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Go lower with subconscious golf

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A philosophy that I believe in is one in which the swing is powered by the subconscious mind and reacts to the image that the conscious mind creates. I am not stating that a golfer’s physical technique is not important, because it is. I am simply stating that we should strive to attain a level where the physical technique becomes subconscious.

The target is and always will be the single most important piece of information that a golfer can think of prior to playing a shot. The target can be the hole, a spot on the green, a slope on the fairway, a tree, or any other distinguishable marking of the golf course. The important thing is to select a precise target and remain fully committed to it throughout the duration of the swing. Playing to one’s true potential requires the physical golf swing to be a subconscious reaction to a mental image of the target.

When people learn to type, they begin by visually scanning the keyboard and finger pecking each key. As they begin to remember the placement of the keys, their keystrokes become faster. Eventually, they will develop a mental map of the keyboard so that the physical keystrokes are no longer a function of the conscious mind, but that of the subconscious mind. As their mental map of the keyboard becomes more and more clear, their physical keystrokes become fast and effortless.

Similarly, people learning to play the guitar begin by learning the location of the strings and then the physical placement of the fingers. Eventually they will have memorized the strings, the placement of the fingers and enough notes to play an entire song. At this point, the physical movements are a function of the subconscious mind and do not require additional thought. People learning to play golf rarely take their golf swing to the point where it becomes a function of the subconscious mind. Instead, they consciously work on swing mechanics and remain forever frustrated with the game.

In most sports, athletes look at their target while performing their specific skill. For instance, baseball players look at their teammate while throwing the ball. Basketball players look at the hoop while shooting. Quarterbacks hypothesize and look at a spot where the receiver should be at the time that the football arrives at its destination. Field-goal kickers and soccer players are similar to golfers in that they look at the ball while maintaining a mental image of the target. In all of these scenarios, the physical motion is a subconscious action to the intention of sending the ball to the target.

Driving and full shots

Select a target in the fairway or on the green at which you plan to land your ball. If you are not able to identify with a spot on the ground, select a tree, edge of a bunker or any other identifiable target.

During my pre-shot routine, I determine a landing spot at which I intend to play my shot. Below, I am looking at my landing spot, creating an image that I will use during the swing. Simply looking at the target is enough for our mind and body to calibrate the desired motion of sending the ball there.

CIMG1271

During the swing, I maintain the image of the target and in my mind’s eye. This allows my physical swing to be a subconscious reaction to the target.

CIMG1270s

Pitching

Either select the hole as your target or spot on the green where you intend to land your ball. If a landing spot has been selected, visualize the desired trajectory of the ball as it lands on the spot for sufficient roll-out to reach the hole. The ability to control trajectory is critical in controlling distance.

Below, I am selecting my desired landing spot by visualizing my intended shot trajectory and roll out so that the ball finished in or around the hole.

CIMG1267

Next, I maintain an image of the landing spot and trajectory so that I play the shot with accuracy and confidence.

CIMG1264s

Putting

Putting should be the easiest shot to allow the swing to become a subconscious reaction to the target. Select a precise target inside the hole. On breaking putts, select a target outside of the hole, but equal distance to it. A blade of grass, an old pitch mark, or simply a discoloration are all great targets for putting. Create an image of your target and see if you can stay committed to it for the duration of the stroke. If you can do this successfully, take the same mindset to pitching.

CIMG1254sCIMG1253s

It is one thing to select a target, but to remain fully committed to it for the duration of a golf swing is paramount. Challenge yourself by seeing how committed to the target you can remain during a given swing. Assess you commitment on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is not committed at all and 10 is fully committed. During the golf swing, losing the image of the target represents a mental gap where fear, anxiety and tension can enter and break down even the best golf swings.

Understanding and learning how to keep your conscious mind focused and occupied with where you wish to send your ball, enables your subconscious mind to perform the physical movement, effortlessly and free of distraction. If you are not asking yourself, “What is my target?” before each and every shot, you are not giving yourself the opportunity to play the caliber of golf that you are capable of playing.

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Henry is a PGA member and TPI certified golf instructor. Employed by New Mexico State University, Henry spends the majority of his time teaching the PGA Golf Management curriculum. He specializes in teaching golf instruction and player development. Henry also coaches a handful of amateur, elite junior, and professional golfers. GolfWRX Writer of the Month: June 2014

45 Comments

45 Comments

  1. Doug

    Oct 22, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Agree 100% with this theory. To prove to yourself it works, lag putt 30-40+ footers on the practice green by looking at the hole, not the ball. You will be amazed at how your subconscious takes over and literally reads the slope and speed for you. I have had some incredible results in actual rounds using this method when I can’t figure the line and speed on my own. I can’t tell you how many times I have just winged it, letting my subconscious take over and ended up within inches of the hole, or literally sinking the putt. The subconscious mind is very powerful. You just have to believe in it.

