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Use visualization, imagery like many of golf’s greats

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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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Dan Vosgerichian Ph.D. is owner of Elite Performance Solutions. Dr. Dan earned his doctorate in Sport Psychology from Florida State University and has more than 10 years of experience working with golfers to maximize their mental game. His clients have included golfers from The PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Web.com Tour, PGA Latin America, as well as some of the top junior and collegiate players in the country. Dr. Dan has experience training elite golfers on every aspect of the game. He served as The Director of Mental Training at Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy, as well as a Mental Game Coach for Nike Golf Schools. He’s also worked as an instructor at The PGA Tour Golf Academy and assistant golf coach at Springfield College. Dan's worked as a professional caddie at TPC Sawgrass, Home of The Players Championship, as well as an assistant to Florida State University's PGA Professional Golf Management Program.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Do These 6 Things Before Every Shot

  2. Kelly

    Oct 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

    There are two ways to do your visualization. One is seeing the pictures from your own eyes. This gives the images an emotional reference. The other way is to picture the scene with your body in it. This is more objective. Which is better? It depends on the result you are looking for. For golf shots, I have found it best when people picture their body rather than through their own eyes. When visualizing a final result like holding a trophy, it may be better to use a more emotional tool.

  3. naflack

    Oct 14, 2013 at 12:45 am

    i didnt know jack was so focused…
    i know for my game if dont focus on the target and the ball flight ill hit quality shots that miss the mark.

    • [email protected]

      Oct 17, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Oh yes… Jacks focus was such that he claimed he never took a swing without a purpose. Shame on me for the way i can just beat balls at times.

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Wedge Guy: Short iron challenges — and a little insight (hopefully!)

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In my experience, almost all golfers could benefit from better short iron play. The ability to hit it closer to where you are looking with your 8-, 9- and P-irons will do more for your scoring than most anything else you can do. So, why is it that so many golfers just don’t hit the quality shots with these clubs that they do and should expect?

I chose this topic in response to an email from Phillip S., who wrote:

“I’m hitting straight and consistent most of the time but I’ve got a big problem between my 8-iron and everything else below.  I can hit my 8-iron 140-145 fairly consistently every time.  I hit my 9-iron somewhere between 110-135.  My pitching wedge is a mystery….it varies between 85 -125 yards.  No matter how “hard” I swing, I can’t seem to hit my short irons consistent distances.  It’s maddening to hit a great drive followed by a pitching wedge short of the green from 110 yards away.  What am I doing wrong?

Well, Phillip, don’t feel alone, because this is one of the most common golf issues I observe. It seems that the lion’s share of technology applied to golf clubs is focused on the long stuff, with drivers and hybrids getting the press. But I firmly believe that the short irons in nearly all “game improvement” designs are ill-suited for precise distance control, hitting shots on the optimum trajectory or knocking flags down. I’ve written about this a number of times, so a little trip back in Wedge Guy history should be enlightening. But here are some facts of golf club performance as applied to short iron play:

Fact #1. Short irons are much more similar to wedges than your middle irons. But almost all iron sets feature a consistent back design for cosmetic appeal on the store racks. And while that deep cavity and perimeter weight distribution certainly help you hit higher and more consistent shots with your 3- or 4- through 7-iron, as the loft gets in the 40-degree range and higher, that weight distribution is not your friend. Regardless of your skill level, short irons should be designed much more similar to wedges than to your middle irons.

Fact #2. As loft increases, perimeter weighting is less effective. Missed shots off of higher lofted clubs have less directional deviation than off of lower-lofted clubs. This is proven time and again on “Iron Byron” robotic testers.

Fact #3. It takes mass behind the ball to deliver consistent distances. Even on dead center hits, cavity back, thin-face irons do not deliver tack-driver distance control like a blade design. In my post of a couple of years ago, “The Round Club Mindset,” I urged readers to borrow blade-style short irons from a friend or assistant pro and watch the difference in trajectories and shotmaking. Do it! You will be surprised, enlightened, and most likely pleased with the results.

