The 8 Best Books About the Mental Side of Golf to Buy in 2018

Get into the game by getting out of your head

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While the game of golf requires a fair degree of physical prowess, it’s also very much a mental exercise, one that requires patience, focus, clarity of thought, and discipline. Mental coaching is very much a part of the pro circuit, and many of these teachers have published practical guidebooks to help the rest of us learn their secrets without forking over a high fee for a personal coach. And, unlike instructional books on technique, which pale in comparison to the illustrative power of DVDs, the mental side of golf lends itself perfectly to the book format, something that can be read anywhere and referenced often.

Discussions about this aspect of the game are rife with armchair psychology and unsolicited advice. We have chosen books that avoid these pitfalls. Instead, these books offer serious insights from seasoned players and certified golf psychologists who have taken an almost philosophical approach to understanding the game, breaking down the barriers that prevent you from playing your best. Don’t expect detailed instructions on stance or grip. Instead, these books encourage you to change the way you think about the game, to live in the moment, and to enjoy the sport rather than let frustrations cloud your mind and influence your play. And—like all the best books that plumb the depths of how we think—they offer lessons that apply to all aspects of life.

Our Top Picks

01 of 08

Best Overall: Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect

Golf is not a Game of Perfect book cover
Courtesy of Amazon

The title should serve as a comfort to any golfer, and it embraces a central truth of golf: don’t strive for perfection. Instead, always be working on ways to improve your skills. Written in an approachable and conversational tone, Dr. Bob Rotella focuses on all mental aspects of the game, from prepping for the first swing to the mental conditioning needed in competitions. Rotella has been tapped by some of the pro circuit’s biggest and most accomplished players, and the book draws from personal anecdotes to illustrate his advice. Rotella encourages you to “embrace the challenges” that come when you drop the ball into the rough or hazards. He focuses on helping you develop confidence so that each action is deliberate and decisive, turning even the most complicated scenario into something simple and solvable. Some report that this book is also a great resource to conquer the sour mood that can cloud the mind after a poor showing, and benefits from repeated reading.

02 of 08

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game

This book comes from noted PGA coach and Buddhist instructor Dr. Joseph Parent, and it covers all aspects of the game with a central focus on mental game mastery. Parent utilizes what he calls the "PAR Approach," focusing on "Preparation, Action, and Response to Results" to help players develop a natural connection to the sport. This allows you to clear your mind, achieve the necessary focus, and live “in the moment” of each shot.

By drawing on ancient Zen teachings, the book helps you remove mental distractions and better get in the zone. “Be the ball” might serve as a cheeky summation, but it applies. And the lessons proffered in this book have applications beyond the game, emphasizing the importance of not just playing but celebrating golf—and life. His advice is so straightforward, clear, and fundamental that, for beginners, it’s a great way to demystify the more frustrating aspects of the game. And more seasoned players will likely question why they aren't already approaching golf in the way Parent describes.

03 of 08

Best for the Short Game: Putting Out of Your Mind

Another book from famed sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, Putting Out of Your Mind focuses on the mental focus and agility needed during the most stressful part of the game: when you’ve reached the green. By honing in on the act of putting, he spells out a handful of mental rules to follow to help remove stress, control your breathing, and hit the ball with calm accuracy.  But make no mistake: this isn’t a skill-driven book that focuses on technique. Instead, he draws from his own experiences working with pros to help demystify putting. Better still, many readers report that the advice stretches beyond the green; once you’ve started to master the mental exercises, you can apply those skills to other aspects of your game.

04 of 08

Runner-Up, Best for the Short Game: The Unstoppable Golfer

The Unstoppable Golfer is the third book on this list by Dr. Bob Rotella—and given he’s often dubbed the preeminent golf psychologist, whose students have collectively won 74 major titles—this should come as no surprise.

