Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game by Joseph Parent: Summary & Notes

Rating: 6/10

Available at: Amazon

Related: The Inner Game of Golf


A fun read with lots of insights into how the mental side of the game should be approached.

I didn’t find it as tactical and immediately applicable as The Inner Game of Golf, and would recommend reading that one first.

This book can be read as a supplement, or if you’re in need of some fresh ideas about how to improve your mental approach to golf.


The PAR Approach: Preparation, Action, Response to Results


  • Less than 1% of golfers have completed a round in par or better. Make your own “par” by changing the par on holes that are toughest to reflect your handicap and the conditions of the day.
  • Clarity is having an image of the full shot that you intend—where the ball is going to come to rest and how it’s going to get there.
  • When you establish an image of what you intend to do, the body will fulfill it. That becomes the “target.” The clearer the image, the more likely that your body will produce it.
  • It is extremely important to have an image in mind of where we do want the ball to go. Thinking about where we don’t want it to go, the hazard that we want to avoid, sets that negative image in our mind.
  • To be sure you remember to breathe and diffuse the tension before executing any challenging shot, I recommend incorporating a full breath into your swing routine for every shot. It actually makes an ideal “trigger” for the start of your approach to the ball from behind, which is the beginning of your swing routine.
  • You can practice mindfulness with breath-counting whenever you have time in between shots (waiting for the group ahead, etc.).


  • When you’re warming up, practice your full pre-shot routine, and end your warmup by “playing” a few holes of the course. By the time you get to the full tee it will be like you’ve played several holes.
  • Ideally we avoid swing thoughts, and move to swing images. It’s better to have an image of the flight path and finishing point of the ball than something about your swing.
  • For players who need a swing thought, it is better to have one that describes what you intend to do rather than how you intend to do it. For example, the thought “long arms” gives an image of what you want to feel. However, “extend the arms” gives direction about how you want to move.


  • If you rolled the ball on the line you chose, at the pace you wanted, with what you felt was a good stroke, then you made the putt. You may not hole every putt, but you can make every putt.
  • The best preparation for any shot is to have an image that is as complete and precise as possible. For your putts, imagine the ball rolling the full distance to the hole. See in your mind’s eye the way it will change speed and direction. See the path it will take all the way to the exact point on the edge of the hole where the ball will fall in.
  • When getting ready to putt, let your view include more of the green and see the distance to the hole within that bigger space.
  • Read putts backward: The best way to read a putt is to start at the hole. Examine the area around the hole. See the direction from which a ball would roll most easily into the hole, and the exact spot on the edge it will cross. That point becomes the effective center of the hole for your putt.
  • Then work backward from there to your ball, imagining the path and pace your ball will need to travel to enter the hole at the spot you picked.
  • On an uphill putt, imagine the ball diving into the hole, striking the middle of the back wall. This gives your body the message to stroke the ball firmly, without you needing to think, “Hit it hard.”
  • On a downhill putt, imagine the ball just trickling over the front edge. This gives your body the message to stroke the ball gently, but without the hesitation that comes from the fear of the ball going far past the hole.
  • “Lagging” putts is a common piece of advice that I don’t recommend. I recommend picturing the putt actually going in the hole, over a spot on the edge, even on long putts. Make the best read you can and simply give the ball the best roll you can. The more specific your target is, the better results you’ll get.
  • When warming up, to get a feel for the speed of the greens, line up some balls on a level area and then try to putt towards the edge of the fringe. Then guess where it goes before looking. Putting for the fringe is a good way to warm up without the pressure of trying to hole it too.
  • Leapfrog drill: practice putting various distances, and try to get each successive ball past the previous one.

Putting warmup:

  1. Putt to nowhere: vary the distance and get your stroke smooth.
  2. Putt to the fringe: putt to the fringe, guess whether it is short or long.
  3. Long putts: take several long putts of 25-40 feet.
  4. Putt with break: roll some 15-foot putts with big break, to get a feel for the relationship of speed to break.
  5. Short putts: putt several short, 2-foot putts to get some confidence and feel for holing putts.


