How many of us truly do any mental imagery or visualization to help our golf game? If I could see you now, I am sure there would be a collective sigh from most of you with a confession of, “alas, not.” Well, this is the ideal time to start working on the mental side of the game.
If you think of golf as a pie chart and divide that chart into quarters: 25% for long game, 25% for short game, 25% for course management, and 25% for the mental part. Let me tell you where you spend 90% of that chart—hitting balls! How’s that going for you?
And, if you agree with the saying we hear all the time, “oh golf is a mental game” and as the great Jack Nicklaus has often been quoted, “golf is 80% mental and 20% physical,” then why do we still drag ourselves to the range and probably not enjoy the experience because you cannot understand why you slice it or chunk it or fail to get it airborne?
This sounds like torture to me.
Instead, I am going to suggest this: find the time to relax and do some mental exercises.
Before I get into some simple tricks, let me share with you a fabulous story of Major Nesmith. He was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and was locked in a small cell by himself for years. Prior to his incarceration, he was an avid golfer who would shoot in the mid 90’s.
We are all going stir crazy with our self-isolation, and yet we have TV, internet, books, animals, loved ones for distractions, while he had nothing. So, guess what he did? He visualized himself playing his golf course every single day for years. It gave him something to occupy his mind, it gave him inspiration to survive, and it gave him hope.
Upon his return to the States, he went out and shot 74.
The power of visualization is huge, and I urge you to try some of the following techniques. Agreed, his circumstances were extreme, and he did dedicate hours per day visualizing, but you too can reap rewards with just a few simple exercises.
Major Nesmith, without him realizing, was practicing what I know as Future History. Many top athletes practice this type of training. How often do you hear golfers or athletes talk in post round interviews about how “it’s just what I dreamed of doing as a kid”? Bottom line, they had mentally prepared for it, so when the time came to execute, they were confident and not distracted. They had subconsciously been there before.
As an LPGA Tour player for 18 years, I personally practiced many mental techniques that helped improve my confidence and performance. The only caveat is, you have to believe in what you are doing. Trust me, every top golfer out there will have practiced some kind of mental techniques along the way.
Here is a very simple exercise to get you started:
Find a quiet place, get comfortable, make sure you will not be disturbed and simply imagine yourself playing your favorite course or a particular hole that you may have trouble with. Feel like you are a spectator watching yourself and see that person swing exactly as you want. The more real you make the situation, the better. For example, is it warm and sunny? Are the clouds out? Can you hear the birds chirp? Can you smell the freshly cut grass?
Ideally, if you can concentrate and see yourself play a full eighteen holes, go for it. This might be too challenging to start your mental training, so try imagining only a couple of holes at a time. Or, it might even be just a particular shot you want to conquer. Take the bunker shot, for example, imagine yourself in the trap and feel how the club gently splashes through the sand and under the ball. Please note, do not imagine a poor outcome!
Stop the exercise immediately if you cannot see yourself perform the way you want.
Ease yourself into these exercises. They do work. And remember, although your brain is not a muscle, it’s a very powerful organ—use it to improve your golf game.