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Golf Psychology – The 6 Motivations Behind Playing Golf

motivations when playing golf

Every golf player on this planet, past, present, and future, has their own motivations for playing golf. Some people want to be the best. Some people are just playing for fun.

motivations when playing golf

No matter what your motivations are, knowing your motivations and getting clear on them can, without a doubt, help you focus your efforts productively.

A golfer’s psychology is much more complex than some people may understand. Psychology has a huge impact on the performance of any athlete, hobbyist or professional, and so it is our responsibility to optimize it.

Read down below for an interesting insight into the 6 motivations behind every golfer’s time spent in the sport.

The 6 Motivations Behind Playing Golf

1. Image

Motivation definition: A golf player with the image motivation plays golf purely for the image they create in the eyes of others. These players do not really care if they do well in golf, as long as they can give the impression that they are capable and that they do score well in golf.

A person with the image motivation is typically not the most competitive of people. The image motivation is characterized by a considerable amount of anxiety if the appearance meant to be portrayed does not match reality.

One could argue that having image as your motivation to play golf in inauthentic, because one is playing for others more so than for themselves. If you have the image motivation, it would be a good idea to re-evaluate what truly matters to you in life, what you want to do for yourself.

Of course, the image motivation could also be a strategic motivation. For example, if you are a businessperson who wants to infiltrate a group of successful people who like to play golf, then it makes sense to wish to appear good at golf to the group in order to build a positive relationship.

2. Competition

Motivation definition: A golf player with the competition motivation plays golf mainly to win, to beat others, to dominate their competition. This golf player cares more about beating their competition than beating their personal bests. This golf player tends to be motivated when the stakes get higher, such as in the case of prizes (such as money) being given to winners.

A person with the competition motivation is obviously extremely competitive and will run the extra mile to get ahead. This type of person Is typically one of the top performers in terms of golf score.

Competitive people work very hard to develop their skills & improve. They strive to remain focused in both their training and during tournament play.

Being a competitive golf player has few drawbacks if golf is something you wish to become good at. Certain traps a competitive golf player must avoid is getting emotional when behind other players in terms of score. Competitive players run a risk of looking outwards too much instead of focusing on giving the best performance they individually can.

However, if you are never going to become a professional golf player, then make sure your heightened level of competitiveness does not lead to conflicts with friends and family while playing golf. If you are not in a professional golf setting, then it is sometimes better to let trivial matters slide for the sake of smoothness. Be the bigger person.

3. Friendship

Motivation definition: A golf player with the friendship motivation plays golf to create new and foster existing relationships or friendships. This golf player purely plays golf for enjoyment, and is typically indifferent to scoring well or badly in golf. This golf player tends to experience the least score-based anxiety.

People with the friendship motivation make some of the most pleasant, relaxed, and laid back friends. They are quite literally playing golf for the sole purpose of having a good time with you, so there is little risk they will let a few bad shots or an unfavorable score on their end get in the way of creating good memories.

However, golf players whose main motivation is friendship are unlikely to become professionals because they tend to lack that drive required to train meticulously and frequently. Golf is a special sport in the sense that it is incredibly individual, and the score relies mainly on only one person: you.

If you wish to become a professional golf player and have the friendship motivation, it is still possible, but you will have to embody more competitiveness-based motivations. There is no room for friendship, feeling bad for others, and letting others win in professional tournaments.

4. Expectations

Motivation definition: A golf player with the expectations motivation plays golf competitively to beat their own personal best rather than to beat others. The expectations motivation is closely linked to the competition motivation. However, a golf player with the expectations motivation can still fall in the trap of setting low expectations for themselves, resulting in poor performance despite their goals being reached.

People with the expectations motivation have the advantage of blocking out the outside world to only focus on what matters in the moment: themselves, and their own performance. They tend to not get destabilized by the scores of others, and to only focus on improving their own score.

On the other hand, golf players with the expectations motivation might not be able to tap into their “clutch factor” (surpassing what one’s regular performance level in order to rise to the occasion and win).

These players can get too hyper-focused on their own score, and forget the bigger picture. They are supposed to win the tournament, and that happens by having a better score than everyone else. These players tend to be very competitive. However, sometimes, that competitiveness needs to be redirected towards the outside world a little more.

5. Perfection

Motivation definition: A golf player with the perfection motivation tries to reach the golf performance that they find ideal, potentially up to the level of a professional idol. A golf player with this motivation tends to have their feelings and emotions highly linked to their golf performance relative to their view of “perfection”.

People with the perfection motivation come in two categories: the high performers, and the losers.

The high performers are constantly practicing, reviewing footage of their play, studying theory, testing new gear, employing coaches, improving their nutrition, and more, all for the sake of approaching perfection.

These high performers strive to become perfect. However, they tend to often get frustrated, because in reality, perfection is not possible. Shooting a hole-in-one on every single hole is statistically impossible, although possible in purist theory.

On the other hand, the losers with the perfection motivation are paralyzed by their ideals of perfection that they will never reach. These players have no confidence nor belief that they can reach perfection, and so they do not even try. They do not practice, nor learn anything. Then, they get frustrated that they do not have perfect golf performances.

Whether you are a high performer, or a loser, with the perfection motivation, you will save yourself much psychological pain by lowering your bar for success. Aim for a goal that is more reasonable than unattainable perfection.

6. Fun

Motivation definition: A golf player with the fun motivation plays golf for fun, to enjoy themselves. A golf player playing purely for fun tends to experience lower than average performance-based anxiety. A golf player with this motivation loves to play golf, whether it is in a group, or alone. This golf player tends to be grateful and happy to be playing golf whenever they can, regardless of their score.

Golf players with the fun motivation are passionate about golf. They come from all walks of life, and each have different goals. The overweight 70 year old and the athletic 18 year old PGA prospect might both have a passionate fun motivation behind why they play golf, but they have wildly different goals.

People with fun as their motivation behind playing golf tend to be happier than those with most other types of motivations. However, the fun motivation does not really provide a strong, compelling reason to beat one’s competition.

The fun motivation is likely one of the healthiest motivations to have. It confirms that you are playing golf for yourself, for fun. You are not playing to impress others, win money, or gain fame. We human beings feel the most happiness and fulfillment when our actions align authentically with our passions.

Final Word

Identifying your main motivations behind why you play golf will help you know yourself better. It will also help you identify how to focus your thoughts better so that they align with your goals. A mix of some of the different motivations will pull you in different directions. If you absolutely want to achieve your goals, you might need to give more emphasis to one single motivation.

If you would like to delve deeper in golfer psychology, and these 6 types of motivations behind playing golf, we recommend you read “The Inner Game of Golf”. The Inner Game of Golf, by Timothy Gallwey, expands on these motivations behind golf, and tells you how to make the most out of the knowledge of your motivations.


There you go! You now should have a deeper understanding of your motivations behind why you play golf! Use this newfound knowledge about yourself to cut out motivations that are not serving you. Focus on the motivations that align with your true goals!

Which motivation type do you feel when playing golf? Let us know in the comments down below! We would love to hear your story.

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