  2. Frank McChrystal

    Oct 22, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Wow, a lot of original stuff in here!!

  3. Pingback: Staying Psychological With Subconscious Golf - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  4. Ryan

    Oct 20, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Stetina!! Good to see you on here my man! Long time hope all is well in NM

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:37 am

      Thanks man! Life is good. I hope all is well with you. What is your last name Ryan?

  5. Golfraven

    Oct 20, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I tried conciously to apply this on a round today with some good results. Will try to keep it in my routine.

  6. The dude

    Oct 18, 2014 at 6:36 am

    Nice article…..how many times do you hear “I knew I shoulda’……..”……after some jag off hits a bad shot. Whether it’s not pulling the right club or being commited to the shot. (Yes…I’m often that jag off ) :).. This article serves as a proper reminder.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:47 am

      Great point. Commitment is something many of us struggle with. We only get one chance at it, regardless of making the right decision or not, we might as well commit to the one we made.

  7. Dave Robb

    Oct 18, 2014 at 3:18 am

    This approach sounds just like the one in the Manuel de la Torres book. I have found Manuels swing method and mental training has simplified things and been a great help for someone who started golf in my 40s. Highly recommended.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Yes, Manuel de la Torre is great! He has a lot of knowledge in psychology as it relates to the golf swing, a very wise man!

  8. Mark L

    Oct 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    This idea has been backed up multiple times with published research. Search “Trust Training” with regards to putting, pitch shots, and full shots. The research goes a little more in depth on the psychological skills and techniques, but the results are hard to argue.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:44 am

      Thanks for sharing. I will take a look at that info.

  9. Sean

    Oct 17, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    So you have no swing thoughts other than the target?

  10. Tom Stickney

    Oct 17, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    Self 1 and Self 2 in Tim Galloway’s book the inner game of golf will also talk about this process. Great read as well.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

      Thanks Tom. I will put that book on my reading list. Thank you!

  11. Aaron Hernandez

    Oct 17, 2014 at 8:27 pm

    I killed a guy

  12. paul

    Oct 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I try to see the shot in front of me. Kind of like seeing the tracer line they put in video games or like you see on TV after a ball is hit. Just see it before you hit, not after.

  13. MHendon

    Oct 17, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    There’s know question the more you can simplify the process the better. However I’d hate to know how many sub par rounds I’ve blown with 2 to 3 holes left once I realized what my score was, suddenly your body won’t do what you know it’s capable of.

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:41 am

      The mental scoreboard is often times death for a player. When we buy a green fee, it comes with a scorecard for a reason. Thanks for the comment

  14. Aaron Henson

    Oct 17, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    This article is great! I am an Assistant Golf Professional at a private golf course in New Jersey and I teach this exact thing to my students. It is amazing how much we can limit the ability of our golf game by unfocused thoughts. A great website for this kind of golf mental training is spiritofgolf.com. It has a wealth of information on how to let your mind go and just play the game. Enjoy everyone!

  15. Chuck

    Oct 17, 2014 at 2:53 pm

    Dr. Bob Rotella says things that are no different in his books. In college, they would kick you out for plagiarism.

    • Dave S

      Oct 17, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      No such thing as plagiarism in golf instruction. Everyone says the same thing in different words.

      • greg

        Oct 18, 2014 at 10:37 pm

        A lot of good stuff in this article pulled from Dr Gio Valliante’s “Fewrless Golf”.

  16. Jack

    Oct 17, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Pretty well-written article. Very often articles and books on simplifying the thought process during a golf swing are not written simplistically. Not the case here. One question:

    How does this concept adapt to hitting different types of shots? You obviously can’t always just play a straight shot and if I’m trying to cut a tee-shot off of a fairway bunker or hook one from behind a tree, how do you reconcile “only thinking about the target” with the thoughts necessary with hitting those shots?

    • Chuck

      Oct 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      You think about the ball flight and put that in your “mind’s eye” as well. Brad Faxon doesn’t even try to make a different swing, he just thinks draw, and it happens. Read Dr. Bob Rotella for more in-depth thinking as it relates to this article.

      • CD

        Oct 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

        Your ‘mind’s eye’ – do you have a sense that the ‘picture’ is to your left/side/where the target is, or is it in front of you? Or none of these?

        • CT

          Oct 17, 2014 at 6:48 pm

          It’s in your head. So the answer is “none of these”

    • Tony Clams

      Oct 17, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      Great question Jack – I think the point here is to take that picture in your mind of your intended target no matter how you swing to get it there. IMO of course.