Fact #4. The 4.5-degree difference between irons is part of the problem. The industry has built irons around this formula forever, but every golfer who knows his distances can tell you that the full swing distance gap gets larger as the iron number increases, i.e. your gap between your 8- and 9-iron is probably larger than that between your 4- and 5-iron. Could there be some club tweaking called for here?

Fact #5. Your irons do not have to “match.” If you find through experimentation that you get better results with the blade style short irons, get some and have your whole set re-shafted to match, along with lengths and lie angles. These are the keys to true “matching” anyway.

So, Phillip, without knowing your swing or what brand of irons you play, I’m betting that the solution to your problems lies in these facts. Oh, and one more thing – regardless of short iron design, the harder you swing, the higher and shorter the shot will tend to go. That’s because it becomes harder and harder to stay ahead of the club through impact. Keep short iron shots at 80-85 percent power, lead with your left side and watch everything improve.

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Clement: Easily find your perfect backswing plane with this drill

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When you get on one of these, magic will happen! You can’t come too far inside or outside in the backswing, and you can’t have arms too deep or shallow at the top of the backswing nor can you be too laid off or across the line either! SEAMLESS!!

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Wedge Guy: The top 7 short game mistakes

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I’ve written hundreds of articles as “The Wedge Guy” and I’ve made it my life’s work to closely observe golfers and their short games. So, I thought I’d compile what I see into a list of what I believe are the most common mistakes golfers make around the greens that prevents them from optimizing their scoring. So here goes, not in any particular order:

  1. Tempo. Maybe the most common error I see is a tempo that is too quick and “jabby”. That probably comes from the misunderstood and overdone advice “accelerate through the ball.” I like to compare playing a golf hole to painting a room, and your short shots are your “trim brushes”. They determine how the finished work turns out, and a slower and more deliberate stroke delivers more precision as you get closer to the green and hole.
  2. Set Up/Posture. To hit good chips and pitches, you need to “get down”. Bend your knees a bit more and grip down on the club – it puts you closer to your work for better precision. Too many golfers I see stand up too tall and grip the club to the end.
  3. Grip Pressure. A very light grip on the club is essential to good touch and a proper release through the impact zone. Trust me, you cannot hold a golf club too lightly – your body won’t let you. Concentrate on your forearms; if you can feel any tenseness in the muscles in your forearms, you are holding on too tightly.
  4. Hand position. Watch the tour players hit short shots on TV. Their arms are hanging naturally so that their hands are very close to their upper thighs at address and through impact, but the club is not tilted up on its toe. Copy that and your short game will improve dramatically.
  5. Lack of Body/Core Rotation. When you are hitting short shots, the hands and arms have stay in front of the torso throughout the swing. If you don’t rotate your chest and shoulders back and through, you won’t develop good consistency in distance or contact.
  6. Club selection. Every pitch or chip is different, so don’t try to hit them all with the same club. I see two major errors here. Some golfers always grab the sand wedge when they miss a green. If you have lots of green to work with and don’t need that loft, a PW, 9-iron or even less will give you much better results. The other error is seen in those golfers who are “afraid” of their wedge and are trying to hit tough recoveries with 8- and 9-irons. That doesn’t work either. Go to your practice green and see what happens with different clubs, then take that knowledge to the course.
  7. Clubhead/grip relationship. This error falls into two categories. One is those golfers who forward press so much that they dramatically change the loft of the club. At address and impact the grip should be slightly ahead of the clubhead. I like to focus on the hands, rather than the club, and just think of my left hand leading my right through impact. Which brings me to the other error – allowing the clubhead to pass the hands through impact. If you let the clubhead do that, good shots just cannot happen. And that is caused by you trying to “hit” up on the ball, rather than swinging the entire club through impact.

So, there are my top 7. Obviously, there are others, but if you eliminate those, your short game will get better in a hurry.

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