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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

Why you are probably better at golf than you think (Part 1)

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Golf is hard. I spend my career helping people learn that truth, but golfers are better than they give themselves credit for.

As a golf performance specialist, I give a lot of “first time working together” lessons, and most of them start the same way. I hear about all the ways the golfer is cursed and how s/he is never going to “get it” and how s/he should take up another sport. Granted, the last statement generally applies to an 18-plus handicap player, but I hear lots of negatives from better players as well.

Even though the golfers make convincing arguments for why they are cursed, I know the truth. It’s my job to help them realize the fates aren’t conspiring against them.

All golfers can play well consistently

I know this is a bold statement, but I believe this because I know that “well” does not equate to trophies and personal bests. Playing “well” equates to understanding your margin of error and learning to live within it.

With this said, I have arrived at my first point of proving why golfers are not cursed or bad golfers: They typically do not know what “good” looks like.

What does “good” look like from 150 yards out to a center pin?

Depending on your skill level, the answer can change a lot. I frequently ask golfers this same question when selecting a shot on the golf course during a coaching session and am always surprised at the response. I find that most golfers tend to either have a target that is way too vague or a target that is much too small.

The PGA Tour average proximity to the hole from 150 yards is roughly 30 feet. The reason I mention this statistic is that it gives us a frame of reference. The best players in the world are equivalent to a +4 or better handicap. With that said, a 15-handicap player hitting it to 30 feet from the pin from 150 yards out sounds like a good shot to me.

I always encourage golfers to understand the statistics from the PGA Tour not because that should be our benchmark, but because we need to realize that often our expectations are way out of line with our current skill level. I have found that golfers attempting to hold themselves to unrealistic standards tend to perform worse due to the constant feeling of “failing” they create when they do not hit every fairway and green.

Jim Furyk, while playing a limited PGA Tour schedule, was the most accurate driver of the golf ball during the 2020 season on the PGA Tour hitting 73.96 percent of his fairways (roughly 10/14 per round) and ranked T-136 in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee. Bryson Dechambeau hit the fairway 58.45 percent (roughly 8/14 per round) of the time and ranked first in Strokes Gained: Off-The-Tee.

There are two key takeaways in this comparison

Sometimes the fairway is not the best place to play an approach shot from. Even the best drivers of the golf ball miss fairways.

By using statistics to help athletes gain a better understanding of what “good” looks like, I am able to help them play better golf by being aware that “good” is not always in the middle of the fairway or finishing next to the hole.

Golf is hard. Setting yourself up for failure by having unrealistic expectations is only going to stunt your development as a player. We all know the guy who plays the “tips” or purchases a set of forged blades applying the logic that it will make them better in the long run—how does that story normally end?

Take action

If you are interested in applying some statistics to your golf game, there are a ton of great apps that you can download and use. Also, if you are like me and were unable to pass Math 104 in four attempts and would like to do some reading up on the math behind these statistics, I highly recommend the book by Mark Broadie Every Shot Counts. If you begin to keep statistics and would like how to put them into action and design better strategies for the golf course, then I highly recommend the Decade system designed by Scott Fawcett.

You may not be living up to your expectations on the golf course, but that does not make you a bad or cursed golfer. Human beings are very inconsistent by design, which makes a sport that requires absolute precision exceedingly difficult.

It has been said before: “Golf is not a game of perfect.” It’s time we finally accept that fact and learn to live within our variance.

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Walters: Try this practice hack for better bunker shots

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Your ability to hit better bunker shots is dramatically reduced if you have no facility to practice these shots. With so few facilities (especially in the UK) having a practice bunker it’s no wonder I see so many golfers struggle with this skill.

Yet the biggest issue they all seem to have is the inability to get the club to enter the sand (hit the ground) in a consistent spot. So here is a hack to use at the range to improve your bunker shots.

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Golf Blueprint: A plan for productive practice sessions

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Practice range at the Dormie Club. Photo credit: Scott Arden

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

You’ve gotten lessons.  Several of them.  You’ve been custom fitted for everything in your bag.  You even bought another half a dozen driver shafts last year looking for an extra couple of yards.  And yet, you’re still…stuck.  Either your handicap hasn’t moved at all in years or you keep bouncing back and forth between the same two numbers.  You’ve had all the swing fixes and all the technological advances you could realistically hope to achieve, yet no appreciable result has been achieved in lowering your score.  What gives?

