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Use visualization, imagery like many of golf’s greats

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The saying “success leaves clues” is as true in golf as it is in all other sports.

Golf’s all-time greats and top athletes from other sports have used similar universal principles to reach their full athletic prowess. There are multiple fundamentals shared by the best of the best.

One of my favorite and most powerful traits shared by top athletes is their ability to use pictures and mental images. This amazing ability to control images is called visualization and imagery by sport psychologists.

Most of the greatest golfers from history have used some form of visualization and mental imagery, including golf’s all time leading major champion Jack Nicklaus.

“I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head,” Nicklaus said. “First, I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then, the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.”

Nicklaus has even affirmed that 50 percent of success in golf is a golfer’s mental picture. Growing up, Tiger Woods said one of his most important thoughts was where he wanted to ball to go. Meaning, he had a clear picture of the shot he wanted to hit. Similar to Nicklaus and Tiger, greats from other sports like hockey’s all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky have admitted to using pictures as a major part of his success.

“We taped a lot of famous pictures on the locker-room doors,” Gretzky says. “Bobby Orr, Felix Potvin, John Beliveau, all holding the Stanley Cup. We’d stand back and look at them and envision ourselves doing it. I really believe if you visualize yourself doing something, you can make that image come true … I must have rehearsed it 10,000 times. And when it came true it was like an eclectic jolt went up my spine.”

Whether you’re aspiring to be a top junior, college player, professional, or weekend warrior, one thing is for sure — visualization and imagery are a critical component to a golfer’s performance and mental game.

This is a major reason why all the students I work with in our junior golf program and our Post Graduate Program at the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy are trained to use visualization and imagery during our mental coaching sessions.

Visualization isn’t a mental strategy limited to professionals and top junior golfers. Science has demonstrated that mental imagery is beneficial to all golfers, regardless of age or current ability level.

Sport psychology research has found a strong link between performance and the visual pictures golfers use in a new line of exciting research called Functional Equivalence. If this term sounds confusing, don’t worry. The idea behind it is simple. All it means is that the same areas of the brain are activated when imagining a movement as actually making that movement. Meaning, if you were to imagine making a golf swing, many of the same areas within your brain are activated as when actually making the golf swing. In essence, the brain acts the same way when imagining a movement as when actually making the movement.

So why is this important? How can this help you? Simply put, every time you imagine something your brain is mentally practicing to make that image come true. This means that your imagination can act as an amazing tool in developing and training your mental game and golf game.

Since everything you imagine sends a signal to your brain, it means that not only are good images sent to your brain, but so are the negative images.

So be careful of the images and pictures you choose to focus on. You must learn to gain control of your imagination and not let your imagination control you. The golfers who are most happy and achieve the most success in golf have learned to master their imagination and send more positive pictures to their brain then negative ones.

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Dan Vosgerichian Ph.D. is owner of Elite Performance Solutions. Dr. Dan earned his doctorate in Sport Psychology from Florida State University and has more than 10 years of experience working with golfers to maximize their mental game. His clients have included golfers from The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Latin America, as well as some of the top junior and collegiate players in the country. Dr. Dan has experience training elite golfers on every aspect of the game. He served as The Director of Mental Training at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, as well as a Mental Game Coach for Nike Golf Schools. He’s also worked as an instructor at The PGA Tour Golf Academy and assistant golf coach at Springfield College. Dan's worked as a professional caddie at TPC Sawgrass, Home of The Players Championship, as well as an assistant to Florida State University's PGA Professional Golf Management Program.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Do These 6 Things Before Every Shot

  2. Kelly

    Oct 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

    There are two ways to do your visualization. One is seeing the pictures from your own eyes. This gives the images an emotional reference. The other way is to picture the scene with your body in it. This is more objective. Which is better? It depends on the result you are looking for. For golf shots, I have found it best when people picture their body rather than through their own eyes. When visualizing a final result like holding a trophy, it may be better to use a more emotional tool.

