From Plato To Tiger: Great Thoughts for Golfers

There’s no getting around it: Golf is a thinking man’s game. The average swing takes around one second to complete (backswing around 0.75 seconds and an additional 0.25 seconds for the downswing). If you shoot 90, that translates into a minute and half of real serious action. That leaves you with a lot of down time -- approximately 3 hours, 58 minutes, 30 seconds to analyze, to visualize, to reflect, to worry, to celebrate, to mourn, to pray, to meditate, to second guess, to grumble, to reboot, to chitchat, to focus, to mutter, to plan, etc.

Even when you are playing with your best friends, golf is a lonely – an only – endeavor. It’s you, the club, the ball and target on each shot. As you go from shot to shot, you have ample time to either “keep it going” or “get it together.” Golfers don’t face 100-mph fastballs coming at their heads or 325-pound tackles looking to tear them in two. What they do face is the never-ending challenge of staying in the moment by thinking right and keeping the proper perspective throughout the round. As three-time Major winner Tommy Armour said, “It’s not the walking or the swinging that tires you at golf; it’s the thinking or, more often, the ineffectually effort of trying to think and not knowing how to do it that wears you down.”

Below is a collection of thoughts from both great thinkers and great golfers that should help you deal with the mental side of the game.


Little good comes from brooding about mistakes. The next shot, in golf or life, is the big one. -- Sportswriter Grantland Rice (1880 – 1954). He covered his first golf tournament in 1909 and became one of the sport’s most respected writers.

Life must be lived as play. -- Greek philosopher Plato (427–347 BC)

A change in attitude can change your life. – American actress and model Sasha Azevedo (born 1978)

In golf, while there is life, there is hope. – Sir Walter Simpson (1843 to 1898) was a 19th century Scottish philosopher and a Captain of The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers. He wrote the book, The Art of Golf  (1887).

Sometimes you thin the ball and it rolls up five feet from the cup. You didn’t deserve it. Sometimes you hit it perfect and the wind comes up and buries it in the trap. You didn’t deserve that either. But that’s life. -- Barney Adams (b. 1939), founder of Adams golf.

The greatest revolution of our generation is the discovery that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives. -- American psychologist and philosopher William James (1842 to 1910).


In golf, as in life, you get out of it what you put into it.” -- Sam Snead (1912 – 2002), who won 7 Majors.

Learning never exhausts the mind. --  Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. -- Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC)

Without discipline, there is no life at all. -- Katherine Hepburn (1907 to 2003), winner of four Best Actress Academy Awards.

There’s always stuff to work on. You’re never there. – 15-time Major Winner Tiger Woods (Born 1975).

Energy and persistence conquer all things. – Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790).


And assuredly the imagination plays a most important part in golf. The golfer, I take it, has to present to himself a picture of how a particular shot should be played before he tries to play it. In this probably lies the importance of the address and the waggle, during which, all unconsciously to its owner, the mind of the player is presenting a picture of the stroke as it should be made. – Canadian Arnold Haultain (1857 – 1941), who wrote The Mystery of Golf (Houghton Mifflin, 1908)

Imagination is more important than knowledge, for while knowledge defines everything we know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create. – Physicist Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955)

I won’t ever change my style of play. The fact is, I play my best when I play aggressive, when I attack, when I create shots. That’s what I enjoy about the game – that challenge. – Six-time Major winner Phil Mickelson (Born 1970).

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can. -- American actor, singer, comedian Danny Kaye (1913 – 1987).


When the pressure is on, thinking becomes every bit as important as technique. When the heat is on, you must close the deal!  You must sell yourself to yourself. YOU MUST THINK LIKE A CLOSER! Simply put, great salesmen and great golfers think alike. – Author and lecturer Dale Carneige (1888 – 1955)

Don’t try too hard to hole every putt. A 'must make' attitude puts too much pressure on your stroke. Just do your best to get the correct line and speed and roll the ball at the hole on that line. – Ben Crenshaw (Born 1952), who won the Masters in 1984 & 1995.

By "guts" I mean, grace under pressure. – Author Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961).

But, under pressure, I do use one simple swing thought: I pick a spot a foot in front of the ball and hit over it -- hard. That takes my mind off the outcome of the shot and keeps me in the process.

-- Rory McIlroy (born 1989), who has won four Majors..

When you have a specific image in your mind and commit to it, you tighten your focus. It’s also an important part of handling pressure. You’re giving your mind something to do other than be nervous. – German Martine Kaymer (Born 1984), who has two Major wins -- the 2010 PGA and the 2014 U.S. Open.

Man's greatness lies in his power of thought. – French mathematician, inventor and philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662).

Think Away!

Allan Stark


  • Lynnly Marcotte

    Thanks for the great quotes, Allan. Good to review them as they apply to Golf and Life.

  • Andy Cowherd

    RE: Aristotle
    Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
    Vince Lombardi (b: June 11, 1913)

    So much thinking…how about “Is my grip right?” “Step on my back foot.” “Am I turning enough?” “I need to slow down my swing?” “I need to make sure I catch enough sand.” “Keep my head down longer.” “Don’t open up the club face so much on the backswing!” “Am I going to go for the green on my second shot on #13?” Too much to think about!

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