There's a scene in Bull Durham where Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) tells “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), “Don't think. It can only hurt the ball club.”
It's pretty much the same in golf. The more we think about mechanics as we set up and swing, the less likely we are to hit a good shot. In one survey, 75% of PGA Tour players said they don't have a single thought while swinging.
You could probably flip that percentage for amateurs. Most of us get so wrapped up in technical details, our swings become rigid and wooden.
That doesn't mean, however, that you shouldn't carry a thought into every swing. After all, you probably don't practice or play as much as the pros, who do their thinking on the range until their keys become automatic on the course.
As long as you keep swing thoughts simple, positive and non-mechanical, they can actually be a good thing. Here are five tried and true mental cues that can spark your swing:
- “Back of the ball”: Just before taking the club back, use this phrase to focus your eyes on the precise spot you want to hit.
- “Through, not to”: An alternative to “back of the ball,” use this one to keep from hitting “at” the ball. It's an especially useful thought for golfers who tend to ease up (decelerate) before making contact.
- “Low and slow”: A good key for making a smooth, efficient takeaway and setting a good tempo for the rest of the swing.
- “Straw-ber-ry mousse”: Speaking of tempo, this four-syllable phrase tells you that your backswing should take three times as long as the downswing. Taking the club to the top, think “straw-ber-ry,” then start down on the word “mousse.” You can, of course, substitute an appropriate word or phrase of your choosing.
- “See ball, hit ball”: The classic, “caveman” approach. This is a good way to flush mechanical thoughts from your mind before swinging. What could be simpler?
Swing Thoughts – The All-Time Top Five
The mechanical part of preparing to hit a golf shot is not particularly complicated. As long as you have a solid stance and an established pre-shot routine, you should be able to get yourself ready to start the swing in just moments. In fact, if you are an experienced golfer, you probably don't even need to think about this piece of the puzzle when on the course. Most experienced players go into 'auto-pilot' as they prepare to hit a shot, taking a club from the bag and seamlessly proceeding to move through their pre-shot routine and into their stance.
Of course, that process only speaks of getting you ready to hit from a physical, mechanical standpoint. And, as you know, there are two sides of this game that always need your attention – the physical side, and the mental side. A solid pre-shot routine is great for putting your body in the right position at address, but it might not do anything for your mental preparation. For that, you will need to dive into the world of swing thoughts.
What is a swing thought? Well, it is pretty much as it sounds – a thought that you are going to use to guide your thinking during the swing. You have to think about something while you swing, as it is basically impossible to just 'clear your mind' while engaged in an activity like golf. So, if you are going to have a thought running through your head, it is best to make it a productive one.
There are a couple distinct advantages to using swing thoughts on the course. First, you will be able to remind yourself of something specific that you need to accomplish in your swing. Do you have one particularly piece of your mechanics that seems to give you trouble on the driving range? If so, develop a swing thought around that issue and use your thought on the course to keep your swing on track. It can be hard to maintain the quality of your swing over an entire 18-hole round, but a good swing thought can certainly help toward that end.
The other advantage to using a swing thought is the ability to block out other, negative lines of thinking. For example, imagine you are facing a shot where you need to carry the ball more than 100 yards over water before you reach the target. If you don't have a swing thought to turn to, you might have negative thoughts about the water hazard running through your head. A swing thought gives you a place to turn away from that negativity. Focus your mind on the positive swing thought you have developed, go through your pre-shot routine, and execute your swing perfectly.
In this article, we are going to help you develop a swing thought of your own by offering up five of the best examples of this important part of the game. While you might need to tweak these swing thoughts slightly in order for them to apply properly to your game, they should at least get you started in the right direction.
All of the content below has been written from the perspective of a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the instruction as necessary.
Swing Thought #1 – Keep Your Eye on the Ball
Okay – so this probably doesn't sound as much like a swing thought as it does like a basic piece of golf swing advice. Every golfer at some point along the way has been told that they need to keep their eye on the ball. But do you do it every time? Probably not. It is easy to fall for the temptation of looking up early to see where the ball is going – which is why this is such a helpful swing thought to put into action.
For starters, this is a simple swing thought. All good swing thoughts are going to be simple, and this one certainly fits into that category. As you stand over your ball preparing to swing, you will focus your mind on telling your eyes that they need to watch the ball from start to finish. That's it. You put your mind in charge of staying focused on that basic task and you allow your body to naturally make the golf swing that you have worked so hard to build on the range.