      • Tony clams dad

        Oct 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm

        Just be sure to look more left in your mind son

    • Henry Stetina

      Oct 21, 2014 at 8:42 am

      Thank you! I am glad you enjoyed it. If I were you, I would experiment with visualizing your intended shot shape. If that doesn’t work, try visualizing the intended movement of the club through impact to play a specific shot shape. I hope that helps.

      • Stretch

        Oct 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

        Good article Henry.I would add when working the ball around obstacles that successful players can swing where the ball starts off. In other words they look down the initial start line and visualize the shot shape to the target. If the eyes are looking down a line not parallel to the initial start line they will start the shot down the line where the eyes look and play the shape desired. If the eyes look to the right of the desired initial start line then the ball will start down it and the shape of the shot will miss to the right. The same but opposite if the eyes look left of the initial start line. Bubba Watson plays big cuts and draws because he knows his eyes will look either left or right of the target and lets his subconscious mind create the amount of curve off his eye line to it.

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Instruction

Dennis Clark: Hitting from the turf

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I have seen as much as 4-5 MPH increase in clubhead speed when my students hit form a tee compared to hitting off the turf. Why?  Fear of FAT shots.

First question: Are you better hitting off a tee than on the turf?

Next question: When you play in a scramble and you have the option of dropping in the fairway or slightly in the first cut, do you choose the rough-especially when hitting over water or sand?

The answer to all these the same: Because the vast majority of golfers do not have a bottom of the swing arc safely in front of the golf ball consistently.

Consider a PGA Tour event, Korn Ferry, Champions Tour, LPGA Tour, whatever…You might see missed fairways, missed greens, hooks, blocks, etc. but we rarely, if ever, see a FAT shot. They simply do not hit the ground before the golf ball. Of course, there are exceptions, into the grain on short pitches, for example, but they are just that-rare exceptions. On the other hand, go to any golf course and watch average golfers for a while. Fat shots are not uncommon. In fact, they, or the fear of them, dominate most golf games.

The number one mistake I have seen on the lesson tee for over 35 years is unquestionably a player’s inability to control the bottom of the golf swing. I have seen everything from hitting 4 inches behind the ball to never reaching the bottom at all It has been my experience that that hitting fat shots is the number one flaw in most golf swings.

Let’s start with this fact: elite level players consistently reach a swing bottom (low point) some 3-4 inches in front of the golf ball-time after time after time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but the one I’d like to look at today is the position of the golf club at impact with the golf ball.

The club is leaning forward, toward the target, the hands are ahead of the club head, never straight up over it, never behind it-always, always leaning forward is the only way to consistently bottom out in front of the golf ball.   

A player cannot hit a ball consistently from the turf until he/she learns this and how to accomplish it. For every golfer I teach who gets into this position, I might teach 50 who do not. In fact, if players did not learn how to “save” a shot by bailing out on the downswing (chicken wing, pull up, raise the handle, or come over the top, (yes over the top is a fat shot avoidance technique) they would hit the ground behind the golf ball almost every time!  Hitting better shots from the fairways, particularly from tight lies, can be learned, but I’m going to be honest: The change required will NOT be easy. And to make matters worse, you can never play significantly better until you overcome the fear of hitting it fat.. Until you learn a pattern where the bottom of the swing is consistently in front of the ball, the turf game will always be an iffy proposition for you.

This starts with a perception. When first confronted with hitting a golf ball, it seems only natural that an “up” swing is the way to get the ball in the air-help it, if you will. The act of a descending blow is not, in any way, natural to the new player. In fact, it is totally counterintuitive. So the first instincts are to throw the club head at the ball and swing up to get the ball in the air; in other words, it makes perfect sense. And once that “method” is ingrained, it is very difficult to change. But change if you must, if your goal is to be a better ball striker.

The position to strive for is one where the left wrist (for a right-hander) is flat, the right is slightly dorsiflexed, and the handle of the golf club is ahead of the grip end. Do your level best to pay attention to the look and feel of what you’re doing as opposed to the flight of the golf ball. FEEL that trail wrist bent slightly back, the lead wrist flat and the hands ahead. It will seem strange at first, but it’s the very small first step in learning to hit down on your tight lies. If some degree of that is not ultimately accomplished, you will likely always be executing “fit in” moves to make up for it. It is worth the time and effort to create this habit.

My suggestion is to get on a Trackman if possible to see where you’re low point actually is, or perhaps you may just want to start paying close attention to your divots-particularly the deepest part of them. I’m sure you will get into a pattern of bottoming out consistently in front of the ball when you begin to learn to get the hands ahead and the club head behind. And best of all, when this becomes your swing, you will lose the fear of hitting the turf first and be free to go down after the ball as aggressively as you like.

