Swing thoughts on the practice range are an unquestioned strategy. They simplify a complex situation. They speed the learning process. And they help develop trust in your swing. How about during a match? Do swing thoughts help there? What are the best swing thoughts to have?
While instructors differ on which are the best swing thoughts during a match, they all agree on one thing: Thoughts like “Keep your elbow tucked in,” Finish with your belt buckle facing the target,” or “Keep your head still” only foul up your swing when playing. In fact, many golf tips on swing thoughts reject the whole idea.
It’s not that these thoughts are bad. They’re not. They’re right on target. Entire golf lessons are designed around them. And they’re great in practice. They keep you focused on what you’re doing.
But eliminate them during a match. Why? They focus on swing mechanics and that’s something to avoid when actually swinging a club. Check any golf instruction manual. They will tell you the same thing: You can’t command your body to work in a certain way when hitting the ball. Trying to do so creates more problems than it solves.
Instead, focus on your target. That, after all, is your real goal. Forget about where your hands are or where your hips are. Concentrate on where you want the ball to land and link to it creatively and emotionally. Develop a mental picture of that spot and keep it in mind as you swing.
If you must have a swing thought, keep it simple. And non-mechanical. Many PGA pros focus on a single thought, which eliminates thoughts about swing mechanics.
Ernie Ells keeps this thought in mind when he swings “Low and slow.” That’s it. He doesn’t think about where his hands are, where his weight is, or where his body is going to end up. That’s for when he’s taking a golf lesson from his swing coach. Instead, he focuses on taking the club back low and slow, eliminating everything else.
Fred Shoemaker, author, a pioneer in golf instruction, and founder of the golf school Extraordinary Golf, is adamant about swing thoughts. Replace thoughts about your mechanics with thoughts about the “feel” of your swing. Think about tempo and rhythm rather than where and when. If you must have a swing thought, says Fred, have one that reinforces the feel of your swing.
Fred has his students practice throwing clubs to emphasize this idea. At first, they throw a club 15 feet. Then, they throw one with a slightly fuller swing, about 25 feet or so. After about 200 throws, they throw one with a complete golf swing. Of course, this club throwing is done under strict supervision and safety conditions.
Once Fred’s students master club throwing, they move to the tee. The goal there is remembering how it feels to throw a club when you hit a ball. They focus on that idea and that idea alone.
Another approach is to have a thought that triggers something in your swing, thoughts that
• Mentally in-plant your target line
• Mimics the actual swing
• Produces a smooth take away
• Triggers the downswing.
• Promotes relaxation while swinging
Establish a target line for your ball flight before you address the ball. Keep that thought in mind when you hit and try to copy it with your ball flight. That forces you to keep the target line in mind, not your mechanics.
Most professional golfers take a few practice swings before they address the ball. They want the feel of the swing before they hit the ball. Recreational golfers ought to do the same. Take a few practice swings. Remember how it feels. Keep that “feel” in mind when you hit.
Focus on a thought that promotes a smooth takeaway. Slow and easy. Or, slow and smooth. Anything that produces a nice takeaway helps. Remember, the takeaway and backswing do one thing: position you for the downswing.
The downswing begins the chain reaction of feet, knees, thighs, and shoulders. Any thought that triggers this chain reaction helps deliver the blow at impact. Try thoughts like, “Plant your left heel,” or “Slide your left knee toward the target.” Anything that helps you transfers your weight to your left side works well.
Also try to complete the backswing in a relaxed manner. Think of anything that will occupy the time between your takeaway and the completion of your backswing. That brief time is critical. It’s when golfers think about their mechanics instead of their targets.
Consistency is every golfer’s goal. To achieve it, we need a swing that is repeatable under pressure every time we play. Developing that swing, however, isn’t easy. It takes hard work and plenty of practice.
Having a thought process that repeats itself time and time again helps you develop that swing as well. If the metal side of your game syncs with the physical side, achieving swing consistency gets easier. More importantly, it cuts strokes from your game, which, in turn, generates a lower handicap.