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Most of us say we are going to play golf. Many of us think that “playing golf” simply entails traveling to the course, paying for our round, hitting some balls on the course, hitting shots and adding up the score after. But most of us aren’t actually playing golf, we’re instead playing “golf swing”.


Over-teaching How to Play “Golf Swing”

One of the biggest challenges we find with our clients is that they are playing Golf Swing when they come to us. They come to us often because they are not playing well or as well as they think they should.

Thousands of times we have been told “I hit it great on the range. Everyone says I have a great swing. But I am not scoring on the course.” Or they say “I play great in practice rounds and unimportant rounds but when it matters something is wrong and I score much higher.” Or some version of these comments.

With improvements to technology, equipment, and courses, you’d expect everyone to be playing really well on the course. The marketing certainly suggests this. But why aren’t we rapidly improving, especially if we’re buying the best equipment and using the best teachers?

The Golf Industry is constantly telling you how to swing and how to practice. The promise is that if you swing like this, like a Pro, that you will play better, hit the ball farther, and post lower scores.


Practicing Golf Too Much

If you’re not practicing golf the right way, it’s very possible to practice too often. If you repeatedly practice the same golf swing technique, you won’t be able to switch into a competitive mindset when you’re in competition. This will be counterproductive to your golf game.

What is the wrong way to practice golf? When you’re actually playing “golf swing.”

What Playing “Golf Swing” Looks Like

Golf Swing GameYour swing is broken down with video and other technology to pin point the key aspects of your swing that need to change. Your teacher gives you things to think about and drills to do to improve. You have golf swing keys and think about them constantly. You hit lots of balls working on those Swing Keys and Drills. On video your swing is better. On the range your ball striking is really good. Then you go to the course and it is not so good, or good for awhile and then not. It varies.

The problem is, it is not supposed to vary. Your shots are supposed to be consistent. You work so hard in practice to hit the same shot over and over. Your muscle memory is supposed to get really strong with all the balls you hit in practice.

You are religious about doing your routines just so. You are emphatic about making sure your swing keys are remembered. You monitor your swing to make sure your club and your body are in the right positions. Every routine is a carbon copy of the one before. Yet your swings and outcomes are not consistent through the round.


Why Playing Golf Swing Doesn’t Make For Great Golf

  • First of all this game is diabolically difficult (see our article on why it is so hard).
  • Second, you have been practicing your swing, not playing golf. How often do you get to hit the same shot over-and-over on the course?
  • Third, you are not a machine. Our teachers teach us like we are machines with the videos and precise attention to alignment and body or club positions.
  • Fourth, we work on the range with perfect lies and hit the same shot over and over with no worries about scoring.

None of this prepares us to play golf well.


How to Practice the Right Way

Wait, Don’t throw it all away. Don’t stop practicing, that is not my point. We all need to practice. Some of your practice should be the mechanical, swing key focused practice. But some of your practice needs to be “Play Style” practice. Practice playing golf shots on the range. One shot at a time with full routine and specific target and keep score. Put the club back in the bag. If you miss, you do not get to hit it again. That is not golf. The more real you make it the better.

Golf Swing Game

We recommend starting with your mechanical practice and finishing with Play Style practice. We also recommend no mechanical practice before the round, only Play Style. This should help you start your rounds better.

If you’re practicing to Play “Golf Swing”, you’re going to have some real issues on the course. If you are focused on your alignment and swing keys over the ball you are operating in Left Brain mode. Left Brain is not athletic and so the swing will not be as good as you could do. Focusing on your swing means you are not focusing on the shot. Monitoring and trying to control your swing while swinging means you are disconnected from the shot. Your nervous system is not fast enough to actually adjust the swing effectively while it’s happening. This monitoring and trying to control the swing in Left Brain mode results in in-consistent swings and outcomes! This hurts your confidence and raises your arousal level.

Higher arousal will change your golf swing. We know from long experience that if you care about scoring well, you go up the arousal scale when you play. Your arousal level on the course is probably higher than it ever is on the range or in a lesson. No amount of practice shots or muscle memory can fix this. Higher arousal changes your swing. Often old swing flaws come back.

So between operating in Left Brain mode and higher arousal your swing is different on the course than it was in practice or that practice round. When your outcome is not what you wanted the natural response is to try to fix your swing. This only makes you more Left Brained and less confident, and therefore more golf swing focused. Arousal is not coming down, and frustration is going up.


Develop Your Athletic Shot Process & Control Arousal

The Solution is to develop your Athletic Shot Process and Control of your Level of Arousal.

The first step of every pre-shot routine is Calculations. This is a very Left Brained activity. That is fine. Our Left Brains are good at analyzing and doing the math, making decisions. But the Left Brain needs to stop when the choices are made. From there on, you need to be operating in Right Brained athletic mode, imagining the ball flying and imagining how it will feel to strike the ball and send it out there. No checking your feet and alignment. No thoughts about your swing keys. No monitoring of your swing and whether it feels right or not. No trying to control it perfectly.

Mind Meter

Mind Meter Pro

Awareness of and the ability to lower your level of arousal will give you back all of your athletic abilities and your great swing. We use our Mind Meter to give you the feedback you need to learn to do this well and quickly. Amazingly, you can actually hit the ball well and more consistently when you let yourself swing freely and athletically. We do it in the other sports. You need to do it in golf.

We teach this Athletic Shot Process to all of our clients in individual coaching and in our schools. We will be happy to work with you to develop yours. Every one is different. Your Athletic Shot Process will be unique to you. We use our Mind Meter in our coaching and schools too, and it is available for sale.

Stop Playing “Golf Swing”! This wonderful game is so much better when you play Golf!


Note: There are times when you already play golf. They mostly happen by accident and because you missed a shot. I am talking about those trouble shots. A Trouble Shot is one where your shot did not end on the fairway or on the green. You could be behind a tree, in deep rough or otherwise in a bad spot.

You have not practiced these recovery shots. There is nothing like them on the range. So your mental approach to them is different. That careful and deliberate pre-shot routine you use on the tees and fairways is not usable here. You have to create a shot, and the lie may be awkward. There may be a branch in your normal back swing. You may not have a clear path to the ball or clear sight of your target.

So what are you thinking about to play this shot? Your thoughts are on the shape of the shot you need. Your thoughts are on the way the club head needs to impact the ball to get that shape. You imagine how the ball will come out. You imagine how you will swing through the ball. You imagine a lot. And you play it, often well. Sometimes amazing. And yes, sometimes poorly but that is why we call it a trouble shot.

In this instance you were Playing Golf, Not Golf Swing! See you can do it differently! Contact us for more personalized tips and coaching.

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"Thanks for the GolfPsych updates.  I used them a lot when I played on the PGA Tour and I still use them quite a bit here at Illinois with my team!" - Mike Small


SportPsych, Inc.
DBA GolfPsych
2 Blue Heron Blvd.
Boerne, TX 78006


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