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Go lower with subconscious golf

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A philosophy that I believe in is one in which the swing is powered by the subconscious mind and reacts to the image that the conscious mind creates. I am not stating that a golfer’s physical technique is not important, because it is. I am simply stating that we should strive to attain a level where the physical technique becomes subconscious.

The target is and always will be the single most important piece of information that a golfer can think of prior to playing a shot. The target can be the hole, a spot on the green, a slope on the fairway, a tree, or any other distinguishable marking of the golf course. The important thing is to select a precise target and remain fully committed to it throughout the duration of the swing. Playing to one’s true potential requires the physical golf swing to be a subconscious reaction to a mental image of the target.

When people learn to type, they begin by visually scanning the keyboard and finger pecking each key. As they begin to remember the placement of the keys, their keystrokes become faster. Eventually, they will develop a mental map of the keyboard so that the physical keystrokes are no longer a function of the conscious mind, but that of the subconscious mind. As their mental map of the keyboard becomes more and more clear, their physical keystrokes become fast and effortless.

Similarly, people learning to play the guitar begin by learning the location of the strings and then the physical placement of the fingers. Eventually they will have memorized the strings, the placement of the fingers and enough notes to play an entire song. At this point, the physical movements are a function of the subconscious mind and do not require additional thought. People learning to play golf rarely take their golf swing to the point where it becomes a function of the subconscious mind. Instead, they consciously work on swing mechanics and remain forever frustrated with the game.

In most sports, athletes look at their target while performing their specific skill. For instance, baseball players look at their teammate while throwing the ball. Basketball players look at the hoop while shooting. Quarterbacks hypothesize and look at a spot where the receiver should be at the time that the football arrives at its destination. Field-goal kickers and soccer players are similar to golfers in that they look at the ball while maintaining a mental image of the target. In all of these scenarios, the physical motion is a subconscious action to the intention of sending the ball to the target.

Driving and full shots

Select a target in the fairway or on the green at which you plan to land your ball. If you are not able to identify with a spot on the ground, select a tree, edge of a bunker or any other identifiable target.

During my pre-shot routine, I determine a landing spot at which I intend to play my shot. Below, I am looking at my landing spot, creating an image that I will use during the swing. Simply looking at the target is enough for our mind and body to calibrate the desired motion of sending the ball there.

CIMG1271

During the swing, I maintain the image of the target and in my mind’s eye. This allows my physical swing to be a subconscious reaction to the target.

CIMG1270s

Pitching

Either select the hole as your target or spot on the green where you intend to land your ball. If a landing spot has been selected, visualize the desired trajectory of the ball as it lands on the spot for sufficient roll-out to reach the hole. The ability to control trajectory is critical in controlling distance.

Below, I am selecting my desired landing spot by visualizing my intended shot trajectory and roll out so that the ball finished in or around the hole.

CIMG1267

Next, I maintain an image of the landing spot and trajectory so that I play the shot with accuracy and confidence.

CIMG1264s

Putting

Putting should be the easiest shot to allow the swing to become a subconscious reaction to the target. Select a precise target inside the hole. On breaking putts, select a target outside of the hole, but equal distance to it. A blade of grass, an old pitch mark, or simply a discoloration are all great targets for putting. Create an image of your target and see if you can stay committed to it for the duration of the stroke. If you can do this successfully, take the same mindset to pitching.

CIMG1254sCIMG1253s

It is one thing to select a target, but to remain fully committed to it for the duration of a golf swing is paramount. Challenge yourself by seeing how committed to the target you can remain during a given swing. Assess you commitment on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is not committed at all and 10 is fully committed. During the golf swing, losing the image of the target represents a mental gap where fear, anxiety and tension can enter and break down even the best golf swings.

Understanding and learning how to keep your conscious mind focused and occupied with where you wish to send your ball, enables your subconscious mind to perform the physical movement, effortlessly and free of distraction. If you are not asking yourself, “What is my target?” before each and every shot, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to play the caliber of golf that you are capable of playing.

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Henry is a PGA member and TPI certified golf instructor. Employed by New Mexico State University, Henry spends the majority of his time teaching the PGA Golf Management curriculum. He specializes in teaching golf instruction and player development. Henry also coaches a handful of amateur, elite junior, and professional golfers. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: June 2014

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Doug

    Oct 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Agree 100% with this theory. To prove to yourself it works, lag putt 30-40+ footers on the practice green by looking at the hole, not the ball. You will be amazed at how your subconscious takes over and literally reads the slope and speed for you. I have had some incredible results in actual rounds using this method when I can’t figure the line and speed on my own. I can’t tell you how many times I have just winged it, letting my subconscious take over and ended up within inches of the hole, or literally sinking the putt. The subconscious mind is very powerful. You just have to believe in it.

  2. Frank McChrystal

    Oct 22, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Wow, a lot of original stuff in here!!