Sample Golf Blueprint practice plan for a client.

One could argue that no one scientifically disassembled and then systematically reassembled the game of golf quite like the great Ben Hogan.  His penchant for doing so created a mystique which is still the stuff of legend even today.  A great many people have tried to decipher his secret over the years and the inevitable conclusion is always a somewhat anticlimactic, “The secret’s in the dirt.”  Mr. Hogan’s ball striking prowess was carved one divot at a time from countless hours on the practice range.  In an interview with golf journalist George Peper in 1987, Mr. Hogan once said:

“You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but the truth is, I was enjoying myself. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning so I could hit balls. I’d be at the practice tee at the crack of dawn, hit balls for a few hours, then take a break and get right back to it. And I still thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m hitting the ball where I want, hard and crisply—when anyone is— it’s a joy that very few people experience.”

Let me guess.  You’ve tried that before, right?  You’ve hit buckets and buckets of range rocks trying to groove the perfect 7-iron swing and still to no avail, right?  Read that last sentence again closely and you might discover the problem.  There’s a difference between mindful practice and mindless practice.  Mindful practice, like Mr. Hogan undoubtedly employed, is structured, focused, and intentional.  It has specific targets and goals in mind and progresses in a systematic fashion until those goals are met.

This is exactly what Nico Darras and Kevin Moore had in mind when they started Golf Blueprint.  In truth, though, the journey actually started when Nico was a client of Kevin’s Squares2Circles project.  Nico is actually a former DI baseball player who suffered a career-ending injury and took up golf at 22 years old.  In a short time, he was approaching scratch and then getting into some mini tour events.  Kevin, as mentioned in the Squares2Circles piece, is a mathematics education professor and accomplished golfer who has played in several USGA events.  Their conversations quickly changed from refining course strategy to making targeted improvements in Nico’s game.  By analyzing the greatest weaknesses in Nico’s game and designing specific practice sessions (which they call “blueprints”) around them, Nico started reaching his goals.

The transition from client to partners was equal parts swift and organic, as they quickly realized they were on to something.  Nico and Kevin used their experiences to develop an algorithm which, when combined with the client’s feedback, establishes a player profile within Golf Blueprint’s system.  Clients get a plan with weekly, monthly, and long-term goals including all of the specific blueprints that target the areas of their game where they need it most.  Not to mention, clients get direct access to Nico and Kevin through Golf Blueprint.

Nico Darras, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

While this is approaching shades of Mr. Hogan’s practice method above, there is one key distinction here.  Kevin and Nico aren’t recommending practicing for hours at a time.  Far from it.  In Nico’s words:

“We recommend 3 days a week.  You can do more or less, for sure, but we’ve found that 3 days a week is within the realm of possibility for most of our clients.  Practice sessions are roughly 45-70 minutes each, but again, all of this depends on the client and what resources they have at their disposal.  Each blueprint card is roughly 10 minutes each, so you can choose which cards to do if you only have limited time to practice.  Nothing is worse than cranking 7 irons at the range for hours.  We want to make these engaging and rewarding.”

Kevin Moore, co-founder of Golf Blueprint

So far, Golf Blueprint has been working for a wide range of golfers – from tour pros to the No Laying Up crew to amateurs alike.  Kevin shares some key data in that regard:

“When we went into this, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  Were we going to be an elite player product?  Were we going to be an amateur player product?  We didn’t know, honestly.  So far, what’s exciting is that we’ve had success with a huge range of players.  Probably 20-25% of our players (roughly speaking) are in that 7-11 handicap range.  That’s probably the center of the bell curve, if you will, right around that high-single-digit handicap range.  We have a huge range though, scratch handicap and tour players all the way to 20 handicaps.  It runs the full gamut.  What’s been so rewarding is that the handicap dropping has been significantly more than we anticipated.  The average handicap drop for our clients was about 2.7 in just 3 months’ time.”

Needless to say, that’s a pretty significant drop in a short amount of time from only changing how you practice.  Maybe that Hogan guy was on to something.  I think these guys might be too.  To learn more about Golf Blueprint and get involved, visit their website. @Golf_Blueprint is their handle for both Twitter and Instagram.

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