IT is the game every player says you can never master.

And many believe a huge part of being able to truly get to grips with golf goes on between the ears.

Now new Scottish research reveals how crucial psychology is in being able to boost performance, through the evidence of top players.

Eight of Scotland’s top male players have revealed the secrets of their success and what goes on in their minds before and after that big shot during professional competitions.

In the first study of its kind in Scotland, lead researcher Alex Oliver, a sport and exercise PhD student at Glasgow Caledonian University's psychology department, looked at how golfers control their attention, which is vital for successful skill execution.

Mr Oliver's advice to sportspeople looking to boost performance would be: “Don’t force it because that’s when your performance can unravel."

The Herald:

The research found that the establishment of a pre-shot and post-shot routine helped to offset distractions and is "beneficial" to concentration in competition.

It also highlights the importance of "mindfulness training" to be able to deal with the disappointment of that duffed shot.

One golfer explained: "I drum it into the youngsters coming through because they are the ones that will tell their pals, 'oh am level after six holes, this is my best-ever after nine'. Next think you screw it up on the back nine because you're score orientated. So I think your focus, your attention, has got to be on as much as you can, just on the task at hand, which is the next shot."

Alex said his research “helps us understand what concentration looks like in sport and what golfers need to do to concentrate”.

They all use mental tricks to concentrate and stop bad shots having a negative impact on their score. Tiger Woods has adopted a 10-step psychology routine - anytime he hits a bad shot, he’s trained his mind to forget about it 10 steps down the fairway.

Another golfer told the research: " As soon as the ball leaves the club face you can’t do anything about it. You can’t control the bounce, you can estimate it but as soon as that ball hits the ground it could do anything. It could hit a stone, hit a worm cast, it could do absolutely anything. You can’t control it and you need to be more accepting."

Another explained: "The big thing is realizing you’re going to make mistakes. We’re always going to make mistakes. If I go and play golf tomorrow, I’ll make a mistake at some point; it might be just a wee one or it might be a disastrous one, but you learn from it, you learn from it, but you’ll do it again.  It’s happened before and it’ll happen again you know so you deal with it and move on."

The research, published in The Sport Psychologist journal, is said to give a "unique insight" into the pre and post-shot techniques used by some of the country’s best golfers to improve mental focus which can now be used to help other sports enthusiasts perfect their game.

The study, entitled A Grounded Theory of Meta-Attention Among Golfers, used a philosophical Straussian theory approach to understand how concentration works and analysed life-story interviews with elite golfers using psychological coding.

Meta-attention is an awareness of the factors that influence an individual’s attention.

The research “provides an understanding of the function of meta-attention in golf performance that can be used by golfers, coaches, or psychologists to improve attentional strategies”.

Preshot and postshot routines were said to be an "integral part" of improving concentration.

One golfer said: "After that [the shot] I would walk into my neutral box, reflective box where I would evaluate the process and the outcome, put the club in the bag, and as soon as I walked away from that zone I wouldn’t think at all, I would bring my eyes up and just enjoy it."

Mr Oliver said: “This could help men and women involved in sports that are intermittent like golf and snooker improve their performance. The concentration techniques used by the best golfers can be adapted to help other sportspeople become more professional. They are tried and tested and we know what actually works. We now have a greater understanding of the psychology behind it all.

"Establish your pre-shot routine and post-shot routine. This is one of the few pieces of research that has been done on the pre and post-shot routine, especially in intermittent sport like golf because that’s where every evaluation of the shot takes place. If you do have a negative evaluation of a shot, just after a few moments switch off and think about anything other than golf."

He added: "If you’re a budding golfer you’re probably already working with a psychologist and your coach.

“Tiger Woods has a 10-step rule and the golfers I spoke to all had that box where they have their evaluation and when they step out of that box their mind is elsewhere and on anything other than golf.

“Just as they begin to approach a ball or get sight of a ball, that’s when they will begin to evaluate the situation around them and what the shot will require. That’s when evaluation and pre-shot routine comes in and they are ready to hit the ball.”

The university said that personal details of the golfers interviewed in the research are strictly confidential.