This swing thought is not only about successfully keeping your eyes down on the ball throughout the swing, but it is also about keeping your head clear of thoughts that can get in the way of a productive swing. If you feel like your technique is in pretty good shape at the moment, you may not need to think about any of the technical aspects of your mechanics as you hit shots. However, you do want to prevent your mind from 'getting in the way' of the swing by overanalyzing every move you make. For that purpose, this swing thought is perfect. It allows you to think about something specific while not actually thinking about your golf swing.
If you find that you are having trouble executing this swing thought on the course, try drawing a small mark on your golf ball to use as a point of focus while you swing. At address, lock your eyes on to this small drawing and then hold them there as the club swings back and through. Using a visual cue like this will make it easier for your mind to communicate the message to your eyes that they need to remain in place. This is a tip that you can use not only in your full swing, but also in the short game as well. Test out this swing thought during your next practice session to see if it might be something you wish to use on the golf course during an upcoming round.
Swing Thought #2 – Hold the Right Knee Steady
For most amateur golfers, this is going to be a great swing thought to use in order to control the behavior of the lower body in the swing. It is common for amateur players to allow the lower body to slide to the right during the backswing – a mistake which sets up all kinds of problems when the downswing begins. To avoid sliding away from the target you should consider focusing your thoughts on the right knee during your swing.
As you swing back, it will be impossible to slide off of the ball if you keep your right knee nicely in place. This swing thought is simple to use, and it is impressively effective. Once you are settled into your stance, shift your thoughts to the right knee. Specifically, notice where it is positioned and what it feels like at address. Now, as the swing begins, do your best to keep your knee exactly where it was when the swing started. If you can make it all the way to the top of your backswing without allowing movement in that right knee, you will be in great shape to begin a powerful and controlled downswing.
The positioning of your right knee in the backswing is so important because it is directly related to your balance. A swing that slides to the right on the way back is sure to be off-balance, and it is nearly impossible to play good golf without having balance on your side. The golf swing should be a rotational action rather than a sliding action to the right and left – and controlling your right knee is a huge step toward making that happen.
So, is this the right swing thought for you? Well, that depends – do you have trouble controlling your right knee currently? If not, there is no point to making this a swing thought, as you will be trying to solve a problem that isn't a problem in the first place. If you would like to determine how well you are doing with regard to the control of your right knee in the swing, take a moment to record a video of your swing when at the driving range. As a friend to record your swing, and then watch the video back quickly with a close eye on the movement of your right knee. If it is stable in the backswing, you are good to go. If not, you will know that this swing thought may be a perfect addition to your game.
Swing Thought #3 – Slow Transition
Rushing through the transition is one of the leading causes of trouble in the amateur golf swing. Many players get up to the top of their swing in good shape, only to ruin things by rushing the transition from backswing to downswing. This part of the swing needs to take a bit of time to complete, and there is nothing that you can do to hurry it up successfully. Even good players who have fast golf swings tend to take their time nicely at the top, and you should learn from that example.
Remember, you don't actually hit the ball at the top of the golf swing, so there is no reason to be swinging quickly at this point. The only point of the swing that needs to be fast is when the club is actually contacting the ball at the bottom – otherwise, you can feel free to take your time and develop your speed gradually from address on through to impact. Rushing the transition is only going to take you out of your rhythm and force you to move the club off plane and out of position. Allow the club to 'hang' at the top of the swing for a moment before starting down and you will suddenly become a better ball striker.
To use this idea as a swing thought, you are first going to have to spend some time on the range learning what it feels like to make a slow transition. If you are someone who usually transitions into the downswing quite quickly, you don't just want to head out onto the course and try to slow down your move. That isn't going to work. Learn the slow transition first on the range and then put this swing thought into play on the course.
The reason that this notion can function as an effective swing thought relates to how people respond to pressure while golfing. You may have noticed that when you golf, it is natural to speed up when you start to feel pressure. In fact, that is a natural reaction for most people in just about any walk of life. Feelings of pressure and nervousness cause you to act quickly, which is almost always a recipe for trouble. You need to slow yourself down if you are going to play good golf under pressure. By thinking about making a slow transition during all of your swings, you just might be able to maintain a steady tempo even when the heat is on.
