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The Mental Mulligan

Rick V., Team Titleist Staff Team Titleist Staff

Hi, everyone.

After a recent round, we were discussing bad shots and how to get over them. Much easier said than done, but I received a great piece of advice this season that might help to keep a good round alive when a wayward shot or two rears its ugly head.

The next time you hit a poor shot on the course, don't start marching towards the treeline or those hazard stakes until you try this: re-visualize a successful version of the shot with a practice swing done correctly. It's like a mental Mulligan.

There's some science behind this practice. Research has shown that in learning, your mind doesn't differentiate between a real experience and an imagined one. So the idea is, when you hit a bad shot, immediately re-imagine it. Step behind the shot again and go through your pre-shot thinking. Zero in on your target, re-visualize the shot shape and see your ball flying and landing on that target.

More times than not, a poor shot happens when you don't feel comfortable over the ball and your mind starts racing and second-guessing itself. As legendary Tour player and club-thrower, Tommy Bolt said, "The mind messes up more shots than the body." So this time, make sure to keep your thoughts clear, relaxed and positive.

Now consider the swing itself that led to the poor shot. Did you feel something during your swing that you know was off? You'll almost always have an instant idea that's specific to your game - "I felt off-balance"; "I didn't turn"; "I flipped my hands at the bottom"; and so on. We all have our own peculiar tendencies that we're familiar with.

When you've identified what went wrong, now imagine what the right swing feels like and waggle or take a little half practice swing to feel the club in your hands.

Now step in and take your address again, from the same spot where you last played. Imagine your ball on the tee or turf and pretend you're playing the shot again. Take a full practice swing and as you come up to a full finish, see the golf ball in your mind's eye, flying just as you mapped it out. If the first practice swing doesn't match your mental image, re-set and swing again until you make a swing that feels "right" to you.

When you make that good practice swing, allow yourself to feel good. You've just ingrained a positive swing rep in your mind that will serve you subconsciously the next time you face a similar shot. Instead of holding on to the negative experience of hitting a poor shot, you've essentially replaced that memory with a positive one.

Written down, it looks like this is a lengthy exercise, but in real-time, taking a mental Mulligan only takes a few seconds. And those few seconds have the added benefit of giving you a quick time-out to cool off and collect yourself before you tackle your next shot.

I hope you'll give the mental Mulligan a try the next time you have a miscue on the golf course. Let me know if it works for you and please share any other strategies you have for getting over poor shots.


Rick, PGA

23 Replies

  1. Tyler H

    Solid advice Rick. I will have to try it out.

  2. Abby L., Team Titleist Staff

    This is a fantastic piece of advice, Rick. I think I've noticed Tour players, such as Justin Thomas going through this process, especially after a missed putt. I'll be curious to try it out before it the temperatures drop too much in New England!

  3. Don O

    Just need to take the mulligan before I swing. My tendency is to bail on the shot if there is a doubt. Don't swing until I only visualize with confidence. Thanks for the image!
  4. Sam K

    Nice advice and write up! I will give it a shot, Rick.

    Don, visualizing the shot prior to swinging is a huge part of my routine as well. It doesn't always happen the way I visualize it, but I am much more consistent when I can see the outcome I want in more detail than ball location alone.
  5. Todd T

    I'll try it, but the bogey-stogie seems to work quite nicely!
  6. B.A.

    This is great! Thanks for sharing!
  7. Chuck Z

    Playing in a three day Senior Amateur Tournament starting tomorrow. Great timing. I'm sure there will be time when I will need a mental mulligan. I am a glutton for punishment, have interclub matches on Monday. Thanks Pal. Great advice. Is that sorta like Happy Gilmore going to a happy place? hahaha.....
  8. richard f

    That's good advice thanks
  9. augusto r

    thanks and much appreciated for the advice
  10. pulplvr

    Rick, terrific thoughts. I'll remember to give this a whirl next time I'm on the course. I really could have used this mental mulligan concept at TPC Sawgrass.
  11. Steve R

    Those are awesome thoughts. I can visualize using this as I type.
    Thank you my friend.
  12. Jack H

    Good luck this weekend Chuck! Play well! Let us know how it goes.

  13. Jack H

    Great post! Any help on accepting poor shots is helpful. I find it a much easier game when you enjoy yourself and have fun.

  14. Chuck Z


    It actually helped today. Thanks. Shot 42 (+6) on the front and came in on the back with a 35 (-1). Best round I have had in over four months and under tournament conditions. Your timing was perfect, at least for me. Thanks Pal.
  15. Kevin N

    I always remembered when I was a kid watching Seve play from places on the planet you would never think you would see a golf ball much less a successful recovery shot. I also remember seeing Ben Crenshaw play one off a concrete cart path with a 3 iron if memory serves me correctly and putting it on the green. Due to images like that I once shot even par after putting my first 2 tee shots OB and not hitting a single green until I flew in an eagle on the last hole. I guess you can call it perspective.
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