Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Visualization is written about in almost every blog I write and I believe it is very important to playing good golf.  I found when I was coaching that lots of people don't know how to visualize, have no control over their visualization or just don't understand what they should be "seeing".

What do you see?  A big green that looks like a soft sponge or the menacing water that surrounds the green like a moat?

How important is visualization?  It can be used to relax between shots, prepare for a round, rehearse a shot, focus your attention, distract your attention, prepare for obstacles, and enhance your physical skills.  What exactly is visualization and how can you practice your skills?
Visualization creates focus.  The worst advice you can give someone is to "clear their mind".  Instead of clearing your mind, see a picture of what you want in your mind.

Let's start out by simply going through the ways visualization can help you and that will answer both questions.
Can you go to this hammock in your mind?  Can you see the blue sky?  Can you feel the breeze on your skin?  Can you hear the water lapping onto the beach?  Can you taste the salt on your margarita? 
  1. Relaxation - You probably do this now without even realizing it.  Imagine you are flying to Hawaii for a vacation.  Next to you on the plane is a fussy two year old.  You are annoyed, but your mind wanders to the beach that you will be on in a few hours.  This is a great example of using visualization to relax.  Being able to escape between shots is as good for your round as being focused over the shot.  This is especially helpful if you are paired with slow players or when tension mounts.
  2. Prepare for a Round - If you have a good memory, you can go through your game plan prior to playing a round of golf by mentally playing shots.  Some players use a yardage book to help them visualize the course prior to the round.  This enhances your familiarity of the golf course and perhaps gives the feeling of experience on the course. 
  3. Rehearse a Shot - To me, this is the visualization of intention.  How do you want to hit a shot?  What will the swing feel like?  What will the flight or roll look like?  Where will it land?
  4. Focus your Attention - If you visualize, you paint a mental picture.  Is it possible to see two mental pictures at once?  Try it! The trick is to hang onto your mental picture without letting your mind jump to other things.  One way to do that is to be vivid with your picture.  Try it now.  See a scene.  Include things that hit all of your senses.  Do you feel a breeze?  Can you smell the grass?  How many different shades of green do you see in the grass and trees?  
  5. Distract your Attention - If you are facing a shot over water and it is creating stress, can you visualize something to help you focus on what you want instead of what you fear?  You don't have to picture the green.  Instead, you could picture a big sponge or an archery target with the pin in the bulls eye.  Visualization is the art of using your imagination, so make it vivid, fun and creative. 
  6. Prepare for Obstacles - This is one area that is seldom used and something I believe is crucial for success.  If you lay in your hotel bed and picture yourself shooting 68 with drives down the middle, crisp iron shots and putts falling you are visualizing what you want.  However, what happens to that frame of mind when the ball doesn't fly straight?  How do you reconcile your preparation with what is happening in real time?  You can script your actions when faced with problems and visualize yourself calmly making good choices.  This isn't about visualizing bad shots or picturing yourself making mistakes, but the actions following them. 
  7. Enhance your Physical Skills - If you are making a swing change or learning a new shot or skill, it is as powerful to see the new move as it is to practice it physically.  Once again, visualization equals intention.  It puts your mind squarely on the new move instead of allowing yourself to rely on old habits. 
If you are working on a knock down shot, can you see what happens in the yellow circle? 

Visualization is very individual.  Some of us can see ourselves hitting shots as a camera would, while others feel the swing from within.  When I hit shots, I can easily visualize what I want the clubface and shaft lean to look like at impact and everything comes from that, but I have a very hard time seeing myself swing the club.  Other players can see the ball flying from the clubface and through the air.  If you have a hard time visualizing yourself hitting shots, try to see the club at impact or the ball flight.  Some people start with the end of the shot and work backwards.  The point here is, don't allow what you can't see stress you out.  Much of the literature on visualization is strict in its direction and language.  However, you need to approach it based on what you can do and what you like.  If you can easily see color, make the green a vivid green when you hit an approach shot and visualize the whiteness of the ball on the vivid green.  If you can feel more easily than you can see, use your practice swing to visualize your move in your mind's eye.  There is no right or wrong way to visualize.  Instead, it is a tool to help you focus your attention, rehearse your shots and control your thoughts in a positive way. 

This is a great way to practice visualization.  You could also see a highway, a train track or a colored ribbon flowing to the hole. 

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