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What Exactly Is A Swing Thought?

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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.

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Kelvin is a Class A PGA golf professional in San Francisco, California. He teaches and has taught at some of the top golf clubs in the Bay Area, including the Olympic Club and Sonoma Golf Club. He is TPI certified, and a certified Callaway and Titleist club fitter. Kelvin has sought advice and learned under several of the top instructors in the game, including Alex Murray and Scott Hamilton. To schedule a lesson, please call 818.359.0352 Online lessons also available at www.kelleygolf.com

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Larry

    Apr 20, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Great read. Interesting perspective

  2. Dave R

    Apr 20, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    So if I have a swing thought I’m cheating ? WOW Really. There is nothing like a lesson from the pro who can’t break 80..

    • Larry

      Apr 20, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      I would re-read the article bud

    • Yoohoo

      Apr 21, 2017 at 3:28 am

      Now you’re definitely thinking too much here. I think about what I’m a gonna eat after the round during my downswing. Helps me just pound it and not worry about the other stuff

  3. Tom C

    Apr 20, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Interesting. I’m a lefty and my first instinct is usually to do something I’m only capable of doing 50% of the time on the course, and now this article tells me to follow my instincts. Every time I read something on swing thoughts I get more confused. lol

  4. Taylor

    Apr 20, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I have just ONE swing thought and make sure I do that on that swing. If I do it on a consistent basis I move to something else to focus on. I think people’s problems is they try to do stuff on the course that is meant for the range, so they have too many focus points in their swing thought. Just focus on one, mine is to make sure I finish my turn, and do it. Even if the shot is bad, at least you did what you wanted to do. Over time everything tends to fall into place.

    • Yoohoo

      Apr 21, 2017 at 3:26 am

      You can think anything ya like. It don’t mean ya body’s gonna do what you tell it to. May be y’all should just think and focus harder on making the body move like ya want it to.

  5. Smizzldik

    Apr 20, 2017 at 7:37 am

    He thinks he’s smart. Therefore he isn’t.

    • Double Mocha Man

      Apr 20, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Who would take the time and be anal enough to change their username almost every time they post?! Someone needs to get a life.

    • Yoohoo

      Apr 21, 2017 at 3:24 am

      Whoa. Y’all just need to chillax. Might help you to swing easier and freer

  6. PatMcKok

    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    Damn Dog, dis don’t make no sense!

    • Sid

      Apr 29, 2017 at 11:51 am

      YouTube has put a lock on this tv commercial because it’s too pornographic. LOL

      • Kenn

        May 11, 2017 at 11:52 pm

        Yup…. they ran the zoolike commercial on network tv and then pulled it for another ad…. because it was obvious the big shaggy dog was attempting to shag the young hot wife…. who even put her hand down between the dogs rear legs as the dog jumped her on the sofa and while the porcine husband just looked away and back to his newspaper while the dog and laughing wife were frolicking about next to him …. btw, there are no ‘mistakes’ in advertising …. believe it…

  7. John Hanley

    Apr 19, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    In Tom Watson’s book “The Timeless Swing”, he suggests one kind of swing thought. To maintain the pace of the swing: repeat the word “ed-el-weiss” during the swing. He timed his swing to the three syllables. The first syllable took him about halfway to the top, the second to the top, and the third down through impact.
    I make this my mantra before the round, and during each swing. If I adhere to a slow repetition of that mantra, my swing will generally be a good one.

  8. Rony

    Apr 19, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    Im a song guy as well. The right song will help with tempo as well. Mine (I blame my mother for embedding it into my brain as a kid) is If I were a Rich Man from Fiddler on the roof. Starts at the practice swings and finishes after the shot.

  9. AussieAussieAussie

    Apr 19, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Probably the single most important article an aspiring golf coach will read on this site. Not to mention the players wanting to see actual scoring improvement!

  10. Eddie

    Apr 19, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Just a single swing thought – hit it solid.

  11. Bob Jones

    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:14 am

    “Arrgh! How can you think and hit at the same time?” – Yogi Berra

  12. Double Mocha Man

    Apr 19, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I have two rules in life. The length of preparing dinner should be less than the time it takes to eat it. And a swing thought should be briefer than the time it takes to swing a club. Oh, and always tip well if your bartender comps you your drink.

  13. Steve S

    Apr 19, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Best swing thought I have is when I can sing a rhythmic song in my head. Sometimes I sing out loud when practicing. Focusing on the song frees my brain to make a good swing without me thinking about mechanics. Also tends to slow me down….

    • Double Mocha Man

      Apr 19, 2017 at 11:06 am

      Remind me to never practice next to you on the practice range… 🙂

  14. Garth

    Apr 19, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Try http://www.thoughtfreegolf.com to help take your practice swing to the course.

