Golf coaches and pros can give you a different swing thought for every little problem you may have. “Low and slow,” “address the ball,” “keep the lag,” “elbows face the target,” “keep your head down,” “follow through,” “whip your hips around.” But how many of these game-improvement mantras can you keep in your head at one time?
Do you find that too many swing thoughts crowd your mind while you set up your shot these days? Is your game actually getting worse? Sometimes, telling yourself over and over what you should and shouldn’t do can actually make you more insecure about your abilities. This can lead to panic or paralysis instead of a perfect stroke.
Many experts are saying that the key to success in your golf game lies in playing with your body and soul, not your head.
The business of letting go
Sports psychology is a multi-million dollar industry for a reason. The way an athlete manages their psychological functions while playing their sport can sometimes have nearly as much effect on their game as their physical fitness or even their technique. And what is one of the most often repeated messages of sports psychology experts? Don’t overthink it.
“The range is for practice, and the course is for playing the game, and you’re dead if you can’t separate the two,” says California golf instructor Mike Wilson. Wilson is speaking about a popular sentiment among successful golfers. The driving range is where you work on your swing — the course is where you let go and play what you’ve learned. Similar to the way you may practice scales on the piano, when it’s time to perform a piece of music, you know to let your mind relax and let your body take over.
The range is for practice, the course is for playing
Experimenting with different swing thoughts during range practice can be incredibly useful to help mix things up and correct bad habits. But experts agree that it’s best to get out of your head and rely on muscle memory when it’s time to actually whack the ball during a game or tournament. PGA golfer, Mike Weir, says of playing on the tour, “You have to find a way to get from the practice tee to the course without all those swing thoughts. Otherwise you can end up thinking too much and playing golf swing, not golf.”
Golfweek.com has actually referred to the practice of trying to implement too many swing thoughts as “an exercise in self-punishment.” Swing thoughts can help you adjust your swing for the better during practice, when the pressure is off. But once you’ve learned it, it’s best to rely on muscle memory. Coaches say “internal thoughts, or ones that are linked to the motion [of the swing] typically don’t help golfers perform under pressure.” During a game, it’s best to keep swing thoughts to a minimum — maybe one or two, if any.
Working hard to relax
One notable exception to the “get out of your head” rule is currently top-ranked Australian golfer Jason Day. He has famously developed a 15-step pre-swing checklist with his coach that he goes through before every single swing. Phew!
While the exact details of his multi-step procedure are a secret, whatever they are, they’re certainly working for this number one golfer. And for all the implied cerebral activity involved in a 15-step swing ritual, his coach, Jason Goldsmith, says it’s actually meant to help him reach a state of mind-body connection — in essence, to get out of his head! While we don’t know the details of each step, we can assume his ritual involves analyzing his shot, planning his strategy, then letting go and trusting his body.
— C. Pedroja