“After a bad swing, I used to take a bunch of practice swings in between shots, from the tee down to the ball, trying to figure out what went wrong. But now I don’t take any of those analytical swings. I just walk up to the ball and try to feel my way to the proper swing.”
– Lee Janzen
During a recent conversation with Katie Peterson-Parker, a bright and talented player on the LPGA Tour, she described an interesting and familiar observation of her own play. During a tournament round she discovered that Tom, her caddie had missed the last episode of their favorite T.V. sitcom, “Seinfeld.” Having very much enjoyed the program, she proceeded to describe the show to him in detail as they walked and waited between shots. Later, reflecting on the round, Katie recognized that she had played her best golf while she was mentally involved with describing this program, even making birdie on two of the holes.
Like most golfers, Katie can easily and unknowingly complicate her golf with abstract thinking, or more simply, by over-thinking her game. Being mentally involved with explaining the television program between shots reduced her mental involvement with her round, her mistakes, her score, her stats, her standings, etc., and allowed her to execute the shot at hand with more spontaneity and feel.
Golf Swing Tips: Is the Problem Mental or Physical?
Over-thinking is a problem for golfers of all levels and it is a problem that is very difficult to recognize in one’s self. Because over-thinking is hard to “self-diagnose,” even the self-aware player can find it difficult to tell whether his or her problems are “mental” or “physical,” especially since the decline of either leads to the same results–poor performance. Over-thinking can sabotage a golfer’s personality strengths by increasing tension, elevating emotions, reducing patience, interfering with commitment and focus, and lowering confidence. These mental changes automatically lead to reduced physical skills. When performance then drops, most players will habitually go directly to work on mechanics without considering that their real problem could simply be over-thinking!
Complicating matters for golfers is the fact that physical and mental skills are very intricately balanced and intertwined–so much so that it is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends.
For that reason, any time you are struggling with your game, it will benefit you to assess your mental skills during competition. You can save yourself considerable time and frustration if
you will take steps to ensure you are not over-thinking, ideally, before you work on mechanics.
Examples of Over-Thinking
Abstract thinkers often must discipline themselves to “play golf” instead of “playing golf swing”–even the pros find this to be a perpetual task. The more an abstract (intelligent) thinker you are, the greater the challenge to manage your thoughts during a round of golf. This is especially true if you score 7 or higher for Abstract Thinking, which is above average, on the GolfPsych Profile, as do Katie Peterson-Parker, Dave Stockton and Lee Janzen.
For one thing, the abstract thinker usually knows much more about the golf swing tips than most and can develop a bad habit of endlessly analyzing his or her play. The abstract thinker will also fall into other bad habits of over-thinking, such as:
- Over-analyzing greens.
- Giving yourself far too many options for hitting a shot.
- Constantly assessing your play relative to present and past scores, or to the play of
Keep in mind that for golf, unlike a lot of sports, you are hitting a stationary ball, which gives you plenty of time to think between shots. This typically provides an even greater opportunity for the over-thinker to over-analyze what he or she is doing rather than just doing it, especially when under pressure.
Consider hitting a shot in tennis, for example, where you often have little more than a second to react to the returning ball. You obviously do not have the idle minutes between
every tennis shot to be as involved with thinking about how to hit the next shot, or how your various misses can cause you trouble, or how the results will affect your score and position
in the tournament, as you likely do when you play golf.
It should be the objective of every over-thinker to manage their thoughts so that natural and trained athletic abilities are used freely to hit shots and putts without mental interference.
Golf Swing Tips: Signs of Over-Thinking and Suggestions
Fatigue — One indicator of over-thinking is related to how you feel at the completion of your round. If you finish feeling mentally drained and very tired, there is a good chance you are
thinking too much about your play between shots.
Suggestion: Choose to take your mind Off your round and On to something positive or neutral that allows you to mentally “rest” between shots, much as Katie did when she
described “Seinfeld” for her caddie.
Distrusting Alignment — Another indicator of over-thinking can be the degree of difficulty you have in trusting your alignment and your swing or putt. As you think more about
mechanics, you become too involved with playing “golf swing,” making it difficult to use your natural and trained skills.
Suggestion: Make a commitment to yourself to not work on your swing while you are playing golf. Like Lee, you will find your game improves when you use a mental routine that emphasizes “seeing” and “feeling” what you want to do with each shot, rather than analyzing “how” to swing the club.