  • Expect that your opponents are going to hole their shots, so you’re never surprised.
  • Remember that you are competing against the golf course, not your opponent.
  • When approaching the green, choose the club that will get the ball to the back of the green with a perfect shot. More often than not, you’ll end up in the middle.
  • Think of every tee shot on a par-4 or par-5 as a layup shot. This reduces the tendency to swing too hard, and gives you a much better chance of hitting a good shot.

Response to Results

  • When you hit a shot that comes out just the way you pictured it, get some emotion going. Give yourself a silent “Yes!” or some other expression of positive emotion. That reinforces the experience. Hold your finish and follow the flight of the ball until it stops. That imprints the image in your mind so that you can call on it when you face a similar shot or need to make the same shot in a more challenging situation. Store it in your “video library of greatest hits.”
  • If you hit a poor shot, instead of erupting in a storm of emotion, get somewhat detached and intellectual about it. I recommend that you say, “Hmmm. Interesting.” To remove yourself from the outcome even further, you can say, “How unlike me.”
  • When a shot is hit poorly, most people (after they’ve calmed down and stopped moaning) try to figure out what they did wrong. It is extremely important at this point in the post-shot routine that you do not try to fix your swing.
  • Take a step back and think about what it was that interfered with your swing. Reflect on your preparation and state of mind. Did you have a good picture? Were you committed to the club and shot selection? Were you composed, settled, and ready when you started the swing?
  • If, on reflection, you felt properly prepared mentally, review your alignment, ball position, or other aspects of your physical setup.
  • If any of these were the culprit, then there’s no need to question or try to fix your swing. Just do your best to set-up properly next time.
  • Remember, whatever faults there are in a swing, it doesn’t generally work to try to fix them on the course.


  • One way to change poor habits is simply to count them, like putting pebbles in a bowl. Whenever the habit occurs, add a tick to your scorecard. Count them at the end of the day and that’s it. They will decrease after a couple rounds.

Some habits to think about avoiding:

  • The “anyways”: any time you hit a shot despite feeling that something isn’t quite right.
  • Thinking about the future: the score, future holes you have to play, winning or losing the match or tournament, what you’ll say to reporters
  • Thinking about the past: repeatedly criticizing yourself for an earlier mistake; replaying past shots or rounds in your mind
  • Leaving putts or approach shots short
  • Negative self-talk, club-throwing
  • Swinging with a fearful image of what you want to avoid

How to enjoy a bad round of golf:

  • Forget the last hole: think about a round where you’ve been playing poorly, but then get a hole-in-one on the last hole. Would that be a good round? Of course. So forget the previous holes and focus on the one you’re playing.
  • Change focus from performance to learning: if you’re having a bad round, switch your focus to learning as much as you can about the game and about yourself. You can make the most of your current round by learning things that can improve all your future rounds.

A Game of Honor

The Four Principles of Shambhala Golf


  • Virtue is the expression of basic goodness in action. Basic goodness is the fundamental worthiness of every individual. In playing golf, what matters most is experience without the reference point of results. Ultimately, the outcome of the game is neither important nor unimportant. The real point is that it is good to be mutually engaged in our world, joining body, mind, and heart in the vividness of the moment. This is the ground for discovering unconditional confidence.


  • Discipline means proper conduct. Because of virtue, we understand proper conduct as that which overcomes pettiness. In golf we make a relationship to the form of the game and our interactions with others. When frustration arises, it becomes the working basis for developing discipline. By applying generosity, ethics, patience, exertion, equanimity, and insight, we can transcend pettiness and irritation. Therefore, discipline is the antidote to the negativity that can arise while playing the game of golf, and the means to cultivate a confident and uplifted attitude.


  • Humor is the absence of self-importance. Humor brings a quality of lightness, an atmosphere of enjoyment. It does not refer to frivolous comments at someone else’s expense or the ability to tell a joke. Rather, it is a simple and genuine delight in participating in the game of golf. With humor we can avoid the self-defeating habits of taking ourselves too seriously or being too heavily focused on results. With humor we can relax and trust ourselves and be able to help others do the same.


  • Playing the game of golf is a wonderful way of engaging in our world and appreciating our life. Through virtue, discipline, and humor, the simplicity of the game becomes the stepping-stone for believing in ourselves and opening our heart to others. An open heart is the basis of true friendship: accepting all the qualities we experience in our fellow human beings and ourselves. This is the foundation for expanding a vision of openness and compassion throughout the world.

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