Have you ever been mired in a terrible round of golf, making one lousy swing after another, then hit a great shot out of the blue when faced with a near-impossible situation (up and over a tree, for instance)? You likely threw your hands up in a mixture of surprised joy and disgust, wondering where the heck that swing had been all day.
It was there all along, of course, just waiting for your creative side to bring it out.
When you're trying to extract the ball from a tough spot, your mind must visualize a way around the trouble. You naturally focus on the task at hand, freeing your brain from mechanical swing thoughts (“finish the backswing,” “keep your head down,” etc.). In other words, you've unwittingly adopted a “see ball, hit ball” approach.
So how do you transfer that mindset to routine tasks like tee shots, chips and putts, when the goal is more obvious and mundane? Again, visualization and creativity are key.
Pro golfers always picture the precise shot they want to hit before taking the club back – the trajectory, shape, roll and finish. This puts a positive image in the mind; the body then makes the motions needed to turn the image into reality.
What's more, if you're imagining the ball flying at the target, you can't simultaneously think about the mechanics of your swing. Before you know it, the ball will be sailing away.
Always visualize shots on the range and around the practice green. Before hitting each ball, picture the flight you want to achieve – a fade or draw, for example. The same goes for chips and putts; paint a mental image of the ball taking the break and diving into the hole.
It may seem too simple to really work, but just ask any professional. Visualization will unleash your creative side and suppress those voices chattering technical details.
Learn Mental Visualize Shots Banish Mechanical Thoughts
We live in an age of rapidly advancing technology. Anywhere you look, signs of modern technology are all around - cell phones, digital video cameras, electric cars, HD televisions, and much, much more. Most people interact with these technologies on a daily basis, to the point where we start to take them for granted. As you can imagine, some of this modern technology has made its way into the game of golf. There are plenty of signs of advanced technology in the golf equipment that is produced today, but the biggest impact of the digital age on this great game is in the way golf swings are analyzed.
In days gone by, you would have to work with a swing instructor to learn about the ins and outs of your technique. That instructor might use a video camera, or they may just watch you swing and recommend changes. While that model is certainly still part of the golf instruction world, there are many more options available to those who wish to improve. Specifically, you can have your swing recorded by high-speed cameras which will allow you to break down every single tiny movement that you make from the start of the swing on through to the finish. It is now easier than ever to get wrapped up in the specific mechanical pieces of your golf swing simply because it is easier than ever before to see those pieces with perfect clarity. The swing happens fast, but you can make it move as slow as you would like with the help of a high-tech camera.
And that is a problem. Make no mistake, there is a lot of good that can come from using technology to analyze your swing. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this method of trying to improve your game. When you get deep into the technical details of your golf swing, it isn't always easy to find your way back out. What does that mean? It means that some players get wrapped up in their mechanics and they totally forget how to just go out and play the game. There is a time and place for mechanical thinking, but that place is not on the golf course. You can think about technique while practicing on the range, but your on-course thought process should be limited to finding a way to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible.
In the content below, we are going to look at how you can get your head away from the mechanical side of the game in order to focus it solely on playing your best. To do so, you are going to need to learn how to visualize the shots that you are trying to hit before you actually hit them. Visualization is one of the most-powerful tools you can use on the course, and yet most amateur golfers don't even give it a second thought. By clearly visualizing every single shot before you strike it, you should be able to pull your focus away from technique and onto execution.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
The Downside of Mechanical Thoughts
Many golfers believe that if they just could make a consistent golf swing time after time as they go around the course, they would be able to shoot good scores. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Golf is not a game played inside a vacuum - it is played on courses that are subject to all kinds of conditions like rain and wind, there are slopes and different grasses to consider, and there are bad bounces to be endured. When you look at golf as a whole, you find that the game is more about having a good feel and touch for moving your ball around the course than it is having great mechanics. Sure, solid mechanics will make it easier to keep your ball in play, but shooting low scores requires much, much more.
As proof of this concept, take a moment to watch some lower-level professional golf on TV. If you get a chance to watch a Web.com Tour event or something similar, you will notice one thing right away - those players have beautiful swings. You will find that there is almost no difference in the swing techniques between the lower level players and the best the world. Players who are struggling to make a living in the game have excellent swings with solid fundamentals - so what is going wrong? Why haven't these players been able to break through to the next level? Most likely, it has a lot to do with what is going on in between their ears.
