It’s time to quit thinking and start playing golf.
I get it, every golfer wants to be the best possible player. I’m sure you want to make the most birdies, win the most money, and have the most fun.
But one of the many challenges of golf is that 99% of players are overthinking too much. Whenever you hear players interviewed after the round on the 18th green, you never hear them mention they were thinking mechanical swing thoughts.
Look back from 2000-2005 when Tiger was winning nearly every week. In every interview, it was always about picking a target and staying the moment. He also regularly mentions in interviews how he gets into the zone.
When trying to recount some of his victories and specific shots, he says he oftentimes has no memory of them whatsoever. While one could argue it’s because he’s won 80 times it’s actually because he’s so focused on the shot. He isn’t thinking about taking the club inside or clearing his hips on the way down.
He’s in the elusive “zone.” And I’m sure you’ve been in one as well. Even if it was for a few holes, you know that amazing feeling.
In this post, I’ll help you learn how to control your thoughts to play better golf and get in the zone. It’s time to stop thinking and start playing.
As I’m sure you know, sometimes you are your own worst enemy on the course, especially if you’re working on making swing changes. And let’s get real, who isn’t trying to constantly improve?
The problem is that most golfers are thinking way too much which is limiting their best rounds of golf. Whether it’s first tee jitters, fear of hitting a snap hook, or an approach shot on the 12th hole, you can’t play golf when you’re thinking about 2-3 (or more) swing thoughts. It’s just not going to end well.
I love this Dave Stockton quote from his book, Unconscious Putting, that sums it up perfectly. He said, “When you drive a car you aren’t thinking about all of the mechanical things necessary to safely get your vehicle from point A to point B. You aren’t thinking about how hard to pump the brakes, or how many degrees to rotate the wheel to make a left turn.”
But as golfers who have read too much Golf Digest and listened to friends for swing tips, we’re always thinking about the mechanical things necessary. Instead, you need to learn how to get out of your head and focus on playing the game.
Golf is about hitting shots and being creative, it’s not about playing your swing. Playing golf swing creates tension, and tension kills your tempo and ultimately your golf swing. You need to remember what it’s like to forget about swing thoughts and just have fun.
Here’s how you can do it…
One of the reasons Tiger and the best players in the world can get into these flow states is that they trust their game. They’re not trying to make changes before the round or mid-round. They’ve trained hard so they can trust their game under pressure.
One reason you are thinking so much when you’re playing golf is because you haven’t trained it yet. It’s not to say you need to get to PGA Tour levels before you can trust your game. But it’s about producing a swing that you know the results 80-90% of the time.
It doesn’t need to be the longest or the straightest, its need to be a repeatable swing with semi-consistent results. Of course, you’re still going to have big misses at times, I mean it’s still golf!
Repetition is the mother of all skills. If you can create a repeatable swing then you can stop thinking and start playing when you’re on the course.
This is why it’s so important to train the right things on the range instead of endlessly hitting shots that ingrain bad habits. Remember, less is more on the range.
Work on drills and swings that will help make your swing more repeatable and your scores consistent.
To help you remove swing thoughts during the round, it’s really important to get there early and spend time warming up. Again, the goal isn’t to make swing changes on the range, it’s to get warmed up and loose.
Even if you’re hitting it poorly, don’t take swing thoughts to the course. I’ve played tons of great rounds with bad warm-ups. Remember, one doesn’t correlate to the other.
The point of getting there early and warming up is to build confidence. I suggest that you create a routine that makes you feel confident. It could be only hitting 10-15 balls, chipping and putting. It could be 50 balls and 20 3-footers.
Whatever it is, find a pre-round routine that works best for you so you’re loose on the first shot of the day. Make sure it emphasizes confidence in your game before heading out!
While I’d love to tell you don’t have any swing thoughts at all on the course, I know that most people need at least one thought to have an anchor. So if you’re going to take a swing thought with you to the course, make sure it’s non-mechanical.
For example, instead of thinking “I need to take this more outside on the takeaway” think about tempo and feel.
Some of my best rounds my only swing thought was tempo as it works for every type of shot. Otherwise, you might end up with a swing thought for your full-swing, pitching and putting.
This is just too much to try and think about when playing. Remember, you can’t play great if you’re thinking consciously of your game and swing.
Like Tiger said in the earlier Youtube clip, “I have these blackout moments. I know I was there but I don’t remember hitting the actual shot. It’s like my subconscious mind just takes over.”
The reason he’s able to do this is that he stays extremely relaxed, even when he’s competing on the world’s biggest stages. His dad’s best friend was an army buddy and psychologist who helped him learn relaxation techniques such as hypnosis and deep breathing exercises.
I suggest doing your own internal work to find ways to help you stay relaxed on the course (and in life). Instead of thinking “don’t have swing thoughts”, work on staying relaxed through the round. Incorporate a deep breath in your pre-shot routine, take deep breaths walking between shots, and read up on meditation or hypnosis.
If you’re serious about playing your best golf, you need to learn how to control your emotion and ability to stay calm after a bad shot. This will help you think less about your swing and stay more in the moment. Another benefit is this will help to prevent the late round collapse due to fatigue.
Another key to getting rid of swing thoughts isnhaving a consistent pre-shot routine. Sports psychologist Dr. Valiante said it best,
“The best thought is always somehow related to either 1. A specific target, or 2. A visual about the shape of a specific shot. This of course, depends on the particular type of brain the individual has. Some people see targets, some people see shapes.”
Look at you pre-shot routine now…does it incorporate one or the other already? If not, figure out which is more natural to you. Is it the target or shape?
Once you’ve answered that question, focus on your target or visualization with a swing thought.
The main part of your pre-shot routine is about feeling or imagining the shot. But it’s also about the target, not where you don’t want the ball to go. The problem is that so many players focus on where they don’t want the ball to end up.
Most players are thinking about “don’t hit it in the water” or “don’t hit it in the sand.” And more times and not, that’s exactly where they hit it.
Because the subconscious mind doesn’t understand negatives like the word don’t. It also doesn’t understand the difference between real and imagination.
This is why is so crucial to spend the majority of your pre-shot routine priming your mind to think about the target, not the hazards.
Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
Learning how to keep your conscious mind focused and busy with where you want to send your ball, enables your subconscious mind to perform the physical movement. The more you’ve trained it, the more you can trust it. The more it will feel effortless and free of distraction.
If you are not asking yourself, “What is my target?” before every shot, you are not giving yourself the best chances to shoot the lowest scores.
Hopefully, this will answer the old golf question, “What do I think about before I hit my shot.” It’s a frequent question that holds players back from playing their best game.
While practicing on the range is important ever forget the importance of staying relaxed and training your mind. As Steve Elkington said, “The mind is your greatest weapon. It’s the greatest club in the bag. But it’s also your Achilles heel.”
The biggest thing to takeaway is to stay relaxed during the round. When you stop breathing regularly, you get tight and let your conscious mind try to bring in swing thoughts. Take deep breaths, focus on the target, and let it go.