EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part 2 of a two-part column. Part 1 was published Sept. 16.
One of the dangers of over-using swing thoughts is many folks try to pack way too much info into a pre-shot review of “must do’s.” It’s as though they feel they’re in the cockpit of a Boeing 767 and trying to go through a pre-flight checklist. In golf, confusion takes over, and no one’s body and muscles would be able to follow those tangled instructions.
You just have a golf ball on the ground and a golf club in your hand and grass as far as you can see; keep it simple, let’s not make it complicated. Keep it simple.
One, and only one, swing thought. And be sure your swing keys are not conflicting or constricting. Beginning a swing thought with “don’t” is not recommended. Don’t is a negative concept and notion, and may subconsciously program you to produce a swing that has already been seen in your mind’s eye, below your threshold of awareness. For example, a swing thought like “don’t hit it in the water,” may set the brain synapses and the body movements to ignore the “don’t” and just push the ball in the water. It’s a funny thing about the brain and “don’t.”
Your best bet is to couple your swing thought or “key” with a mental picture of what it actually means. That requires that you not only visualize the actual shot you are planning, but also the actual key swing move you are going to make. If you are trying to make a hip turn without swaying, and your cue is “good turn,” engage your imagination with your cue, so you picture yourself turning in a barrel, with your weight over your left side (if you’re a righty). If you want to empower that swing key even more, take your rehearsal waggle while positioning your body-weight over your left foot. And bear in mind to practice any new procedure you want to make automatic or routine. In order to ingrain a swing thought you have to practice it over and over on the range so nothing is new on the golf course. A swing thought should be only about just that – swing. No pre-shot thought should be about outcome (e.g. “don’t hit it in the water”), only execution. Thinking about what’s going to happen if you don’t do it right creates tension and will probably mean you will fail to execute properly.
Have you ever played with a golfer who hits his shot into a pond or out-of-bounds and yelps “that’s what I didn’t want to do”? Something like that establishes the inseparable connection between the mind and the physical action which enables the golfer to perform as desired. We are all creatures of habit, especially golfers. There is a theory in golf that if you have a flaw in your swing it will never really disappear. When the pressure is on, or when you get a bit nervous, the flaw will reappear. For example, most of us tend to get a little quick when the heat is on. What to do? You need to find a little key that will help you swing with good tempo. Since a person’s memory is seldom infallible, it may be a good idea to keep a small notebook in your bag that contains reminders of certain swing keys that have worked in the past. In my case I carry a 3x5 card with four different swing keys that have proved invaluable in many situations.
As a clinical psychologist I was trained in cognitive-behavioral theory, so I fully appreciate the connection and interplay between body and mind; between emotion and thought; between cognition and visualization. It is exactly that dynamic of complementary inner forces and energy which prohibits any single sensory or brain element from taking control. Just saying words to yourself doesn’t do it. You can picture the ball on a flight to the green, but if you haven’t felt the very swing motion needed to produce the shot, you usually won’t get the result. Like almost all techniques and fundamentals in the game of golf, practice is necessary. So when you are on the practice range use your swing keys, hit the shots and notice the results. Practice matching what you think to what you do. Practice, practice, practice.