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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