Category Archives: mental game

Swing Thoughts

When you’re standing over the ball, ready to take the club away, there’s something going through your head. What that is will either make your shot easier, or harder.

Imagine a playing partner standing beside you as you’re addressing the ball, giving you all sorts of little reminders. Swing smoothly. Let your weight shift. Swing through the ball. Nice finish.

How long would you put up with that? One time, tops. So there’s no reason to do that to yourself. The reminders you give yourself as you’re about to swing, or during your swing, are destructive. They divide your swing into parts, when it should be thought of as one whole movement.

Sometimes a technical swing thought can pay off, but unless you spend hours on the practice tee and play frequently they can be risky. Besides, that’s just not how the game is played. Cary Middlecoff quotes Ben Hogan:

Hogan was recently asked what specific thought went through his mind just before he started his swing. “All I think about is trying to knock the damn ball in the hole,” said Hogan.

“Oh,” said his questioner. “I thought maybe you used some sort of mental gimmick like starting the club back with your hands, or staying in the backswing plane, or something like that.”

“No,” said Hogan. “You have to work all that stuff out on the practice tee.”

So what do you think about? What should be going through your mind? It is the feeling of what you are about to do. Not what the technical points are, but what the swing feels like as a unified whole when all the technical points are performed correctly. That’s what to teach yourself on the practice tee.

When it’s time to play, take a practice swing that is rhythmic, graceful, flowing, and ends with a firm, stable finish, concentrating on what your swing as one movment feels like in its entirety. Then step up to the ball and duplicate that swing before your mind has a chance to go wandering off in another direction.

Your conscious mind is always looking for something to do. Make sure you give it the right task when it’s time to hit your golf ball.

Don’t Let One Bad Hole Get You Down

You’re cruising and up comes a blow-up hole. The round is trashed. For the rest of the day you can’t get over what happened.

The mistake is that you were thinking about how well you have been playing up that point, and getting an inflated opinion of your true ability. You forget that even though your game can get you around the course looking pretty good for a while, it’s not so good that an X can’t pop out every now and then.

In golf, you get what you deserve. If you go fairway, green, putt, putt, you deserve that because you’re good enough to have earned it. Sometimes you get into a situation you just aren’t skilled enough to handle, and you deserve the score you get there, too. You have to accept your weaknesses along with your strengths.

So, when you write a few pars on your scorecard, don’t think you have become a par golfer all of a sudden. Learn how to write “par” on the scorecard when you get one, and then forget about it. That hole is over. Once you can do that, you can write an X on your scorecard and forget about that, too, and go back to enjoying yourself.

Trust the Golf Swing

There are several reasons why golf is so difficult. One is that the ball being on the ground, and not in the air, means the club has to brush the ground at a precise spot to achieve good contact.

Then there is the tilt of the body. A baseball swing is pretty easy, because the shoulders and hips rotate in parallel planes. In the golf swing, the planes are not parallel, and swing theory is born.

Let’s not forget the ball itself, which is pretty small. Hitting it with a small clubhead at high speed is no mean feat.

But there’s one other thing about the golf swing that can linger even when these physical problems have been conquered. The notion of trust.

As long as I’ve been playing golf, it’s still hard for me to believe that if I do just a few simple movements correctly, and rely on then to work, they do.

Let me describe the swing in such a way that no one deciding whether to take up the game would even want to try.

You set the clubhead behind the ball. Then you swing it away so the the club goes way over your head. The clubface is now upside down, and facing in a completely different direction. Your body is all wound up, too.

Now you unwind all this, swing the club back down at an accelerating speed, so the clubhead sweeps through the ball at just the right height, makes contact on just the right place on the clubhead, which will be square to the direction you want the ball to go, like it was when you started.

When you consider it for a moment, you might wonder how that can possibly work.

But it does.

There’s really only one thing to do after your mechanics have been ironed out — trust that the swing will work.

By “the swing” I mean THE golf swing, not your particular one.

You have to trust that if you stand to the side of the ball, wind up then unwind, it will work.

So many errors arise in our swing because we don’t believe that will work, and we think we have to DO something — we have to add something to that technique — just to be able to hit the ball.

Even though you don’t.

There are three stages to go through.

Stage 1 – you consciously have to apply technique to be able to hit the ball. I’m there some of the time.

Stage 2 – you don’t worry about your technique, but are still getting comfortable with the idea that swinging back and through actually works. I’m there most of the time.

Stage 3 – the swing is just the means of getting the ball to go where you want it to go. I’m there maybe one time per round.

The Relaxed Golf Swing

If someone were to bump you while you were swinging a golf club, that would throw off your swing and you’d hit a poor shot. You accomplish the same thing by putting tension anywhere in your body when you swing.

Tension forces movements to go in unintended directions, or prevents certain movements from happening at all. The solution is to stay as relaxed as possible during the stroke.

But just what does it mean to be relaxed? Many people think that relaxation is a limp, lifeless state. Nothing directed or powerful can come of that.

There is another kind of relaxation, though, and it is more than the absence of tension. It comes from the mind and is the source of a person’s maximum speed and power in movement.

