Mental Fitness for Better Golf: Master Your Mind through the GRIP Framework

This is the fourth in the PIIMP Your Game: The 5 Pillars of Better Golf series, in which we focus on the Mental aspects of improving your golf game.

A golf ball on a hard surface, with a shadow extending toward the camera

I could see my breath.

For an early March evening, that’s not entirely unusual for San Diego…but in these conditions, I usually didn’t have a golf club in my hands and a gallery watching my performance. Especially after dark.

But there I was in the finals of GOAT Madness – having brought the smoke to the Chasing Scratch podcast’s Saint Mantooth Invitational, I had a chance to walk away a winner in the grand finale event at Goat Hill Park’s kid’s course, The Playground.

All I had to do was hit a 25-yard pitch closer than 3 other contestants. The shot was straight toward the driving range lights, and the first man up hit it to 15 feet. The second came in too hot, and skidded over the green.

Now it’s my turn.

I step up, set my ball on a nice little tuft of grass, and run through my pre-shot routine. I pick my target from behind the ball, get into my stance, and look at the target (“man, those lights are bright”). Then I look back down at the ball (“ha, almost bright enough to make the ball hard to see”). I bring my arms back (“wow my wrists are kind of stiff, it’s really cold”), and begin the downswing.

To say I chunked the shot is generous.

I must have hit 3 inches behind the ball. A can of Chunky soup would have gone farther. I could tell that everyone was confused at first – where is the ball? “I…I think that’s going to be short,” Mike from Chasing Scratch said.

I didn’t win. I was 4th of 4, by a mile – and it had nothing to do with my ability to hit that shot. My head got in the way, as was the recent trend.

Golf is a game that challenges the mind just as much as the body. To excel on the course, you need to develop a strong mental game that complements your physical skills. In this article, we’ll explore the four pillars of mental fitness in golf: managing expectations, committing to one shot at a time, developing a pre-shot routine, and honing your concentration skills. By mastering these crucial aspects of the game, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your full potential on the greens.

Without further ado, the GRIP Framework for Mental Fitness in Golf

ComponentDescriptionAvailable Tools
Goals– Manage your expectations based on what is likely, not what is possible
– Set achievable targets for your golf game.
– Focus on incremental improvements, embracing the journey of self-improvement, and treating each round as a learning experience.
– Strokes gained analytics
– Performance tracking apps
– Golf journals for goal setting and reflection
Readiness-Develop a consistent pre-shot routine that includes elements such as visualization.
– Make your routine a natural part of your game by consistently following it for every shot and incorporating it into your practice sessions.
– Mental imagery exercises
– Pre-shot routine templates
– Breathing techniques
Intention– Commit to the present moment using the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) protocol.
– Enhance mental resilience and focus through mindfulness exercises, such as deep breathing, and allowing thoughts and emotions to come and go without judgment.
– Guided meditation apps
– Mindfulness training programs
– MAC protocol resources
Presence– Cultivate concentration and mental clarity by incorporating mindfulness exercises like meditation or yoga.
– Stay in the moment, avoiding dwelling on past mistakes or future concerns.
– Take brief mental breaks between shots to relax and recharge.
– Yoga classes or apps
– Meditation exercises
– Embrace digital minimalism

Goals: Set Realistic Targets and Embrace Continuous Improvement

The first component of the G.R.I.P. framework is setting achievable Goals for your golf game. But to set good goals, you need to know what is likely and what is possible, and focus on what is likely. In other words, learn to manage your expectations.

It’s essential that you use tools like strokes gained to establish goals that align with your skill level and experience, and to track your progress. Break down your game into specific areas (e.g., driving, putting, short game), and focus on making incremental improvements. Embrace the journey of self-improvement and treat each round as a learning experience, appreciating both successes and setbacks as opportunities for growth. By fostering a growth-oriented mindset, you’ll be better prepared to face challenges on the course and continuously refine your skills.

Remember, even the pros have their off days. Embrace the journey of self-improvement by focusing on progress rather than perfection. Treat each round as a learning experience, savoring both successes and setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Clouds and bright blue sky. Clearing your mind can help with your golf swing.

