One of the most challenging things about becoming a better golfer is conquering our biggest enemy. It’s not the golf course, the elements, competitors, or anything like that. It’s ourselves, and many times our golf swing thoughts.
There are so many reasons why golf is an endlessly difficult game, and one in particular that separates it from any other sport is the fact that it is a stationary game. We’re not reacting to a defender, a fastball, or a pass thrown our way. We have all the time in the world to think about what we’re about to do.
That is the problem. We have too much time to think.
Our minds are often the biggest deterrent from success on the golf course. It could be because we’re scared about hitting it in a water hazard or trying not to embarrass ourselves in front of playing partners, but mostly golf swing thoughts seem to clutter our brains.
It’s Too Much
To me one of the most detrimental thoughts golfers can have is about the swing itself. Golfers will have a checklist of golf swing thoughts that they go through before, and during their actual swing.
In my golfing career I’ve had as many as 5-6 different golf swing thoughts going through my head, and I’m sure anyone reading this has experienced something similar to that.
Or you could be like this guy…
Here’s the thing. You simply can’t handle all of these thoughts and make a successful golf swing, it just doesn’t work like that.
A few weeks ago I was on the course with a good friend of mine who is an excellent golfer. He’s got one of those swings that you look at and think to yourself, “what could possibly go wrong?”
He was struggling mightily though in the beginning of the round. His swing seemed completely lost, and I asked him what was going on.
My friend said that he recently had his swing evaluated by someone he respects, and he gave him a checklist of things to work on.
It was quite a list.
He was trying to think about rotating the clubface open, and about 3-4 other technical checkpoints. It clearly wasn’t working. His mind was cluttered with these golf swing thoughts, and you could tell it was preventing him from making a confident movement.
I knew I was going to be writing this article so for a few holes I discussed why I thought there was no way a golfer of any level could be successful with their head filled with too many golf swing thoughts.
He decided to go back to his normal focus of just rotating his body, which is a simple concept to focus on.
Low and behold he went on to striking the ball like he normally does, extremely well.
It’s Not a Coincidence
A great instructor that I highly respect named Adam Young has done a lot of research in this area. He describes it as the locus of attention, and we discussed it at length in this interview available to our Insider members.
A lot of the research that Adam has looked into has shown that internal thoughts, or ones that are linked to the motion themselves, typically don’t help golfers perform under pressure.
They can be debilitating and prevent your body from making the natural motion that it subconsciously knows how to do.
Through my own personal journey as a golfer I believe this wholeheartedly to be true. I’ve always played my best golf when I let things happen, rather than trying to make them happen.
Let’s explore that concept a little bit more…
Playing Like a Cop is Following You
Dave Stockton made a great metaphor in his book Unconscious Putting that I have never forgotten, as it relates to putting.
When you drive a car you aren’t thinking about all of the mechanical things necessary to safely get your vehicle from point A to point B. You aren’t thinking about how hard to pump the brakes, or how many degrees to rotate the wheel to make a left turn.
Your subconscious mind takes over and handles all of that for you because you have already learned how to drive.
Think about what happens when you see a police officer in your rear view mirror. All of a sudden you’re watching the speedometer, your hands might get a little stiff on the wheel, and you are consciously thinking about what you need to do in order to avoid a ticket rather than just drive normally.
Dave Stockton found that many golfers putt like a police car is following them. They are thinking way too much about the mechanics of their putting stroke rather than just letting it happen.
I feel this isn’t just limited to putting, but the golf swing overall. Golfers have a tendency to obsess about the mechanics of the golf swing, and it prevents them from letting their bodies make a natural movement.
Make the List Smaller, or Focus on Something Else
I am hitting the ball better than I ever have by really not thinking about much while I swing.
A lot of this has come about by working on my tempo with a training aid like the Orange Whip. A tool like this gets you to focus on something other than the mechanical mess of thoughts that most golfers let their minds be overtaken by.
Now when I swing I am focusing one concept only, like making a smooth rhythmic movement.
That’s much easier to manage than what I used to think about, which was a list of the following:
- Take the club back on an inside path
- Make sure the face is open
- Try to limit the length of backswing
- Don’t hit it there!
There’s also ample evidence that focusing on something unrelated to the golf swing at all can help your subconscious mind take over. It could be something like humming your favorite song under your breath during your pre-shot routine and during your swing.
Or it could be trying to brush a blade of grass in front of the golf ball with your wedge when you are facing a testy pitch shot around the green.
Changing Golf Swing Thoughts Isn’t Easy
I don’t want to make it sound like all of this is easy, but based on my own experience, and a lot of the research that has been done in this area, it does make sense for golfers to start experimenting with shifting their focus away from having too many thoughts about the golf swing itself.