Category Archives: mental game

Golf Is a Game of Perfect

There’s this guy named Bob Rotella who is the cat’s meow among golf psychologists. He seems to have helped a lot of touring pros to play better. More power to him.

I finally read one of his books, the famous one, I guess, Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect. I’m sorry to say I came a way quite disappointed.

First of all, the title is all wrong. If you don’t expect to hit the shot you planned on, which is my definition of a perfect shot, then choose another shot that you do expect to come off as you planned it to.

I mean, do you step up to the ball and expect to hit a mediocre shot, or a lousy shot? Really?

And what is “perfect,” anyway? It all depends on what you are capable of.

Touring pros aim for a spot on the green about the size of a throw rug, and they have the skill to hit it.

Me, I just want my ball to hit somewhere on the green and stay on it. That for me is a perfect shot, given my skills.

The trap, and what he is probably addressing, is that while we (should) expect to hit a perfect shot, we get disappointed when we don’t.

The skill every golfer needs to have, from hacker to pro, is to pick a shot you believe in, hit it, see where it ends up, and start thinking about the next shot. Period. No more than that.

No sense of uncertainty as you are about to swing the club away. No emoting because the ball went somewhere else. No wondering if your game is falling apart because you hit one bad shot. And so on. None of that.

That was the whole point of his book, and it’s a good point. It can’t be said often enough.

But where the book fails is though he tells you what to do, he is silent on how to do it.

It’s as if he had written a book of golf swing instruction that says you need to hit the ball with the clubface square to the swing path and the swing path going toward your target, the end.

Good advice. How about telling us how to do that?

Well, the mental game is the same. “What to do” is not “how to do.”

Just as you don’t get a good swing for the asking, and you don’t acquire good mental habits for the asking. You have to know how to get them and then develop yourself long those lines.

[WARNING: Massive product promotion coming up.]

There is only one book on the mental game that I know of, and I have read a lot of them, that goes beyond telling you what to do and also tells you how to develop your mind so you can do it.

It is my own book, The Golfing Self. It contains exercises that if you do them train your mind to maintain your concentration for the entire round, every shot, so you have your best chance of hitting perfect shots.

(You get the book as a free download on this site. Hard copy at Amazon.)

A Cure For Being Ball Bound

The golf ball on the ground can make us do things. Stupid things.

Golf is so easy. All you have to do when you swing at the ball is reproduce your practice swing. Easy!

But the ball gives us other ideas. Bad ideas.

Here’s a good idea.

When you take your practice swing, all see below you is turf. That’s all your mind is perceiving.

So, when you swing at the ball, see the ground on each side of the ball and fill in the ground under the ball with your imagination, and swing at all that, just like you did when the ball wasn’t there.

Now you’re back to what was going through your mind during your perfect practice swing, and you can easily reproduce that practice swing and just let everything else take care of itself.

The ball is still there, you can still see it, but you have given your mind the command to see the ground instead.

(There’s only room in your mind for one thought at a time, and that thought needs to be what to do. What not to do, as in don’t think about the ball or something like that, is entirely irrelevant.)

So instead of focusing on the ball, focus on the ground beneath the ball. Easy!

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.