  3. naflack

    Oct 14, 2013 at 12:45 am

    i didnt know jack was so focused…
    i know for my game if dont focus on the target and the ball flight ill hit quality shots that miss the mark.

    • craig@tourimpactgolf.com

      Oct 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Oh yes… Jacks focus was such that he claimed he never took a swing without a purpose. Shame on me for the way i can just beat balls at times.

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Playing in your mind vs. playing out of your mind

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Comparing the recreational beginner to the elite player

As a player, I know there are rounds of golf where I feel like I worked extremely hard to achieve the results and there are also rounds that are effortless and just plain easy. Why do we go through these peaks and valleys in golf?

As an instructor and player, I want to explore a deeper understanding of what it means to be playing out of your mind vs. playing in your mind.

I want to address both beginners and elite players on their quest for better play. All beginners and elite players must understand that, as players, we are all experiencing ups and downs. The bottom line is that some handle them better than others.

Why is this a feeling golfers have: “playing out of your mind”?

Well, it is pure relaxation. It is fluid, seamless, continuous motion. No hang-ups. No hiccups.

The next big question, how do we achieve this regularly?

We get to this without forcing it, by believing in our makeup. It is locked in our subconscious. It is a controllable, uncontrollable. Subconsciously, your nervous system is in the green light. You are just doing. This is peak performance. This is the zone. This is playing autonomously, out of your mind.

I believe that over time, a golfer’s game is compiled in his/her built-up expectations of the player they truly believe they are. Expecting to make a putt vs. just so happening to make it feeds two different minds. When you place an expectation on an action tension is created. Tension creeps into our nervous system and our brains either respond or they don’t. This is called pressure. This is what I call playing in your mind. You are in your head, your thoughts are far too many and there is just a whole lot floating around up there.

The more players play/practice, the more they will expect out of themselves, and in result, create that pressure. (ie. Why progress is difficult to achieve the closer you get to shooting par or better). The best players are better at responding to that pressure. Their systems are auto-immune to pressure. (ie. Think of practice like medicine and think of a pre-shot routine like the Advil to help calm the spiking nerves.)

  • Playing in your mind = high tension golf… you might need an Advil.
  • Playing out of your mind = low tension golf… you are in a good headspace and are doing all the right things before your round even started.

The key to understanding here is that we can play in both minds and achieve success in either situation. It is all about managing yourself and your re-act game.

Subconscious playing is beyond enjoyable. It is more recreational in style. I believe beginners are playing more subconsciously, more recreationally. I believe elite players can learn from the beginner because they are achieving superior moments and sensations more subconsciously, more often. All players at all levels have off days. It is important to remember we all have this in common.

The goal is always to play your best. When I play my best, there are no preconceived thoughts of action. It’s simply action. Playing out of your mind is an unwritten script, unrehearsed, and unrepeatable on a day to day basis, you’re living it.

Say you have that one round, that out of your mind, crazy good day. The next few days, what do you do? Do you try to mimic everything you did to achieve that low number? As good players, we take these great days and try to piece it together into a script of playing. We know we can get it down to almost damn near perfect. The more a player rehearses the better they get. Edits are made…knowing that things are always shifting. Visualization is key.

No doubt, it’s a huge cycle. Players are in a continuous race to achieve results in numbers. Players looking to reach great success should generate a journal/log and compile a record and playback method and revisit it repeatedly.

There is no secret or magic…it takes mastering the minds to achieve the best results more often. Most important, as players, we must recognize that during our amazing rounds…

  1. We are relaxed
  2. We are having fun
  3. We are just doing

In this game, the deeper we go, the more we propose to be there. It will always bring us back to the basics. One complete full circle, back to the beginner in all of us. So, the next time an experienced player sees a beginner on the first tee…take a moment and appreciate that player!

Remember to enjoy the walk and believe that hard work always works!

Please reach out to me at dmfiscel1482@gmail.com to learn more about the zone and how to become accustomed to playing autonomously.

 

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