Corr al your swing thoughts

How to stop your mid-swing brain­work sab­o­tag­ing your play out on the course

Today's Golfer (UK) - - Fault Fixer -

So you’ve played beau­ti­fully, five un­der your hand­i­cap… and all be­cause of one lit­tle thought you’ve been telling your­self through­out the round. “Back to tar­get”, “Slow from the top”, “Bal­ance”… It could be any of a thou­sand swing cues. What­ever the thought is, it is the key to un­lock­ing your real abil­ity. So you bounce out a few days later, full of con­fi­dence and ea­ger to put the magic thought back to work. Only, of course, it doesn’t.

I’ll wa­ger you are all fa­mil­iar with this frus­trat­ing swing thought pat­tern; and quite pos­si­bly also the one where one thought be­comes, two, then three, then five… un­til the headache be­comes un­bear­able and you ditch them all. The usual ex­pe­ri­ence then is to play su­perb golf for 13 holes un­til a poor shot causes that first lit­tle thought to sneak back in… and the cy­cle con­tin­ues.

This would seem to con­firm what some quar­ters of sports psy­chol­ogy have been telling us for years – that you should for­get your swing and think about the tar­get, or your ball flight. But this is not my ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ve worked with masses of elite play­ers who have told me they’ve won tour­na­ments us­ing me­chan­i­cal swing thoughts. Clearly, when it comes to swing thoughts, there is no one sin­gle piece of wis­dom that ap­plies to all. There are ul­ti­mately four places you can di­rect your at­ten­tion when you swing the club: n The tar­get n The club/ball n Your body n Some­thing to­tally un­re­lated to your task, for ex­am­ple hum­ming a tune.

Based on what I have seen work at all lev­els of the game, my ad­vice to you is to pick a fo­cus based on where you are with your game. If your swing is un­der con­trol and you are play­ing well, think­ing tar­get and ball flight can be lib­er­at­ing and ef­fec­tive.

If you are work­ing on some­thing – per­haps erad­i­cat­ing a par­tic­u­lar flight that’s trou­bling you – and you’ve been given a cue from your coach, you’ll need to cue that on the golf course as well. A more me­chan­i­cal thought will be ap­pro­pri­ate.

Of those four fo­cuses above, per­haps the most in­trigu­ing is the fi­nal one. When your con­scious mind gets too in­volved in di­rect­ing your body, it ac­tu­ally be­gins to in­ter­fere with the mo­tor pro­gram needed to swing the club. Fo­cus­ing your at­ten­tion on some­thing un­re­lated to the task can be ef­fec­tive for some peo­ple as it frees them up. If this rings bells with you, give it a try… but also check out golf psy­chol­o­gist Carey Mum­ford’s work on so-called “clear keys”, as they broadly work on the same prin­ci­ple.

Pick­ing the right type of swing thought for the state of your game is im­por­tant, but the sec­ond part of the so­lu­tion is to har­ness how you use swing thoughts. To do that, fol­low these three guide­lines: n Com­mit to lim­it­ing your­self to one swing thought. Plac­ing your at­ten­tion on a sin­gle area is a key fo­cus tool val­i­dated by the en­tire dis­ci­pline of med­i­ta­tion – as well as Adam Scott. “What­ever I’m work­ing on, I like to keep one swing thought in my head when I’m on the course,” he says. “Keep­ing it sim­ple helped me at the Deutsche Bank Cham­pi­onship in Bos­ton in 2013.” n Base tech­ni­cal thoughts on ad­vice from a coach. Un­for­tu­nately we golfers are a bit like mag­pies when it comes to swing thoughts, pick­ing up any­thing that looks good. This is of­ten why they are typ­i­cally so flaky. An ef­fec­tive coach helps you un­der­stand your­self. They will re­veal your chief ten­den­cies to you, and as most swings don’t ac­tu­ally change much, you will quickly grasp the two or three key thoughts that might ap­ply to your game. Reg­u­lar meet­ings with the same coach will also stop you over­do­ing a use­ful thought. n If you don’t have a long-term re­la­tion­ship with a coach, learn from past ex­pe­ri­ence of “bul­let-proof” swing thoughts that have let you down and take a more flex­i­ble, short­term ap­proach. Make time to hit some balls be­fore the round, keep­ing your mind clear and ob­serv­ing your swing.

Your body will tell you what you have on the day, and what thought will serve you. This is not as use­ful as tar­geted thoughts from your coach, but it will avoid the frus­tra­tion of see­ing the thought that worked so well last time lose its power.

‘What­ever I’m work­ing on, I like one swing thought in my head when I’m on the course’

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