  3. Pingback: Staying Psychological With Subconscious Golf - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  4. Ryan

    Oct 20, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Stetina!! Good to see you on here my man! Long time hope all is well in NM

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thanks man! Life is good. I hope all is well with you. What is your last name Ryan?

  5. Golfraven

    Oct 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I tried conciously to apply this on a round today with some good results. Will try to keep it in my routine.

  6. The dude

    Oct 18, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Nice article…..how many times do you hear “I knew I shoulda’……..”……after some jag off hits a bad shot. Whether it’s not pulling the right club or being commited to the shot. (Yes…I’m often that jag off ) :).. This article serves as a proper reminder.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Great point. Commitment is something many of us struggle with. We only get one chance at it, regardless of making the right decision or not, we might as well commit to the one we made.

  7. Dave Robb

    Oct 18, 2014 at 3:18 am

    This approach sounds just like the one in the Manuel de la Torres book. I have found Manuels swing method and mental training has simplified things and been a great help for someone who started golf in my 40s. Highly recommended.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Yes, Manuel de la Torre is great! He has a lot of knowledge in psychology as it relates to the golf swing, a very wise man!

  8. Mark L

    Oct 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    This idea has been backed up multiple times with published research. Search “Trust Training” with regards to putting, pitch shots, and full shots. The research goes a little more in depth on the psychological skills and techniques, but the results are hard to argue.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:44 am

      Thanks for sharing. I will take a look at that info.

  9. Sean

    Oct 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    So you have no swing thoughts other than the target?

  10. Tom Stickney

    Oct 17, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Self 1 and Self 2 in Tim Galloway’s book the inner game of golf will also talk about this process. Great read as well.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Thanks Tom. I will put that book on my reading list. Thank you!

  11. Aaron Hernandez

    Oct 17, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I killed a guy

  12. paul

    Oct 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I try to see the shot in front of me. Kind of like seeing the tracer line they put in video games or like you see on TV after a ball is hit. Just see it before you hit, not after.

  13. MHendon

    Oct 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    There’s know question the more you can simplify the process the better. However I’d hate to know how many sub par rounds I’ve blown with 2 to 3 holes left once I realized what my score was, suddenly your body won’t do what you know it’s capable of.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

      The mental scoreboard is often times death for a player. When we buy a green fee, it comes with a scorecard for a reason. Thanks for the comment

  14. Aaron Henson

    Oct 17, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    This article is great! I am an Assistant Golf Professional at a private golf course in New Jersey and I teach this exact thing to my students. It is amazing how much we can limit the ability of our golf game by unfocused thoughts. A great website for this kind of golf mental training is spiritofgolf.com. It has a wealth of information on how to let your mind go and just play the game. Enjoy everyone!

  15. Chuck

    Oct 17, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Dr. Bob Rotella says things that are no different in his books. In college, they would kick you out for plagiarism.

    • Dave S

      Oct 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      No such thing as plagiarism in golf instruction. Everyone says the same thing in different words.

      • greg

        Oct 18, 2014 at 10:37 pm

        A lot of good stuff in this article pulled from Dr Gio Valliante’s “Fewrless Golf”.

  16. Jack

    Oct 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Pretty well-written article. Very often articles and books on simplifying the thought process during a golf swing are not written simplistically. Not the case here. One question:

    How does this concept adapt to hitting different types of shots? You obviously can’t always just play a straight shot and if I’m trying to cut a tee-shot off of a fairway bunker or hook one from behind a tree, how do you reconcile “only thinking about the target” with the thoughts necessary with hitting those shots?

    • Chuck

      Oct 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      You think about the ball flight and put that in your “mind’s eye” as well. Brad Faxon doesn’t even try to make a different swing, he just thinks draw, and it happens. Read Dr. Bob Rotella for more in-depth thinking as it relates to this article.

      • CD

        Oct 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        Your ‘mind’s eye’ – do you have a sense that the ‘picture’ is to your left/side/where the target is, or is it in front of you? Or none of these?

        • CT

          Oct 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm

          It’s in your head. So the answer is “none of these”

    • Tony Clams

      Oct 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Great question Jack – I think the point here is to take that picture in your mind of your intended target no matter how you swing to get it there. IMO of course.

      • Tony clams dad

        Oct 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm

        Just be sure to look more left in your mind son

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it. If I were you, I would experiment with visualizing your intended shot shape. If that doesn’t work, try visualizing the intended movement of the club through impact to play a specific shot shape. I hope that helps.

      • Stretch

        Oct 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

        Good article Henry.I would add when working the ball around obstacles that successful players can swing where the ball starts off. In other words they look down the initial start line and visualize the shot shape to the target. If the eyes are looking down a line not parallel to the initial start line they will start the shot down the line where the eyes look and play the shape desired. If the eyes look to the right of the desired initial start line then the ball will start down it and the shape of the shot will miss to the right. The same but opposite if the eyes look left of the initial start line. Bubba Watson plays big cuts and draws because he knows his eyes will look either left or right of the target and lets his subconscious mind create the amount of curve off his eye line to it.

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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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