Category Archives: mental game

Visualize the Entire Shot

The next time you go out to play, try this.

Before you make your stroke, look ahead to where you want the ball to end up and visualize the ball going through the air/along the ground in the way you intend AND at the same time visualize the feeling in your body that will make the ball do that.

That second one should almost be a palpable feeling.

The Perfect Golf Swing

If you break 90 regularly, if you go to the course and expect to shoot in the 80s, I would guess you have a near-perfect golf swing–for you.

If you swung that swing a dozen times in a row, with no ball in front of you, I would bet that every swing would be as near to the same as a dozen swings can be.

The clubface would be square all the way through, the clubpath through “impact” would be right at the target, the hands would always be leading the clubhead. Most importantly, you would swing to identical finishes each time.

In other words, perfect.

Now put down a ball and swing at it. Did that same perfect swing come out, or did your “Hit the ball!” swing come out?

This is why golf is hard. We KNOW what to do. It’s just that the ball makes us do things we know are wrong, yet we can’t help it.

At this point I would normally give you the solution. But with this, I there’s nothing I can say.

You’re going to have to figure it out by yourself, which I urge you to do because if you crack this nut, there will be no stopping you.

It’s the most important golfing skill there is.

The Nothing Golf Swing

I’m going to remind you of something that I know has happened to you many times.

You’re in the fairway standing over the ball, your mind seems to be blank, you swing the club, and hit a tremendous shot and think to yourself, “Where did that come from?”

This happens a lot at the range, too. The first ball you hit with just a warming up swing is the best of the bucket.

The reason these things happened is that there was Nothing your mind.

I didn’t say there isn’t anything your mind. That’s different. There is something on your mind, and the name of that something is Nothing.

You’re not thinking of technique, you’re not thinking of results, not anything like that. You have cleared you mind of all that, but have not emptied it. Was you are thinking about now is Nothing.

What I mean by this is the feeling of a moving mind. that, and how to obtain it, are through described in Chapter 2 of my book, The Golfing Self.

The following golf-oriented exercise shows you a way to obtain this feeling.

I want you to take two practice swings, but without stopping between them. Start in your address position, then swing back, through, back again from there, and through a second time. Back through, back, through, two full swings in a continuous motion.

The first swing will probably be a bit clunky, like you’re trying to make a swing, but the second one will be quite relaxed, graceful, and, well, just a swing.

If you just let the second swing happen, you will have the feeling of Nothing in mind. At that point, step up to the ball and start your stroke with that feeling of Nothing still in mind. Go right away. If you delay too long, the feeling will fade away and you will be right back where you started.

Don’t hurry, just don’t dilly-dally. Step up to the ball and go while the feeling is fresh.

Practice this at home without a ball (of course). A lot. What you might have thought to be a random occurrence can become a reliable feature of your game.

Two Reasons Why You hit Bad Shots

Your bad shots are not always caused by a physical error. They can be caused by a mental lapse that leads to a physical error.

The most common mental lapse is to think about hitting the ball a long way. This makes you swing too fast or hit with the trailing hand, neither of which work out very often.

Another common mental lapse is picking a shot you do not have confidence in. Pick a shot you are confident about, then make your stroke with that feeling.

These ideas might make you take two shots when you wanted to take only one, but they prevent you from taking three.

An Easy Trick For Hitting Accurate Golf Shots

I’m going to show you something I have been doing for years to hit accurate golf shots. By that I mean the ball goes in the direction I intend. (To hit the ball straight, that is, without curvature, see A Basic Golf Swing.)

This trick is so easy you won’t think it will work, but it does, if you believe in it.

All you have to do is imagine a short line going away from the ball in the direction you want to hit the ball (see photo). Do this just before you take the club away.

(The line you imagine doesn’t have to be red, as in the photo. Something from the taupe family also goes well with green.)

I’m no expert on how the mind works, but it seems to me that by giving your unconscious mind a last-second order to swing the club through the ball along the line you imagined, that mind takes over to make it happen.

You aim yourself when you set up to the ball. This is how you aim your swing, which is a different task.

When I’m swinging, I see that line the entire time–not fixating on it, but continuing to let it guide my swing via the workings of my unconscious mind.

Believe in it, give yourself up to it. As they say, give up control to get control.

Relaxing the Arms

NOTE: A Basic Golf Swing is now available that develops the comments below in full, and more, in both words and video.


I hope everybody knows by now that a relaxed golf swing generates more swing speed and thus more power than a muscular effort. Relaxation as a general rule goes only so far, though. We need to know how to apply it.

As always, The Recreational Golfer to the rescue. It’s in the arms.

When you are at address, let your arms hang down freely from the shoulders in a state of complete relaxation. So far, so good, but anybody can do that. The trick is to maintain that kind of relaxation throughout the swing.

It can be lost the instant the club gets taken away, or if it survives that, the instant the club is brought back down.

Maintain that calmness, and that relaxation, by relaxing your mind. Before you take the club away, think to yourself, “One, half, half, half…” and feel the relaxation appearing in both your mind and your body.

Then you can take the club away and let that freely hanging feeling continue throughout the swing, instead of your arms and shoulders tightening up as when the arms and hands are full of “hit.”

That will generate more speed than you thought possible.