It is important to keep in mind that thinking about a slow transition doesn't mean you should be thinking about moving slowly with the rest of your body. Specifically, your lower body still needs to fire aggressively from the top of the swing if you want to generate power and speed through the hitting area. Allow your hands to hang at the top of the swing for a moment while your lower body starts to rotate toward the target. Timing up this move just right – leaving your hands behind while your lower body starts the action – is the perfect way to create power that can be stored up and then used right when impact arrives.
Swing Thought #4 – Quiet Hands in the Takeaway
This is one of the best swing thoughts in all of golf. Why is it so effective? First, it is simple, as are the rest of the swing thoughts on our list. But, in addition to its simplicity, it addresses one of the biggest mistakes that is made by the average amateur player. The hands need to be quiet during the takeaway in order to keep the club on plane and in position, but that rarely happens when an amateur golfer starts the backswing. Instead, the hands are often the very first thing to move, swinging the club quickly to the inside of the line, and creating a swing that is likely to end in a slice. Countless golfers fight the slice during each round that they play, and many of those slices would go away immediately if the player would learn to complete the takeaway without the use of his or her hands.
By taking your hands out of the takeaway you should be able to swing the club on plane with very little trouble. It is actually your right hand that causes most of the issues early in the backswing – by bending your right wrist back on itself, you force the club to the inside and your backswing becomes narrow as a result. At the top, you don't have enough room to drop the club inside, so you swing up over the top instead. The club then comes through the hitting area from outside-in, and you hit a slice (or a pull, if you manage to close down the face at impact). All of that trouble is caused by one small mistake, which is why you should consider using this swing thought if you struggle with the slice ball flight.
In addition to helping you get rid of the slice, another benefit of this swing thought is the fact that it can help you get the swing started. Some golfers tend to freeze up when then stand over the ball, as they have too many thoughts running through their head to actually put the club in motion. Since this swing thought is directly related to the start of the swing, it should be able to solve that problem for you. As long as you are keeping your hands quiet with that initial move back away from the ball, you can be confident that things are off to a good start. From there, simply continue the swing on up to the top and then move down through the shot aggressively and into a full finish.
Swing Thought #5 – Picture Your Ball Flight
If you would like to get entirely away from thinking about your mechanics while you swing, one good option is to picture the flight of your ball through the air as it heads toward the target. Some golfers find that they play better when they don't think about anything mechanical, so this option is one that can help you to move in that direction. You will still have something positive to put in your head, but it won't bog you down with any thoughts of how your body should be moving during the swing.
Of course, in order to picture your ball flight, you have to know what kind of ball flight you are trying to produce in the first place. This is where shot preparation and planning come into the picture. Before you even walk up to take your stance you should already be thinking about the shot you would like to hit. Decide on the trajectory that you are going to use, as well as the target you are going to select for the shot. Only when you have those decisions made should you begin your pre-shot routine and walk into your stance.
To make sure you have a clear picture in your mind before starting your swing, it is recommended to take one last look up at the target before the club goes in motion. The process for this last look is as follows –
- Walk up to the ball and take your stance
- Settle in to your stance, make sure you are comfortable, and pick out a spot on the ball that you are going to focus on during the swing
- Without coming out of your stance at all, turn your head to look out at the target. While looking off toward the target, picture the path that your ball is going to take to reach that target
- After you have taken a good look, turn your head back down toward the ball
- As soon as you are looking at the ball again, start your swing. Don't allow too much time to pass at this point or you will risk getting 'stuck' in your stance
This is a great swing thought to use for a player who is confident in his or her swing technique. Without any specific point within your swing to address, consider using this swing thought as a way to use your brain productively while the club is in motion.
With our list of five swing thought options completed, there is one more important point that needs to be made. No matter which swing thought you select, make sure that you only use that one thought during your swing. It is common for golfers to go into a shot with multiple swing thoughts in their head, and the results are as ugly as you would imagine. You need to be thinking clearly when you are over the ball, and you can only think clearly when it is just one thought that is present in your mind. It is okay to have a few different swing thoughts that you use in your game – such as one for the driver and one for your irons – but you should only ever be using a single thought at a given time.
During your next trip to the driving range, take a moment to work on swing thoughts. Try all five of these out, or at least try the ones that you feel like may be the best fit for your game. After you have experimented with various swing thoughts, settle on the one or ones that you are going to use out on the course. At first, it may help to write these down for reference later, although they should quickly become a natural part of everything else you do on the course. Good luck!