This guide hones in on what more than two-thirds of all golf shots are: the short ones. Think putts, chips, and pitches. Drawing from his experience in teaching pro players like Davis Love II and Graeme McDowell, Rotella unpacks the fear that typically clouds shots on the green by encouraging players to achieve a state of mental calm and focus on the only thing that matters: the hole. The book includes legions of anecdotes from the pros who have mastered the mental aspect of the game, encouraging players to stay focused on their targets, visualize the shots, commit to a routine, and accept completely whatever happens when the ball is hit.

Rotella's advice is supplemented by the science of memory and his knowledge of brain mechanics, and how an understanding of these can directly improve your physical game. In short, he encourages you to get out of your own way, quiet the mind, and rely on your well-honed instincts. And then he tells how to do that.

Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08

Best for Conquering Anxiety: Fearless Golf

The book cover may look like a still from a Michael Bay disaster flick, but Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game doesn’t rely on loud noises or CGI trickery to help you conquer what Jack Nicklaus once described as "golf’s greatest enemy": fear. Pioneer sports psychologist Dr. Gio Valiente has spent years studying the sources of an athlete’s fear, plunging into the depths of its physiological and neurological impact on golfers. With that insight, he’s able to discern strategies for conquering it.

The book emphasizes concentration — by learning to shift focus away from the results of your play or your ego, Valiente encourages you to commit to the mastery of your body and mind through a series of confidence and mastery drills. This is supplemented with a legion of anecdotes from pros like Nicklaus and Ernie Els that help put a personal, real-world touch on all the mental advice.

06 of 08

Best for Getting Back to Basics: Positive Impact Golf

As with all professional sports, the game of golf is plagued by jargon that intimidates and frustrates more than it offers any sort of clarity or support. Positive Impact Golf: Helping Golfers to Liberate Their Potential strips the sport back to its basics: a person hitting a ball with a club. Author Brian Sparks has been a British PGA Pro since 1967, so he’s in a prime position to articulate the common misperceptions about golf, eschewing the belief that learning to play should be an overly-complex, mechanical experience. Instead, Sparks provides simple advice to help you cope with the inevitable realities of bad shots and missed opportunities. Leaning heavily into the story of how he developed his teaching style, it’s partly a history book and partly a mental instruction manual, reminding players to simply enjoy the game and how that enjoyment can lead to better playing.

07 of 08

Best for Getting into the Zone: Breaking Golf’s Last Barrier

Tracy A. Reed’s book employs a four-step process to achieve perfect balance and live in the moment of each shot. Reed has taught more than 10,000 golfers in 51 countries with a lesson plan that focuses on simplicity—both physically and mentally—of the golf swing, so you can enjoy the game and can handle the inevitable bad shots. He doesn’t just cover the “what” of golf. He also details the “why” and “how," sharing his own ruminations about the sport throughout his professional career to help others “get in the zone” in a philosophical way, anchored around a handful of mental exercises and techniques. Beginners may want to try a few more instruction-oriented references first, as his insights resonate more with those who’ve had some experience (and frustration) with perfecting their swing.

08 of 08

Best for the Whole Picture: Golf Is a Game of Confidence

The follow-up to Dr. Bob Rotella’s best-selling Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect, this book relates inspirational stories about the game’s greatest players, courses, and tournaments to provide a holistic overview of golf,  on how to think confidently — arguably the biggest hurdle for any player. He encourages you to visualize each shot before stepping up to the ball, but also endorses a "practice-makes-automatic" approach so that you play by instinct and avoid mental pitfalls (like ruminating on posture or balance). This advice is geared toward any scenario, from practice at the driving range to the eighth hole of a tournament.

The book is broken down into 18 case histories, including stories from some of the game’s best players, but Rotella also includes anecdotes from lesser-known folks like a Virginian who won the state’s Senior Amateur tournament, to Rotella's own father, who he taught to play at the age of 63. The end result? A book that teaches you to control your anger, bounce back from defeat, build your confidence by “playing with your eyes,” and following a repeatable process whenever you play.