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Instruction

How to eliminate the double cross: Vertical plane, gear effect and impact location

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One of the biggest issues teachers see on the lesson tee is an out-to-in golf swing from a player who is trying to fade the ball, only to look up and see the deadly double cross! This gear effect assisted toe hook is one of the most frustrating things about trying to move the ball from left to right for the right-handed golfer. In this article, I want to show you what this looks like with Trackman and give you a few ways in which you can eliminate this from your game.

Below is the address position of a golfer I teach here in Punta Mita; his handicap ranges between scratch and 2, depending on how much he’s playing, but his miss is a double cross when he’s struggling.

Now let’s examine his impact position:

Observations

  • You see a pull-hooking ball flight
  • The hands are significantly higher at impact than they were at address
  • If you look at the clubhead closely you can see it is wide open post impact due to a toe hit (which we’ll see more of in a second)
  • The face to path is 0.5 which means with a perfectly centered hit, this ball would have moved very slightly from the left to the right
  • However, we see a shot that has a very high negative spin axis -13.7 showing a shot that is moving right to left

Now let’s look at impact location via Trackman:

As we can see here, the impact of the shot above was obviously on the toe and this is the reason why the double-cross occurred. Now the question remains is “why did he hit the ball off of the toe?”

This is what I see from people who swing a touch too much from out-to-in and try to hit fades: a standing up of the body and a lifting of the hands raising the Vertical Swing Plane and Dynamic Lie of the club at impact. From address, let’s assume his lie angle was 45 degrees (for simplicity) and now at impact you can see his Dynamic Lie is 51 degrees. Simply put, he’s standing up the shaft during impact…when this happens you will tend to pull the heel off the ground at impact and this exposes the toe of the club, hence the toe hits and the gear effect toe hook.

Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? In my opinion it’s a three stage process:

  1. Don’t swing as much from out-to-in so you won’t stand up as much during impact
  2. A better swing plane will help you to remain in your posture and lower the hands a touch more through impact
  3. Move the weights in your driver to promote a slight fade bias

Obviously the key here is to make better swings, but remember to use technology to your advantage and understand why these type of things happen!

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Master your takeaway with force and torques

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Most golf swings last less than 2 seconds, so it’s difficult to recover from any errors in the takeaway. Time is obviously limited. What most golfers fail to realize is that the force and torque they apply to the club in the initial stages of the swing can have major effects on how they are able to leverage the club with their arms and wrists.

Our research has shown that it is best to see the golfer as a series of connected links with the most consistent golfers transferring motion smoothly from one link to another and finally to the club. Approximately 19-25 percent of all the energy created in a golf swing actually makes its way into the motion of the club. That means the remaining 75-80 percent is used up in moving the body segments. This emphasizes the fact that a smooth takeaway is your best chance sequence the body links and become more efficient with your energy transfers.

In the video above, I give a very important lesson on how the forces and torques applied by the golfer in the takeaway shape the rest of the swing. There will be more to come on the subject in future articles.

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Learn from the Legends: Introduction

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There is a better way to swing the golf club. I’d prefer to write that there is a correct way to swing the club, but I know that really freaks people out. People love to talk about how everyone’s swing is different. “There are lots of ways to get it done,” they say. “Look at Jim Furyk’s swing – it’s not what you’d teach, but it works for him.”

To some extent, they’re right. Elite swings do have different looks. Some take it back inside (Ray Floyd). Some cross the line (Tom Watson). Some swings are long (Bubba Watson). Some are short (young Tiger). But these differences are superficial and largely irrelevant. When it comes to the engine – the core of the swing – the greatest players throughout the history of the game are all very similar.

Don’t believe me? Well, let me prove it to you. In this series of articles, I will do my best to show you – with pictures and videos and data – that the legends all move a specific way. Focusing on these elements (while ignoring others) and practicing a certain way is the surest path to improving your golf swing and lowering your scores.

So, let’s get into it. There are a number of important elements that all the legends have, but the biggest and most important of these elements is rotation. Every great player throughout the history of the game has had elite rotation. It’s the most important thing they do, and it’s easy to see. When you’re looking down the line at all the great players at impact, you’ll see hips and torso open.

This is what the legends look like at impact:

1Hips open
2Torso open
3Both butt cheeks visible
4Left leg extended and visible

And here’s what some very good players with less good rotation look like at impact:

These are very successful players (one of them is a major champion!), but they don’t move like the legends of the game.
1Hips and shoulders not open
2Left leg not totally visible
3Can’t see both butt cheeks

Now, there are plenty of nuances to how great players rotate. They do it while keeping spine flexion, for example, and they do it with very little (or no) lateral movement toward the target (lateral movement impedes rotation). I will discuss these things in detail. My hope is that at the end of this series you will have a much better understanding of what separates the legends from the very good… and from the rest of us.

You will understand their “engine,” and hopefully this understanding will help you begin to create your own legendary swing!

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