How do you get it? Essentially, when the mind is feeling an infinitely rapid motion, it becomes relaxed and the body follows naturally.

I go into great detail about this in my book, The Golfing Self.

Once you have that feeling of infinitely rapid movement, swing the golf club, not at a ball, but just swing.

Monitor your body and if you felt muscular force anywhere, then think “relax more” and swing again. Remember it is your mind that you are relaxing.

If you still feel tension somewhere, think “relax more” and swing again. Pay attention to your hands. That is the first place we put tension into our swing, and the last place from where we remove it.

Remember, we’re not lifting weights here. We’re swinging a golf club that weighs less than a pound. Keep going until any feeling of physical force and muscular tension has been eliminated from your swing.

At this point, your muscles are moving freely and efficiently. The club will contact the ball with all the force and speed you can supply.

Now go hit some balls with that swing and see what you think.

The Only Swing Thought You Need

I haven’t said much about this recently, but those of you who have read my books and followed my blog for enough time know that I am not at all a fan of swing thoughts. Instead of helping us, they cause us to doubt ourselves at a time when the completest confidence is needed.

But still, your mind is awake and has to be thinking about something. You can’t turn it off.

There is one, and only one, thing that should be on your mind while you’re hitting a golf ball, from drive to putt. I go into length about it in my book, The Golfing Self, but I’ll give you its flavor in this post.

When your mind is calm, it is moving very rapidly. A spinning top or a gyroscope achieve their stability by the speed they rotate. When they slow down and stop, their stability vanishes.

Our mind is the same. The faster our mind moves, the more stable it is. This should not be confused with the mind jumping from this to that at breakneck speed. That state of mind is definitely unstable.

What I mean is the mind is stable when it is dynamic and has a sense of movment so rapid that the feeling of movement turns into one of great calm, but with this solid foundation.

Before your shot, you evaluate your options, pick one, pull a club, take a practice swing, and step into your stance. At this point, everything you need to know for the shot has been dialed in. You don’t have to think about it any more.

What you do need to think about is the feeling of calmness based on the infinitely rapid movment of your mind. Feel that and maintain that feeling without interruption from before takeaway all the way through the finish.

If you can learn to do that, I guarantee your shotmaking will be the best it can be because doubt has no room to enter your mind and do its damage.

Work on hitting different shots. You need them to get the ball around the course, obviously.

But work on your mental game, as well. Work on this one thing. Whenever you hit a ball, using any kind of stroke, get your mind moving before you take the club away and maintain that feeling all the way to the completion of the stroke.

One Swing Tip, One Mental Tip

Between clubs?

Rule: When between clubs, take the longer club and grip down. Then make your normal swing.

Don’t try to hit the ball harder, because you don’t have to, and for sure don’t ease up, because that’s like hitting the shorter club.


One of the things that made me be a better golfer is that I don’t care where the ball goes after I hit it. If it goes here, or goes there, I just get to my ball and play the next shot, whatever it is. If you want to put your best swing on the ball, let a graceful swing flow through the ball, and leave it at that.

Consider this point well.

Don’t Let the Golf Ball Distract You

We all have a practice swing that is sheer poetry, but put a golf ball in front of us and we become our old selves again. How do we stop doing that?

First of all, why do we do it? It’s because we get too caught up in results instead of process. If we do the right things, and the ball is in the way, it will go where we want it to go.

We just can’t resist adding a little extra, trying to make the ball go where we want it to, just to be sure. We can’t believe it is as simple as just swinging the club correctly.

But it is.

So here’s my advice on how to re-train your brain not to get distracted by the ball — how to see your swing at a ball in the same way as you take your practice swing.

Put a ball on the ground in front of you, and address it. Now back away from it about six inches so when you swing you won’t hit it.
Make some swings, five or so, heck, ten, but as you swing, look at the ball. Don’t ignore it as you do with a practice swing. Look at that ball head on.

After a time, your mind will start associating the ball in front of you with a smooth swing that does not contact the ball in funny ways. Funny peculiar, not funny ha ha.

Because there is no result with this swing, your mind stops thinking about results, and focuses just on swinging.

Your conscious mind is in on the deception, but your unconscious mind is not at all this subtle. All it knows is that when you swing at the ball, nothing happens. There’s nothing to worry about. Your fears never arise, and it’s from the unconscious mind where they originate.

Since you’re re-training your brain, you have to practice this exercise a lot. You can’t just give yourself a suggestion. That’s working with your conscious mind. Habits are formed in the unconscious mind.

Doing this drill over and over is how you build a new habit, one that leaves you feeling like hitting the ball is doesn’t add anything to what you’re already doing. That’s how you keep the ball from distracting you.

Relax Your Upper Body at Address

Before we hit a shot, our mind must be relaxed and at peace with what we are about to do.

Now it might sound odd to think about being at peace with something as minor as hitting a golf ball, compared to the truly big things in life that deserve that frame of mind.

Yet, whenever we are challenged and have to perform our best, we are challenged in the same way, and we respond in the same way, regardless of the nature of the challenge. That’s the way our mind works.