Readiness: Develop a Consistent Pre-Shot Routine

Readiness is the second component of the G.R.I.P. framework, emphasizing the importance of a consistent pre-shot routine. A well-structured routine helps you mentally and physically prepare for each shot, allowing you to approach the ball with intention and clarity. Customize your routine to suit your style, incorporating elements such as visualization, practice swings, and deep breathing exercises. Consistently follow your routine for every shot, regardless of the situation or pressure level (unlike I did at Goat Hill Park).

Better yet, incorporate your pre-shot routine into your practice sessions to make it a natural part of your game. On the driving range, if you’re raking the balls over and smashing them without looking up, you’re doing it wrong. Treat every shot on the range like you do on the course, otherwise, are you really practicing?

A consistent pre-shot routine is crucial for maintaining focus and confidence on the course. This sequence of actions and thoughts primes your mind for execution, enabling you to initiate your swing with intention and clarity.

Intention: Commit to One Shot at a Time with the MAC Protocol

Golf is a game of singular moments, and success often hinges on the ability to concentrate on the task at hand. To excel, you must commit to playing one shot at a time, fully immersed in the present moment.

The third element of the G.R.I.P. framework is Intention, underscoring the significance of committing to one shot at a time and fully immersing yourself in the present moment. The Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment (MAC) protocol is a commonly used sports psychology approach for enhancing mental resilience and focus. Integrating the MAC protocol into your golf experience allows you to better manage emotions, reduce stress, and concentrate on the task at hand.

To incorporate the MAC protocol, try these mindfulness exercises:

  • Take a few deep breaths before each shot, focusing on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body.
  • Pay attention to the feeling of the club in your hands and the sensation of your feet on the ground.
  • Allow your thoughts and emotions to come and go without judgment, gently redirecting your focus back to the present moment and the shot at hand.
Clearing your mind and staying present in the moment will help your golf game. A tiny buddha sitting on a plant leaf.

Presence: Cultivate Concentration and Mental Clarity

The final component of the G.R.I.P. framework is Presence, which focuses on honing your concentration skills and mental clarity. A strong ability to focus is essential for peak performance on the golf course. Incorporate mindfulness exercises, such as meditation or yoga, into your routine to enhance focus and mental clarity.

Stay in the moment by avoiding dwelling on past mistakes or future concerns, and concentrate on the task at hand. Allow yourself brief mental breaks between shots to relax and recharge, ensuring you maintain your mental edge throughout the round.

Train your concentration skills by reducing from dopamine-juiced activities like social media to reasonable levels, and replace that time with something that requires more focus, like reading or woodworking. A strong ability to focus is essential for achieving peak performance on the course.


In 2023, tools often fall into 3 groups: books, apps, and people. We have some suggestions for each of them.

Books: These fall into two camps, golf books and non-golf books. Bob Rotella’s Golf is Not a Game of Perfect and Mark Broadie’s strokes gained bible Every Shot Counts are musts. Non-golf books like Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Digital Minimalism (among others of this self-development category) are also useful tools.

Apps: Waking Up is a great meditation app for novices and alike. With a solid 30-day intro/theory walkthrough, newbies can get a better understanding of why meditation is essential to a deeper cognitive state, and the advanced guest-led courses (included in the subscription) can take care of those seeking a deeper (and possibly more spiritual) experience.

People: Golf Twitter is a goldmine of personalities. I’m sure you’ll find some you like on your own, but in particular we enjoy Lou Stagner, a data analyst who takes strokes gained and shot dispersion data to the next level. And of course, you can always find a local psychologist, like Chasing Scratch’s Dr. J.


By embracing the G.R.I.P. framework – Goals, Readiness, Intention, and Presence – you’ll be well-equipped to face the mental challenges that the game of golf presents. With a strong mental game to complement your physical abilities, you’ll be on track to achieve your full potential, improve your performance, and enjoy a more rewarding golf experience.

Ryan O'Neal

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