This is one question I get asked regularly. In fact, when I look at how a lot of golfers find my website Golf State of Mind, the keywords “best swing thoughts for golf” is a popular search term.
I’ve worked with a lot of players of all levels, and (as a mental game coach) one of the things I’m very curious about when I first meet a student is their thought process before, during and between shots.
“You swing your best when you have the fewest things to think about.” – Bobby Jones
What I’ve found over the years is the better the player, the fewer swing thoughts they actually have. You might be thinking to yourself “Well, yes, that’s obvious as they have a better swing and don’t need to think about it as much”. But this is not why they have fewer swing thoughts and I’ll tell you why…
You have to firstly be aware that a good golfer is able to switch between their “conscious” and “subconscious” mind. The better player makes use of the conscious mind a lot better than the average player through a better pre-shot routine and during the swing, almost all the players I’ve interviewed that are scratch or better, have no swing thoughts whatsoever. In other words, they’re not thinking about anything at all.
Let’s think about why this is.
What is the purpose of swing thoughts? Generally speaking it’s to remind you to do something in your swing. Examples of this would be “Make a full shoulder turn” or “Keep Your Head Down”. It’s all about control. You try to either mimic what you think is the correct movement or protect against a movement that caused one of your last bad shots. The effect of which is damaging to the physical flow of the golf swing, which needs to be a seamless, aggressive action
All the thinking you need to do about how to best play a golf shot can be done during the pre-shot routine, which is an integral part of a better mental game of golf. In golf, the focus needs to be on process, not outcome. And swing thoughts are used by most players to try and control the outcome of a shot. Have you ever heard that in golf you need to lose control to gain control? This is the very concept.
Does a basket baller think about how high to jump and take their arms back when taking a free-throw. Clearly not. If they did, they would miss frequently. They rely on the skills they’ve developed while practicing and simply rely on instinct to make the throw during a game.
In golf it needs to be the same. A good golf swing (no matter what level of player you are) is performed using your subconscious mind. It’s that that controls your body movements. Save the technical swing thoughts for the driving range.
The pre-shot routine is there to help you and serves several different purposes to allow you to swing thought-free. One of them is that it connects you with that particular shot. Use your practice swings to play that shot in your mind and connect with the target, not work on the most recent drill your pro has taught you or you just read in Golf Digest. You’re essentially programming that shot with your conscious mind, so that your subconscious mind knows what to do during the swing and is free to perform the physical action.
If you feel like you need something to distract you from technical thoughts while swinging, I would start with a simple “1”-“2” exercise, where you say (in your head) “1” to the top of the back-swing and “2” on the down-swing. Over time, you should start to forget about any thoughts while swinging, you’ll be that connected to the shot you are about to hit.
To start with make sure you go through all the steps of a good routine, which are:
I’ll cover this in my next article. This will allow you to get out of your own way when playing the shot and hit it aggressively towards your target. And then it’s time to switch off and just enjoy your time in between!
Photo by Jeff Sutherland