Category Archives: mental game

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!

The Ground-Fearing Golfer

This is the third of a three-part series on matters that make golf more difficult than it should be. Two weeks ago I talked about being ball-bound: thinking that you have to hit the ball instead of swing the club.

Last week I talked about how the pursuit of distance prevents us from doing our best. This week I’ll talk about the ground.

Golf would be a lot easier if the ground wasn’t in the way of the strike. We can survive errors of hitting the ball more toward the toe or heel than we can hitting thin or fat.

A thin shot still gets you something, but a fat shot gets you nothing much but a bad memory. And the anxiety about the ground is really about hitting fat, isn’t it?

Now there are technical fixes that prevent fat shots, and if you have this habit, by all means look them up, or get a lesson.

Technical fixes alone won’t solve the problem, though. Even flawless technique depends on your frame of mind in two key moments.

At takeaway, the wrong things to be thinking are making good contact, hitting the ball straight, hitting the ball to our target, and the like. We want those results, but we get them by sticking to the process.

The process is setting up to make a good stroke, paying attention to the club moving properly and your body following it. “Follow the process” is what to have in mind, if anything, when you take the club away. This process is the same for any shot.

Our mind can flinch at the last moment before impact. Actually, since the downswing is so fast, the club will still be a significant distance from the ball when we think it is just about to make contact with it.

That’s enough time to make a little adjustment that has nothing to do with hitting a better shot, but reflects only the lack of confidence in what we have been doing up to this point. So we do something, but it can never be the right thing.

You can’t turn off your mind when you swing. All you can do is, again, give it the right thing to think about, and that right thing is to follow the movement of the golf club forward through the ball.

Develop the strength of mind that allows you to do this, so it doesn’t work just occasionally, but all the time. The mental exercises explained in The Golfing Self develop that mind.

By being able to keep your mind on the right things, the worries and anxieties about not being able to hit the ball cleanly never find a way in. And when they don’t, there is nothing left for you but to sweep the ball away cleanly.

The Distance-Bound Golfer

Last week I wrote about the ball-bound golfer.

This week I want to write about another tendency that haunts us all–hitting the ball a long way.

We all want to hit the ball a long way. It impresses our friends and makes us feel supreme. But if distance is on your mind when you’re swinging, your “swing the club” thought will get overridden.

You have to realize that any golf club can only hit the ball so far. You’re definitely not going to hit your eight iron as far as your driver. They’re different clubs designed to hit the ball a different distance.

Similarly, your eight iron is not designed to hit the ball as far as your seven iron. If you really do need to hit the ball farther, put away the eight and take out the seven.

When you know you have enough club in your hand, you can put an unforced swing on the ball without having to worry about how far the ball is going to go because you know it will go as far as it needs to.

Then there’s the driver. Too many golfers think the point of that club is to hit the ball as far as they can. Not really true.

Like all your other clubs, the driver is designed to hit the ball a certain distance. Once you find out what that distance is, which you do by swinging it like your 6-iron, say, and seeing how far that is, plan to hit it that distance and no more.

Whichever club you have in your hand, hit the ball with your swinging stroke, not your hitting stroke, and take the distance you get. If you can be at peace with how much distance you get out of any club, you’ll get more distance out of it than if you TRY to get more, which usually gets you less.

All that said, it might be true that there is something missing from your swing that is not letting you get all the distance you could be getting. You might not be hitting up to your potential. Get lessons to find that out if that is so, and what to do about it.

My overall point is, the people you play with are undoubtedly going to be impressed by anyone who can hit the ball a very long way, but they’ll be more impressed by someone who puts the ball in the fairway and hits greens, regardless of how far they it the ball.

The Ball-Bound Golfer

Raise your hand if you feel relaxed and focused when you take your practice swing.

Keep your hand in the air if you feel the same way when when you’re swinging at the ball.

Hmm. I don’t see anyone’s hand still up.

A few weeks ago I was hitting balls off grass and I noticed that my practice swing divot and my “hit the ball” divot right beside it were not in the same place. All the time.

So I went online, putting “ball bound golf” in the search window. I got two videos by Bobby Clampett about being ball-bound. He said he is, and demonstrated it in the same way. One practice swing, one swing at the ball, two divots.

His practice divot lay about two inches ahead of the ball divot. That’s almost exactly what I was getting when I was checking my own swing.

Both of us, and we’re not the only ones, allow the presence of the ball to change the way we swing the club. In mild cases, you can still hit playable shots. In severe cases, you have no idea what’s going to happen.

I don’t think along the lines of, Well, if a pro does it too, I guess its OK so I won’t worry about it.

It’s not OK for anyone. Instead of accepting* it, there has to be a way to change it–to make the two divots be the same.

My assumption, based on a sample size of two, me and Bobby Clampett, is this is a universal tendency, but not a universal absolute. There IS a way to avoid doing it. We just have to find it.

A few years ago, I brought up the matter tangentially in another post and suggested that instead of looking at the ball when you swing, look at the ground about an inch in front of the ball because that is what you’re trying to hit with the club.

But really, we need to find a better solution. We have to go back to the real origin of the problem.

When you take a practice swing, all you’re thinking about is swinging the club. You get ball-bound because you step up to the ball and the thought becomes, “Hit the ball.” That is the fatal error.

The solution is to address the ball and tell yourself, “Swing the club.” Tell yourself like it’s an order to DO it. Be firm with yourself that that’s what you’re going to do.

Then as soon as you have finished saying the word “club”, the INSTANT you have finished saying it, start your swing. Don’t give yourself a moment of time to insert another thought into your head, because you know what that thought will be.

“Swing the club” is not set in stone, though. It is merely one way of putting a thought into your head that is different than “Hit the ball,” or “Make good contact,” or something else like that.

One method I use with great success is to think of the butt end of the handle moving to the left from the start of the forward swing through contact with the ball. This takes my mind off the ball completely and I hit many good shots that way.

That is another example of something that takes your mind away from the ball.

This is a mental problem, and if you have it, you solve it by training your mind to do something other than what it is doing now. Your conscious mind is always talking to you. You have to give it the right thing to say.

* or, giving in.