Baseball Hall of Famer and erstwhile philosopher/malapropism master Yogi Berra once said of his game that “90% of the game is half mental.” Berra might just as easily have been talking about golf, as many golfers have the requisite physical skills, but lack the mental preparation to improve at the game they love.
The mental golf game is important, whether it is thinking your way around a golf course or simply being in the right frame of mind to make your next swing.
Michael Turnbull, a.k.a. The Mindful Golf Pro, is a longtime PGA teaching professional and an expert at the mental approach to the golf swing. “My goal for golfers is to help them become more confident,” Turnbull says. “But to become more confident they have to be able to feel the differences between swings that work and swings that don’t.”
Turnbull’s approach to the golf swing is from the inside out. Rather than crowd a golfer’s mind with a host of swing thoughts, he suggests that the golfer free up their mind to become more attuned with what is happening to their swing and find their natural golf swing. Such a thought even sounds relaxing.
“Can you feel when the trying starts, when the doubts creep in, when the swing speeds up and your rhythm is lost, when the swing gets tight and shortens, quickens, and your natural balance becomes a struggle?” he asks. “Trying comes from doubt, and when you doubt that you can do something, you ‘try hard.’ This over-trying creates tension, destroying your natural rhythm and balance.”
Relax and Repeat
A repetitive swing in golf is the key. PGA touring pro Tom Lehman once told an audience that it doesn’t matter how you swing if you can repeat it and trust it — particularly in pressure situations. But golf is not a game of exactitude and golfers aren’t mechanical robots (even though they may have been trained as such). Even the perfect swing will erode from time to time.
“When one’s game goes south — and it will — one needs a method to regain the natural swinging motion,” Turnbull says. “And really, all you’ve lost is your rhythm and balance, nothing else. The grip tightens up from trying to hit the ball, the clubhead disappears and moves sideways, not down; you lose your rhythm by yanking the club down quickly; your feet and legs sense the lost rhythm and the threat to balance, and so they stiffen and you raise up.”
Feel the Difference
Turnbull’s suggestion is to feel what’s going on with the swing rather than focusing on the result of where the ball went.
“First, feel the clubhead out in front of you with your hands close to your body down near your belt with the clubhead hinged up to eye level,” he says. “Slowly, gently, bob the clubhead up and down until you can really feel the clubhead. Do this with your eyes closed…really feel the clubhead. And when you can really feel the clubhead, that is your grip pressure!
“Now take a few full swings with your eyes closed, just focusing on the centrifugal feel of the clubhead and the balance of your follow-through. What do you notice? Does anything stand out? Has the over-trying stopped?”
Final Swing Thoughts
The club should be an extension of your arms, and really feeling that will put you in a position to make a swing. How many times have we considered the equipment as the answer to our quest for a better game? When we consider the golfer and the club as part of that whole answer, it can free us up from the clutter of extraneous bad swing thoughts that can get in the way.
“There is no mental game separate from the physical game, they are both part of a piece,” Turnbull says. “Most scientists agree that a calm, responsive mind, basically the unconscious mind, is evident in all high performances. The conscious mind, the chattering monkey-mind, is the enemy of good golf, easy golf. And positive thinking doesn’t work…it’s just more thinking. If you have to remember something (the checklist we go through on the tee to guarantee that we will be too tight to swing), you really don’t know it. Paying attention to one thing, and one thing only — the swinging of the clubhead — and welcoming whatever feedback results, is an important, concrete thing to keep you in the moment.”
You can find more on the mental side of the game from Turnbull at MindfulGolf.com.
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