If you ever have a chance to swing with a launch monitor, you will find that you get a higher swing speed when your arms are relaxed than if you try to muscle your way to swing speed.

One more thing. You need to swing with a tempo that lets your arms stay relaxed. If your tempo is over your red line, your relaxation will be lost.

The Whole Swing Feeling

We practice our swing to learn the parts and how to put them together into one swing. During that practice, we might come to believe that one of those parts is the key to making the entire swing work, and get stuck on referring back to that one feeling when we play.

While the swing is composed of identifiable parts, the feeling of the whole swing is not of each of these parts as they parade by in succession from takeaway to finish. The whole swing has a feeling of its own, one feeling in itself.

The whole swing feeling is bigger than any of the smaller parts, but it is the same in that like the parts, it too is one thing with its own one feel. That whole swing feeing is the feeling you play golf with.

Every touring professional, or any high-performing athlete in any sport, is a technical player in practice, but a feel player in performance. They practice their technique, but then trust what they have practiced when they play, and just perform.

Applying External Focus to the Golf Swing

Making external focus the basis of your golf swing means to transfer the basis of swing movements from the body to the golf club, and from there to the mind. You need to know what you want the club to do and then create a simple, precise, and easily understood image of the club doing just that. Then you use the image to place your unconscious mind in control of the stroke, which directs your body to move the club the way you want it to, automatically.

What we want the club, or more importantly, the clubface to do, is to face the target at the start, move away and back again, and at its return still be facing the target squarely and traveling directly at it. The clubface is the important thing because that is the part that actually strikes the ball. The rest of the club is irrelevant.

You will make a normal golf swing, nothing different there, but you will have an image of something else.

Take the clubface back square and along the ball-target line. As the backswing progresses, imagine in your mind that the clubface as it rises up stays directly over that line and is still aimed square to the target. This will not be so in reality, but imagine that it is, and it will feel like it is.

To get the clubface back to the ball, imagine in your mind you are swinging it along the ball-target line, and the clubface is square to the target, the entire time. Again, this is not reality, but your imagination will make you feel like this is what you are doing.

I know the body cannot move the clubface according to that imagination, but it does not have to. The physical swing does not need to mirror the mental image. The mind and body have different rules and operate in different ways to accomplish the same task.

We all know that feel is not real. You’ve heard that so many times. The physical swing creates a physical feeling that interprets into your mind as … something.

With external focus we do that same thing but in the opposite direction. We start with an image in mind that creates a feeling that is interpreted into your body. The strength of this approach to the problem of swinging a golf club correctly is that it follows an order of events that conforms to how human beings “work.” The mind leads the body.

When we base the swing on a physical movement (internal focus), one swing is seldom the same as the last one, and we can frequently be unsure. But if we have an image of what something outside ourselves is doing (external focus), in this case, the clubface, the image can be identical every time. That leads to much more accurate and consistent physical movement.

All this is not to say, get the right mental image and you’re done. You still need a good grip. You still need good tempo. The handle still leads the clubhead. Etc. Without good technique your mind can’t lead you in the right direction.

In a nutshell, with technique alone, we often swing with the hope that all the separate parts will add up to a well-struck shot. That way works sometimes. The function of the external focus process is to create a unity of technique that produces a swing that works all the time.

The Hardest Thing to Do in Golf

Golf is hard. Not because the technique is hard to learn, though that does take some work.

It’s that even after you have learned the technique and gotten pretty good at it, you still have something left over to deal with.

The ball.

The ball just sits there, waiting for you to hit it, mocking your technique because technique is one thing, but can you do it when it counts is another.

And the ball makes you think you can’t do it.

Not letting the ball make you lose confidence in your ability is the hardest thing to do golf.

We all have very good air swings. We do. Put that swing on a ball and away it goes. But when there really is a ball in front of you, it gets tricky.

You can relate to the ball that way, and a lot of golfers do.

I read a long time ago about a teaching pro who would glue a piece of string to a golf ball. He would get down on the ground, and ask his student to hit the ball.

Every now and then the pro would pull on the string at just the right moment, when the student’s swing was committed to hitting the ball, to yank the ball away.

This was his way of teaching his students not to get caught up in hitting the ball, but rather to just swing the club, because they never knew when there was going to be ball there or not, and when the ball did get yanked away it didn’t make any difference because the job was to swing the club, not hit the ball.

Great for the range, but that wouldn’t make sense on the course. The solution is to find a way to turn a negative into a positive.

Hitting a golf ball isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. Life throws you much bigger problems and if you have been around the block a few times you know what I mean.

The way you get through those times is to find a way to live through that negative time without having that negativity affect the way you think and speak and act.

Not easy.

So let’s start small. With a golf ball. Find a way to turn doubt and worry into confidence.

My way is to think of the club and the ball as my partners and the three of us are going to hit the ball where it needs to go this time.

Sound silly? Yes, but it’s easier said than done. It requires changing a mental habit and that takes honest work.

The process you go though to not be intimidated by the ball, and actually welcome the chance to hit it straight and far, is the same process that you need to go through when something really important comes your way and you have to find a way to perform.

I’ll bet when you started reading this post you didn’t think it was going to turn in to a life lesson. But, take ’em where you get ’em.

And along the way you’ll become a better golfer. Can’t say no to that!