Since this is a blog post, and not a book, I can’t address all the issues that arise from this simple beginning. I’ll just pick out one, and hope it helps you in some small way.

The mind leads the body. What you feel in your body is a reflection of what you feel in your mind.

When there is tension in your mind, you will feel it somewhere in your body, guaranteed. You might have become so used to it that you do not notice it, but it’s there. I promise you.

In golf, mental tension is often felt in the upper body, in the shoulders and across the upper chest at shoulder level. That tension radiates down to your arms and hands. They all feel tight, like force is being applied, but not against anything. It’s just there, and it’s an indicator that you’re not ready to hit the shot.

When address the ball, check yourself for this tension. If it’s there, get rid of it. It won’t help you swing the way you have trained yourself to. Remember the tension there because of what’s in your mind, so you get rid of it by relaxing your mind.

Ask yourself. How much tension do you have in your mind when you make a practice swing? None at all, I would imagine. Then step up to the ball with that same feeling in your mind and swing away.

I’m not promising you that you’ll hit a stellar shot, but I am promising you the odds of hitting shots like you expect to hit will be much greater with a relaxed mind than with a tense mind.

If you think about it, many of your bad shots were caused by mental tension in the moment rather than bad technique. This is one way to solve the problem.

Trust Your Golf Swing

Trust your swing. You hear that phrase a lot from professional golfers. It means to rely on what you have practiced and play with what you’ve practiced instead of monitoring technical points as you play. That last part is still practice. Practice is over. It’s time to play.

I’ve heard Olympic athletes say that, too. They practice their skill over and over so when it’s time to compete they just do what they practiced. They don’t think about it any more. They just do it.

Recreational golfers, I think, would find this difficult to do. Very few of us (including me) practice enough that our positive habits become so ingrained and that we can rely on them without further reference.

In our game, when we address the ball, we’re often still not sure if this thing is going to work. So we decide to help it along.

There, my friend, is the worst mistake we can make on the golf course. That extra little thing, which is no more than a last-second guess, almost always makes things worse.

You might find instead that your best shots came when, by some lucky accident, your internal voice turned off for a moment and you just swung the club. What you had practiced is what came out and you got a great shot out of it.

When got to the ball for the shot after that one, you started to wonder what you did last time that made that shot so great so you began sorting through technical points, when all that really happened is you just SHUT UP for a change and played golf.

In order to trust your swing, though, you have to have something to trust. Start small.

A few weeks ago in the Transforming Your Short Game post, I asked you to hit every short shot forward, and let the club get the ball in the air. That’s pretty easy to learn.

When you go to the course, concentrate on doing that. Play all your other shots as you normally do, but bear down on those short ones and learn how to use your mind in a way that you play with what you practiced.

At first you will have to do it consciously, but after a while hitting short shots forward will become second nature. You will have learned how to trust.

Then pick another shot and work on it the same way. When you learn how to trust that stroke, move on to another one, and so on, working up gradually to your fullest swing.

I think you will see the payoff quickly.

Determining Your Golf Scoring Potential

Everyone wants to be a better golfer. Well, almost everyone. But if you’re one who does, you might already be a better player than you think you are.

Have you ever skanked a shot, then dropped another ball and hit it just great? The second time was no accident. You are that good. For some reason, that goodness didn’t come out the first time.

How low would you go if your round consisted of nothing but your better shots? Let’s find out. You’re going to play a half scramble with yourself.

Go out to the course when it’s not too busy, because you’re going to play two balls. Ball A you play like you usually do. Hit it, find it, hit it again.

Ball B is the scramble ball. If you don’t like the shot you hit off the tee with Ball A, hit another one, Ball B. Now two balls are in play. Remember, Ball A is pure golf. No fudging with that ball.

When you get to Ball B, you hit it. If you like the shot, take it and move on. If you don’t, drop another ball and hit it. That ball is the new Ball B. Pick up the old Ball B because it is now out of play.

What you’re doing is giving yourself a second chance on one ball whenever you need one. The other ball you play straight up.

Hole out Ball A, and Ball B. Record both scores. Here’s how it might work for one hole:

Ball A: tee shot into fairway, iron short and left, chip onto green, approach putt, putt into hole. Score = 5.

You didn’t play a Ball B on the tee shot because it was a good one. You hit the iron again, though, and got onto the green. Ball B is now in play and lying 2 on the green. Your approach putt with this ball went eight feet past the hole, so you hit it again and left it two feet short. Lying three, you hit the two-footer into the hole. Score = 4.

What if you go, fairway, green, putt, putt with Ball A? Well, good for you! Put down a four for Ball A and Ball B, even though you never played a Ball B on that hole.

One little rule: Whenever you replay a shot, you have to take it. No deciding the first one was really better and sticking with it.

The greater the difference between the Ball A and Ball B score, the greater your scoring potential. Nine holes of this is enough.

So how do you bring your Ball A score down to your Ball B score? Read my book, The Golfing Self and find out. It’s not in your shot-making. It’s in how you use your mind.