaching pro and work out the best training activities and drills to achieve success in each area of your game.  These processes should be trainable and can be put into your weekly schedule.  You have 100% control over your processes.  Spend time with your coach brainstorming ways to achieve your KPIs.

Kingston and Hardy (1997) conducted a 1-year goal setting intervention program involving 37 club golfers (i.e., handicaps ranged from 0 to 28).  Significant improvements were found in self-efficacy, cognitive anxiety control, and concentration for the process-goal group.  Additionally, there were improvements in golfers’ handicap in the process-goal group from an average of 12.89 to 12.05.

Specific process goals should be set each round.  These “round process goals” are factors that you are in charge of, that are 100% within your control; you either do them or you don’t. Setting these types of goals create a “game within a game” for you and keeps you focussed on the way to be competitive and the way to get the results you want, rather than the results themselves.  In the last article (from September 2010 H&F section) the Process Monitor was presented as a way to track your mental goals.  It can now be purchased online at

Step 5 Act on your intentions!  Are you someone who would like a particular achievement? Or are you someone who really wants a particular achievement?  Or are you someone who really needs a particular achievement?  Recent exposure to a coach that often questions his athletes on whether they want or need a certain goal has highlighted the benefits of challenging honest reflection about intentions.  It is suggested that you feel the need or urgency to make your processes happen to meet your KPIs, which in turn optimises your chances of outcome success.  Make the action of chasing your process, performance, and outcome goals a serious project. 

Step 6 Continue to review your ability to achieve your goals.  The time frames will differ for individuals, however make yourself accountable.  If there are now obvious times for you and your play, then pick monthly or quarterly time frames.  Ensure that you constantly keep your goals in your mind’s eye for optimal focus and direction towards your personal success.

Outcomes in professional golf come in the form of ranking, wins and prize money earnt.  Given that these metrics tell the players, and indeed the world, where they sit in relation to other players, it is no wonder that the outcome gets the attention that it does.  Despite these obvious pressures to achieve the desirable outcomes, many touring pros have finely developed the skills to direct their minds to the process of competing at their best – to keep it there and if the mind does wander (and get tempted by thinking of ‘the win’), to bring the mind back on track!  McCaffrey and Orlick (1989) found that top touring professionals are often very goal-oriented individuals and they played better when they set goals.

Golfers who tend to get the most out of their game, whether they are at a recreational, competitive amateur or professional level, remain disciplined in their focus on the process, but keep their eyes on the prize!

There are many wonderful resources available in the market to guide you on your way to goal setting perfection, however if you would like set goals the Mental Notes way please email for more information or visit us at

Article from Ladies European Tour:
Published: 14/02/2011

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