Often, players who have trouble getting the most from their potential are stuck thinking too much about mechanical thoughts while on the course. It is tempting to think this way during a round, because this is how most players think on the range. However, you don't have to concern yourself with nearly as much information on the range as you do on the course. During a range session, you can simply grab a club and make some swings - there is nothing on the line based on the outcome of your shots. The story changes when you head out onto the course for an actual round. On the course, you will be thinking about yardage, wind, lie, pressure, slope, and much more. With all of those variables to consider, there simply isn't room in your head to also think about swing mechanics.
There needs to be a clear distinction between the shots you hit on the range and those you hit on the course because they are two very different things. Yes, the range is highly useful for improving your technique, but you need to leave that work behind when you walk to the first tee. On the course, you have to trust that your swing will still be there so you can focus on all of the elements that come together on each shot. Your goal on the course should be simple - to keep your mechanical swing thoughts out of your mind for the entire day. Believe it or not, just accomplishing that basic goal should instantly make you a better player.
If you are currently someone who thinks mechanically as you play a round of golf, you are going to have some work to do in order to break that habit. It is certainly possible to transition into a player who is thinking more about the course than your swing technique, but that is going to take time and significant effort. Dedicate yourself to changing the way you think and you can look forward to improved performance over the long haul.
How to Visualize a Golf Shot
So, if you aren't going to be thinking about the mechanics of your golf swing on the course, what are you going to be thinking about? Ideally, the only thing that will be in your mind as you step up to the ball is a visualization of the shot you are about to hit. Most amateur golfers don't even bother to try visualization as a way to improve their performance, despite the fact that almost all professional players use some form of this technique. Simply put, if you can 'see' the shot in your mind before you make the swing, you will be far more likely to execute the shot successfully.
Before you attempt to visualize your next shot, the first thing you should do is work out all of the details that are in play. That means you need to figure out the yardage that you are facing, the wind conditions, elevation changes, and more. All of that information needs to go into your thinking before you can start to develop a clear picture of the shot at hand. Based on what you learn from your prep work, you can then start to plan out your shot - which will lead to a clear visualization right before you step up to make a swing.
After you have thought through the shot and decided on a course of action (club, target, trajectory), you can then visualize the shot. To start, make sure you are standing a few feet behind the ball on an extension of the target line. You should be looking directly over your ball and toward the target that you have picked out. With a great view of the landscape in front of you, start the visualization process by picturing yourself standing over the ball preparing to swing. See the club move, and see the ball take off into the sky. You aren't just going to picture it flying directly at the hole, however - you need to picture the trajectory, including any curve, that you are going to take in order to reach the target. Straight golf shots are extremely rare (if they exist at all), so you should always be picturing some degree of curve.
At first, the process of trying to visualize your shots might seem like something of a waste of time. You probably won't be able to picture your shots very clearly, and the outcomes of your swings likely won't match up with what you were hoping to achieve. However, it is important that you stick with it, because just like anything else in golf, this is a still that gets better with time. The more shots you attempt to visualize, the better you will get at doing so successfully. Eventually, you will be able to see your shots clearly before you hit them, and you will start to hit the ball closer to the target than ever before. You are never going to execute your shots properly 100% of the time, but your overall performance will benefit from the use of vivid visualization.
If you would like to be able to visualize your shots out on the course, it is important that you start by visualizing them successfully on the driving range. Rather than just hitting one shot after another in rapid fire fashion, you will be better served to take your time and visualize each shot before you make a swing. This method of practicing is certainly slower, but it is going to pay off with dramatically improved results. Golf practice is not about speed - it is about results. Commit yourself to working on your visualization skill while on the range and the rewards will speak for themselves on the course.
A Go-To Fix
Here's the thing about not thinking about your swing mechanics while on the course - sometimes, you do need to think about them. Unfortunately, your swing will likely get off track from time to time, so you need to know how to correct problems as they pop up if you are going to play your best as frequently as possible. With that in mind, the best thing you can do is have one 'go-to' fix that you use when your mechanics seem to get off track during a round of golf.
