Category Archives: mental game

Visualization In the Short Game

A few summers ago I hit my tee shot short of the green on a par-3 hole. This green sits on a shelf that slopes sharply downward in front. The ball was five feet below the level of the green and about 30 feet from the pin.

I looked the situation over and through no conscious decision-making process, absorbed it, and thought, “Sand wedge, two feet.” My mind and body shared the knowledge of what to do and performed as one. As I hit the shot, a feeling of calmness and confidence was strong from address through follow-through. It was that simple.

Visualization is allowing what you see between yourself and your target to create an impression in your mind that spreads through your body. The impression carries the exact feeling of what shot to hit, and how to hit it, that will get the ball where you want it to go. The process takes only a few seconds once you get used to it.

When you plan a shot by drawing on your experience in a logical way, you’ll be off the mark. Every short shot is different, and generalizing from the past will prevent you from seeing what is there now. There might be bumps and rolls in the ground to account for, meaning you would have to fly the ball to the hole instead of running it there. You might usually hit this particular shot with your sand wedge, but now a 9-iron would be a better choice. And so on.

After acquiring a basic grasp of how to hit different short shots, it all comes down to feel, because each short shot situation has unique demands. If you spend a few moments just looking at what lies in front of you, without pre-judging how you’re going to deal with it, the right solution will present itself to your mind and body, every time.

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Keep Playing, Don’t Quit

I have to admit I have a tendency to quit trying for a bit after I hit a bad shot. Especially when things have going well for a good stretch of holes. But no more. I finally learned my lesson.

In one of the last rounds I played before the autumn rains came, I was cruising. I never pay attention to my score after about the fourth hole, so I didn’t realize until the round was over that I had parred eight holes in a row. All I knew was that I was playing well.

So on a par 5 hole, with a 9-iron third into the green, I cold topped it, the ball disappearing into a waste area that fronts the green. Words were spoken inside my head.

Now the waste area is marked as a water hazard, but instead of walking up to the hazard and having a 70-yard pitch into the green, I dropped another where I was and hit another 9-iron. By golly, I was going to prove to myself that I could hit that shot.

The ball got over the hazard, but went way left and it took me three to get down from there. That’s an 8 if you’re counting.

On the next hole, a par 4 that slopes down to the left, I popped up my drive. 150 yards tops. Maybe not even that. Leaves me about 210 from the hole. So I get up to the ball and figure this round has been trashed, and I might as well try hitting my 2-hybrid to see how close I can get it to the green because I’ve been working on that shot and if it doesn’t work out, big deal, since the round has been ruined anyway. But a little voice said, “No. Take another look. See if you can still get a par from here.”

Taking a close look, I saw that if I hit 4-hybrid, I could put the ball at the front right of the green in a good position to pitch into a sharply sloping green for a par putt. And since I have both the 4-hybrid shot and the pitch in my bag, my attitude changed just like that. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “I can do this,” and I was in attack mode again.

You know what happened? I put the 4-hybrid on the front right, just where I wanted to, pitched on to three feet and made the putt.

I will never quit on myself again. Promise.

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No Swing Thoughts!

Imagine your 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 do you think you would put up with that? One time, tops. So why do you put up with that kind of chatter from yourself every time you swing? The reminders like this that you give yourself as you’re about to swing, and especially during your swing, are just as destructive.

The reason you remind yourself to do something is that deep down you’re not sure you can do it. Or maybe you’re trying to use a swing thought to block out pressure you might be under at the moment. That’s negative thinking, and there’s no place for that on the golf course. Swing thoughts also isolate one part of your swing from the rest of it, overemphasizing one aspect of a movement that is supposed to be a unified whole. That will eventually throw everything else off, which is why swing thoughts only work for a hole or two.

When we’re awake, our conscious mind is in the foreground and will do anything it wants to. It wanders easily. We have to keep it under control when we play golf. We do that by accessing the subconscious mind. That part of our mind directs the conscious mind, but it can only do whatever we have put into it. When we have a particular swing key that we’ve practiced over and over, so much that it’s fully embedded in our subconscious mind, we’ve taken the first step. The second step is to access what we’ve practiced from the subconscious mind in a way that the conscious mind can’t start getting ideas of its own. Here’s how.

Take your practice swing, with the reminders that you think are necessary, but to remind yourself of how you want the swing to feel. Then step up to the ball and hit it right away, riding on that feeling. By starting right away, your conscious mind is captured in the feeling and doesn’t have the time to change to anything else. In addition, concentrating on the feeling of the whole swing gives you something positive to think about, and something that unifies the entire movement you’re about to make.

Do not delay or run through the feeling several times to make sure. Any delay gives time for the feeling fade which gives your conscious mind free reign to start messing you up, and repetitions won’t make it more right.

When you go through this process this every time you swing a golf club, whether on the practice range or on the course, you’ll absorb it. It takes continual repetition over time to get it down, though. You have years of an old way in there. You have to put more of the new way in there, this way, for it to come out when you play.

We’re all looking for something we can rely on shot after shot, that one constant that will never let us down. You won’t find it in your physical technique. Pressure doesn’t affect your grip, for example. Pressure affects your mind. That one constant you’re looking for has to be something you trust to keep your mind steady. Being guided by the feeling of the shot you’re about to hit is that constant. Learn it well.

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Golfers: Manage Your Mind, Manage Your Expectations

I played a round a few weeks ago on a day that was going to be pretty hot, so my playing partner and I teed off at 7:00 a.m. We had the course to ourselves. The range hadn’t opened by the time we started, so a few practice swings to get ready, and away we went. We played fairly well for the first three holes; we were both relaxed and loose.

On the fourth hole, a 174-yard par 3, I put my tee shot just off the back of the green, twenty-five feet from the pin. Beautiful shot. I chipped to 18”. Tour-quality chip. I missed the putt. Nice par, down the drain. My partner was more disappointed than I was. Since I wasn’t too upset about it, he asked me how I handle missing a short putt like that. I said that I might or might not miss the next one that short, but stressing over this one guarantees that I will miss it. The best way to make sure it doesn’t happen again is to chalk it up as a bad shot, forget about it, and play on.

This kind of thinking can be applied anywhere. The same golfer who can hit a pin-seeking missile from 160 yards on one hole can yank it 20 yards left on the next. We expect to hit our best shots all the time, but we don’t. Touring professionals don’t. No amount of practice will let any golfer do that. Realize that you’re as good as your best shots and worst shots put together, and they all even out. I’ve never had a score, good or bad, that I didn’t deserve. If you can make peace with that fact, golf becomes much more enjoyable. And you’ll score better, too.

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