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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

Golf 101: 3 fundamentals to straighter shots

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Editor’s Note: This article was written by Kyla Carlson (Alaska), Hayley Mortensen (Oregon), Garret Howell (Arizona) and Seth Abrahamson (Guam), four students in New Mexico State University’s PGA Golf Management Program.

It is our belief that the majority of golfers are looking to achieve a straighter ball flight at a more normal trajectory. To accomplish this, we put together three fundamentals to help golfers improve. They are:

  1. Contact the Ball with the Center of the Club Face
  2. Contact the Ball when the Club Face is Square to the Target Line
  3. Swing the Club along the Target Line

Below, we take a step-by-step approach to helping golfers achieve these fundamentals so they can hit straighter shots.

Fundamental #1: Contact the Ball with the Center of the Club Face

In the photo above, Hayley demonstrates the circular nature of the swing as she maintains her balance.

Setup: A balanced setup is one where your weight is evenly distributed between your feet (50 percent on your right foot, and 50 percent on your left foot) and evenly distributed from heel to toe. The reason for the balanced setup is that it creates a radius between you and the ball. By maintaining your balance, you maintain the radius of the swing. Therefore, the center of the club face will return to the ball.

Swing: It is important to remain balanced throughout the swing. Be sure not to slide the weight of your body from left to right, as we want a balanced, circular rotation, not a swaying motion.

Fundamental #2: Contact the Ball when the Club Face is Square to the Target

In the photo above, Garret demonstrates holding the club with the grooves vertical. In addition, he demonstrates holding the club face “open” and “closed.” respectively.

Setup: To confirm that you’re holding the club with a square club face, stand up and hold the club out in front of you so that the shaft is parallel to the ground. From this position, the grooves of the club should be vertical.

A neutral grip gives the player the best chance to return to the point of impact with a square club face. A neutral grip is one where your palms are facing each other. In addition, the palm of the right-handed golfer will face the target. The club should be positioned behind the ball so that the club face is square to the target. Then, set your body so that you’re square with the grooves of the club face and so your club is in the center of your stance.

Grip Check: With your normal grip, stand upright with the club out in front of you and allow a friend to hold the club head with his or her index and middle fingers. Once he or she has a hold on the club head, relax your joints and lean back. This will mimic the centrifugal pull that is created by the swing. Depending on the position of your hands, the club head may twist one way or the other. If it does, adjust your hands (clockwise or counter-clockwise) until the club doesn’t twist. A neutral grip will not twist.

In the photo above, Henry does the grip check to confirm that Garret is holding the club with a neutral grip.

In the photos above, Garret and Henry also demonstrate the effects of holding the club with a “strong” and “weak” grip, respectively.

Swing: The club face should maintain its relationship to the player as it swings. The player should make no attempt to twist the club face. Holding the club face with a neutral grip will allow centrifugal force to square the club face at impact (as long as the player started the swing with the club in the middle of his stance and maintained balance throughout the swing).

Fundamental #3: Swing the Club Along the Target Line

In the photo above, Kyla demonstrates swinging the club along the target line. Notice how the shaft of the golf club tracks the target line as it swings around her body.

Setup: Set the club face so that it is perpendicular to the target line (Orange Line). The shaft of the golf club should also be perpendicular to the target line. Then set the feet and shoulders so they are parallel to the target line.

Swing: The shaft of the club should track the target line and point directly at the target just prior to 9 o’clock in the forward swing. Thinking of the shaft as a fire hose or telescope can be a helpful visualization for a player to understand this concept. A drill that may be helpful is to swing a short pool noodle along the target line, stopping before 9 o’clock to look through the hole and confirm that its pointing at the target.

By understanding and practicing these fundamentals, you will experience straighter shots and have more fun playing this wonderful game.

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Instruction

Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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