Being a golf coach goes further than the golf swing. That’s why golf coaches call themselves “coaches” and not “swing instructors.” Their role is to help golfers perform better on the course, and perhaps even off of it, which takes a lot more than a perfect golf swing. For that reason, the mental game has become a key part of golf coaching, as it should be; I think we’re often approaching the mental game the wrong way, though.
Golfers are told to read golf psychology books for all their tips on how to think more positive. Why? Most golfers are better on the range than they are on the course, and they want to reach their on-course potential. But have you performed better on the course practicing these self-help tools? Did it help your thoughts… or even your first-tee jitters? For most golfers, the answer is no.
We will start with swing thoughts. Many golfers ask me if they should have a swing thought, or if they should “just focus on the target.” What they often don’t realize is that picturing the target is a thought. A mental image is a thought, too.
A swing thought, like a normal thought, is simply energy. When a thought pops into your mind it’s considered neutral; it does not have a negative or positive effect on your feelings. Only when we begin to “think about a thought” will it determine both emotions and feelings. It’s important to understand feeling and emotion are a product of your thinking, not the other way around.
Thoughts can be completely random. They can come from outside our conscious control, as the vast majority of our thinking occurs subconsciously. Think about how many random thoughts you have per day and how random they were when they suddenly popped in your mind. You may be walking down the street when a negative thought pops in your mind. What if I lose my job? What if this or that happens? One can dismiss these thoughts and carry on, or they can think about them and enhance the thoughts, which will further effect their emotions.
The same is true on the golf course. When you approach that hole with out-of-bounds on the right that’s been giving you trouble, it’s natural to think about it. It’s only when we intentionally try to do something to that thought that we get in trouble. Don’t immediately go through your rolodex of self-help tools or try hard and ignore a thought; that’s where we get in our own way. In other words, don’t add fuel to the fire by thinking more. You will have positive and negative thoughts throughout a round on the golf course; none should be attempted to be controlled.
“How stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you really can’t fight,” said Masters Champion Sergio Garcia. “I needed to just accept things.”
The mantra of just picturing the target may work for some golfers, but not for others, and every player can be different. That’s why it’s absolutely OK for golfers to have swing thoughts or swing feels that are related to what they’re working on in their swing. So when are swing thoughts beneficial or harmful? When they’re paralyzing your natural talent or getting in the way of making solid contact. To quote author Garret Kramer, “Anything that obstructs your instincts, toss it out.”
It’s up to golfers to figure out what their body and mind can handle, as well as when a swing thought is needed. This can be the feel of a drill they have been working on or an external focus, like a body part moving a certain direction. If they’re driving the ball poorly that day, the thought can simply be the player’s go-to shot — maybe a low cut off the tee.
That’s why it’s important that you take note of what works and what doesn’t for you on the golf course. Keeping a record provides an arsenal of thoughts or feels that you can go to when you’re struggling. Note the dispersion of your misses and what you may or may not of been thinking about when they occurred. If your misses were wide, that could be a sign of too much thought.