The following question recently occurred to me after my last tournament and my last practice round of golf: “Am I playing golf, or am I trying to “fix” things during my round”? Basically, “am I playing golf, or am I playing swing” :-). My practice round following my most recent tournament round was on track to be 8 shots better (the difference between breaking 80 and possibly a win, or coming 10th or worse). So, what was the difference? After a bit of thought I think it has ultimately come down to a golf swing thought, or lack thereof. I know there is a lot more pressure during a tournament, and much more going on, meaning that your mind is likely much busier, and ultimately this might make you begin to think more about your swing (during your swing) than you normally would. No doubt that this will confuse your mind, and subsequently your body. Not good!
Your Brain on a Golf Swing Thought
First off, let’s talk a bit about your brain and it’s relation to your swing. Obviously your brain controls your movements; but is this always a conscious thing? The short answer is no, even during what could be called conscious movements. Think of catching a ball that is thrown at you really fast without you knowing it was coming. You likely were able to catch that ball, and you probably didn’t even think about how you were going to do it because you literally didn’t have enough time to process your conscious thoughts into a movement. Maybe you can call this reflex; however, lets put someone in this same position who has never been exposed to the action of catching something that is thrown at them. Do you still think their first “reflex reaction” would be to catch the ball? Maybe, or maybe they would do something that is more natural to their developed movement patterns, like ducking, or swatting. So, what I am getting at here is that based on our past movement frequencies, each person will have different default unconscious patterns of movements for certain situations, and changing/adding to those patterns takes repetition, and depending on the specific movement (particularly very fast movements), repetition at a slower pace.
Now, think of the golf swing, that thing is fast! Do you honestly think that during a full speed swing, your brain can translate your technical swing thoughts into your swing so quickly? Answer: No.
I Thought a Golf Swing Thought was Good
Well, yes and no. It totally depends on what the thought is, and when you are making those thoughts. First, lets talk about when you are at the range. This is the time to be thinking technical about your swing, and to make sure you develop proper neurological pathways and ingrain those movement patterns. Part of doing this will be slowing down a large number of your swings at first. This is your practice time, make sure your swings are correct, or you will be developing poor movement pathways, make it count! Make sure your reflexes are primed to catch that ball! (above example).
So now that you have ingrained those movements and they are becoming second nature to you (by the way, it will never actually be perfect), you are ready to bring those movements (your swing) to the course. But guess what, during your round of golf, you need to play and adapt to the swing you have during that round because you will not be able to change your swing during a single round, unless you are a tour player and have an absolute understanding of your swing and simple cues to fix a minor issue during a round.
Basically this means that you need to trust in the swing you developed and do your best not to think of the technical aspects of your swing during each actual swing. During your round, the time when you need to think about technical parts of your swing is during the practice swing and the rest of your pre-shot routine.
Should I Have a Golf Swing Thought During a Round?
Absolutely! Although I might be confusing you right now, a swing thought is good because it can be a tool to quiet the mind, and eventually it will be an automatic “go” signal for your body to execute your swing without excess thought. It can be difficult to fully quiet the mind, and when we are trying to do this (think meditation and stress reduction techniques) many techniques involve a focused thought like only focusing on your breath for instance. Implementing a narrow focus quiets the rest of your mind and takes away other, possibly detrimental, negative thoughts (ie. “don’t hit it in the water”).
So how do we apply this theory to a swing thought (notice that “thought” is singular, not plural)? Well, we do it by implementing a swing thought that is as simple as possible, and like I said, ideally only one thought is present. I cannot tell you what that swing thought should be, mainly because it will differ from player to player. My thought is “look at the ball”, others could be “short backswing”, “clear hips”, “swing through”, “swing hard”, etc.
Implementing Your Golf Swing Thought
Using such simple thoughts during your swings in a round of golf may not work for an early beginner in the sport, but once you have developed a reasonably repeatable and effective swing for yourself, it can be quite helpful.
First off, find a thought that feels right for you and allows you to cue your swing correctly (this may simply be the opposite of your most common swing error). Second, ensure you run through your pre-shot routine, during which you should be visualizing the shot you want to hit and performing one or more slow practice swings to “feel” the proper swing. Third, take your appropriate set-up position, focus on your swing thought, and swing away!
I did do a little bit of Googling about swing thoughts, and didn’t come across a ton of information, but what I wrote above is in line with the following article:
I have a big tourney this upcoming weekend and I will for sure be implementing my single swing thought, since I have begun to drift from it since starting this amateur tour. Bloody pressure got to me, but not any longer 🙂
The Barefoot Golfer