Ok, so how is this accomplished? While many players are looking for a magic bullet or a training aid which might help one miraculously get into a good impact position, I dare say there is not one. It is a trial and error proposition, a learn-from-the-mistakes kind of thing achieved only through repetition with a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. The hardest thing to do is IGNORE the outcome when learning a new motor skill, but you must do it. A couple of things you might try:

  • Start with 30-50 yard pitch shots, paying close attention to the hands leading at impact. Again ignore the outcome, look only at the divot.
  • Hit a TON of fairway bunker shots. Draw a line in the sand 3-4″ in front of the ball and try to hit it.
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What you can learn from the rearview camera angle

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We often analyze the golf swing from the face-on view or down-the-line camera angle. However, we can also learn how the body moves in the swing from the rearview or backside view.

When seeing the swing from the rearview, we can easily see how the glutes work. The trail glute actually moves back and around in the backswing. This means the glute moves towards the target or towards the lead heel. Note the trail glute start point and endpoint at the top of the backswing.

To some, this may seem like it would cause a reverse weight shift. However, this glute movement can enable the upper body to get loaded behind the ball. This is where understanding the difference between pressure, and weight is critical (see: “Pressure and Weight”).

This also enhances the shape of the body in the backswing. From the rear angle, I prefer to have players with a tuck to their body in their trail side, a sign of no left-side bend.

This puts the body and trail arm into a “throwing position”, a dynamic backswing position. Note how the trailing arm has folded with the elbow pointing down. This is a sign the trailing arm moved in an efficient sequence to the top of the backswing.

Next time you throw your swing on video, take a look at the rearview camera angle. From this new angle, you may find a swing fault or matchup needed in your golf swing to produce your desired ball flight.

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How to stop 3-putting and start making putts

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When we are 3-putting we are ‘stuck in the box’. This means that when we are standing over the putt the second before we make our stroke everything happens to ‘go downhill.’ When this happens, depending on your playing level, things can become a bit erratic on the putting surface.

When a 3 putt happens, it is typically because you failed to do something before you made your stroke. The large majority of my 3 putts happen when I am not completely SOLD on the line of my putt, aka not committed. Questioning anything over the ball will lead to 3 putts.

Here is a breakdown/checklist on how to approach the green and get your ball in the cup without hesitation.

1. It starts with the approach shot into the green and the decision of direction you make to enter the hole. Scan the entire green with your eyes on the walk-up. Left to right and right to left. Look for a few seconds before you step onto the putting surface. This helps determine the high side and the low side, or if the green is relatively flat. Don’t be picky, just look and make a decision.

2. Once you get to the ball, mark it. Take 3 steps behind your ball mark. Now you must pick a line… Left, Center, or Right of the cup. (Skip step 3 if you know the line) It should take seconds but for those that are not sure it will take longer. Understand that every putt has a statistical level of difficulty. So to increase the odds, players must avoid putting in the unsure mind, and take the time to figure out a line. I also find that people who are 3 putting are overly confident and just not committed aka too quick to putt.

3. To commit, you must find the angle of entry into the cup. Walk up to the hole and look at the cup. How is it cut? Determine if it is cut flat or on a slope angle. This will help you see the break if you are having a hard time. Then determine how much break to play. Cut the hole into 4 quarters with your eyes standing right next to it. Ask yourself, which quarter of the cup does the ball need to enter to make the putt go in the hole?

I encourage using the phrases ‘in the hole’ or ‘to the hole’ as great reinforcement and end thoughts before stroking the ball. I personally visualize a dial on the cup. When my eyes scan the edges, I see tick marks of a clock or a masterlock – I see the dial pop open right when I pick the entry quadrant/tick mark because I cracked the code.

Remember, the most important parts of the putt are: 1.) Where it starts and 2. ) Where it ends.

4. To secure the line, pick something out as the apex of the putt on the walk back to the mark. Stand square behind the ball mark and the line you have chosen.

5. To further secure the line, place your ball down and step behind it to view the line from behind the ball. Don’t pick up the ball mark until you have looked from behind. When you look, you need to scan the line from the ball to the cup with your eyes. While you are scanning, you can make adjustments to the line – left, right or center. Now, on the walk into the box, pickup the mark. This seals the deal on the line. Square your putter head to the ball, with feet together, on the intended line.

6. To make the putt, look at the apex and then the cup while taking your stance and making practice strokes to calibrate and gauge how far back and through the stroke needs to be.

7. To prove the level of commitment, step up to the ball and look down the intended line to the apex back to the cup and then back to the apex down to your ball. As soon as you look down at the ball, never look up again. Complete one entire stroke. A good visual for a putting stroke is a battery percentage and comparing your ‘complete stroke’ to the percentage of battery in the bar.

8. Look over your shoulder once your putter has completed the stroke, i.e. listen for the ball to go in and then look up!

If you find a way that works, remember it, and use it!

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