The idea here is simple - before you ever go out to the course, you have a mechanical fix for your swing in mind that you can use when you start to hit some poor shots. By keeping things simple and limiting yourself to just one fix, you will be able to keep your mind relatively clear throughout the day. Having to review your entire set of mechanics on the fly is not going to be successful, so don't even try to take that approach. GIve yourself a single fix based on the range sessions that you have completed and use that to correct your swing on the go.
Of course, do use this plan successfully, you have to know your swing and know what is likely to go wrong. This isn't really something that you can get from someone else, because only you know what your swing feels like from the inside. For example, perhaps you have trouble completing your shoulder turn in the backswing from time to time. If that is the case, you should have a way to fix that problem - such as a quick practice swing drill - that you can use on the course to get things moving in the right direction once again. No matter what kind of technical flaw that you fight from time to time, you can have a specific fix ready to go when necessary. As soon as you are able to fix the problem and get your swing back into a good rhythm, you can return your focus to simply visualizing and executing your shots.
It is important that you are able to apply this go-to fix while you are still focused on visualizing shots correctly. It is possible to work on both of these things at the same time during your round, but you really have to be 'locked in' on the job at hand to do so. Again, this is another point that will get better with time and experience. As you get ready to hit a shot, work out your mechanical problems first, then move on to visualization. Picturing the shot that you are going to hit should always be the last thing you do before walking up and taking your stance, so keep it at the end of your routine no matter what else you are doing. Having the build up to your swing remain consistent and repeatable is important when it comes to the consistency of your ball striking.
As your swing changes over time, your go-to mechanical fix is likely going to have to change as well. This is why it is so important to continually work on your swing technique on the driving range. When new issues pop up on the range, you can deal with them quickly and find solutions to the problems that you are having. You aren't going to be able to work out those fixes on the course fast enough to save your round, so it is crucial that you head to the first tee with a good fix already in mind. Be flexible enough to adjust this swing fix from round to round as your swing evolves and you will have the chance to play some good golf in the months and years ahead.
Visualization in the Short Game
The skill of visualizing your golf shots does not just apply to the long game. Just as it is important to visualize your shots from the tee and from the fairway, it is also important to do the same when you are on or around the green. Short game shots are extremely challenging for many amateur golfers, but they can be made easier through the use of a visualization routine. With a clear picture of the shot or putt you are trying to hit, you will stand a far better chance at success than if you just walked up to the ball with your mind in a blank state.
For putts, the process of visualizing your shots is going to be pretty simple. Since the ball isn't going to leave the ground, you only need to picture it rolling across the green toward the cup. Of course, the most important part of this process is picking out a line and 'seeing' the ball take the break that you are expecting. Trying to see the break is a good exercise before you step up and take your stance because it will give you a chance to make adjustments to your read at the last moment if necessary. While you are picturing the putt rolling toward the hole, remember to see the speed as well as the line. Once you are able to tie both of these pieces together successfully, you will be ready to walk up and make your stroke.
When chipping from around the green, the process of visualization changes a bit, but it is still relatively simple. Instead of seeing the ball just roll along the ground, you are also going to need to picture the airborne portion of the shot. Of course, the ball isn't going to have time to curve while in the air, so you don't need to worry about hitting a draw or fade - you just have to see how high and how far it is going to fly. The best way to do this is through the use of a landing point. When getting ready to hit your chip, stand back from the ball and pick out a landing spot that you are going to aim for when you actually hit the shot. Using that point, picture your ball flying from its current location, landing on the spot, and rolling out to the hole. See this image as clear as you can, and then walk up and make it happen.
Chipping is a part of the game that gives the average player fits, but it doesn't need to be that way. If you can clearly visualize your chip shots, you will be halfway toward success in this part of the game. With your visualization in good shape, the only other thing you need to do is work on building confidence in your technique around the practice green. Spend some time chipping as part of each practice session you complete, and you will find that your short game quickly takes a big step forward.
Visualization is a powerful way to improve your golf game. Of course, you do still need to have good mechanics, but that is a concern that should be left on the range as opposed to taking it out on the course with you. Iron out your mechanics on the range and use your newfound visualization skills to dial in your performance during actual rounds of golf. If you can keep those mechanical thoughts at bay while playing from now on, you will almost certainly see your scores come down as a result.