Frustration — Higher than usual frustration levels can also indicate over-thinking. Players that have high expectations and extreme desires to play well can slip into trying too hard to
get results from their game. Behind it all is a mix of conscious and subconscious obsessive thinking about scores, hitting perfect shots, stats, making putts, making money, impressing
others, winning, etc.
Suggestion: Recognize that priorities for your golf have become too outcome or result oriented. Challenge yourself with new goals that emphasize simpler thoughts related to the process of hitting your shots or putts, much the way Dave did when he committed to the very simple goal of good timing and rhythm for every putt.
Rushing or Slowing Your Routine — Changes in your routine can also signal over-thinking. Aggressive players usually rush their normal routines and submissive players generally slow
them down. In either case, the results are generally not good because the player gets away from seeing and feeling his or her shot as they do when they are playing well.
Suggestion: Concern yourself with the quality of your routine rather than the importance of the shot when preparing to hit the ball. Emphasize (1) commitment to your shot, (2)
visualization of your shot, and the (3) feel of one swing thought. A good routine will displace excess, negative and irrelevant thoughts if you make it your priority. Take a lead from Jack
Nicklaus and be especially mindful of coming to a complete stop for a brief quiet moment behind the ball before every shot and putt to get a clear picture of what you want the ball to
Start by Simplifying Your Thoughts Over the Ball
One Swing Thought — Before each round, find one swing thought that you will use for hitting every shot–preferably simple, and somehow related to a “feel” you are trying to achieve, such as “Smooth Back, Smooth Through,” “Inside Back, Smooth Through,” ”Tempo,” etc.
First Impressions — Use first impressions as much as possible when reading greens and when deciding how to hit a difficult shot.
Emphasize Tempo — Agree with yourself that you will not work on your swing or putting stroke during competition–make your tempo more important than your mechanics.
Relax Between Shots — Take your mind off your round between shots with daydreams, small talk, etc. as much as possible during competition.
Visualize — Take a brief, quiet moment behind the ball before every shot and putt to visualize the flight or roll you have chosen for the ball.
Is It Possible to Under-Think When Playing Golf?
Though it is not as common, there are competitive golfers that are also prone to underthink. And there are some golfers who do both in one round when they are under-involved with good course management and over-involved with mechanics or score.
Tendencies of Under-Thinkers
Players that under-think on the golf course are those who do not take into account enough information to make good decisions regarding clubs, targets and types of shots that will maximize their play.
Very often they do not take adequate time to develop a definite plan for playing a golf course. They are frequently thinking more about “distance” than they are “strategy” as they execute tee shots. Under-thinkers seldom have a pre-determined game plan for playing the course that includes ideal targets and clubs for probable conditions and pin placements. And they almost never practice hitting the shots they might encounter due to unplanned, but probable, misses.
Because of being under-prepared, the under-thinker will often hit shots without considering all the necessary information, such as changing conditions or likely consequences of various lies. Disregarding these and other variables can leave the under-thinker with great rounds of ball-striking and putting that yield disappointingly poor results.
Golf Swing Tips: Suggestions for the Under-Thinker
Pre-determine Ideal Targets, Clubs and Types of Shots — It is very important for the under-thinker to spend more time developing strategy before they compete. Dedicate at least one practice round prior to competition to pre-determine all your ideal targets, shots and clubs for playing the tournament course.
Rather than play a course the way that it was apparently designed to be played, or as playing partners would play it, consider your current strengths and incorporate them into
your own plan for managing the course during competition. Maximize your skills by choosing to hit shots to which you know you can commit.
One hint. You may improve your strategy by choosing your best club, target and type of shot for coming into the green first, then plan backwards on each hole.
Make All Calculations in One Definite Step — Make an agreement with yourself that the very first step of your mental routine will always be to consider the variables necessary to execute your wisest shot and putt for the given situation. Rather than rely solely on first impressions, be sure you consider all the basics before taking your practice swing, or stroke, and before visualizing your shot, or putt. These basics include your yardages, estimation of wind, effects of the type, length and condition of the grass, effects of down-hill, side-hill and up-hill lies, etc. With practice and with a pre-determined game plan, you should quickly and easily overcome under-thinking.
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