Apart from fitness one of the most dramatic changes in golf coaching has come in golf psychology over the last few years. No self-respecting professional on Tour travels without access to a mind guru who can give him or her belief and confidence in their own ability.
But why should access be restricted purely to professionals? Why can't amateur handicap golfers reap the benefit of some simple psychological coaching.
As a qualified sports psychologist, with extensive knowledge of golf performance techniques, hypnosis and neuro linguistic programming, I can help you improve your golf with better thinking on the course and I'm delighted to be given the opportunity to offer my help to the visitors to Golfmagic.com with a series of articles over the next few months.
No.1: How to develop a pre-shot routine
Everyone has a routine in some form. A good routine takes away the need to over think. Our mind goes into auto pilot, leaving us relaxed and free from unnecessary thoughts.
A pre-shot routine gives you a comfort zone every time you approach the ball. As your routine becomes habitual, your mind and body relax, and you feel less anxious when taking your next shot. You begin to remove self doubt, trust your ability and, as a result, perform better on the course.
Every golfer’s routine should be tailored to suit their personalities and needs, while retaining the main core.
Thinking and doing
There are two definitive parts of a pre shot routine - the thinking and the doing and while both are linked together, they should also be clearly separated. It's important to draw a line between the two; you should not be thinking which shot is the right while taking it.
Draw an imaginary line
Draw a line mentally on the course behind the ball to divide these two important processes and don't cross that line until you are absolutely certain of the shot you want to play.
The first stages of the pre shot routine take place behind the line. This is where you need to switch on your golfing brain. Personalise this by pulling on your glove, tweaking your cap, hitching your trousers, taking a deep breath or making an inner statement, (for example: ‘let's go!’).
Now select the correct club and stand behind the ball, about five or six steps, and focus on the shot. Block out any outside thoughts and visualise the shot. If it's off the tee, see the ball arcing through the air towards its target. Your mind needs to have a target on which to focus, so the body can to work effectively.
Rehearse the shot
Pick a target in the distance, the smaller the better - not so much a tree, more a branch of the tree. Picture the exact shot you want, from initial flight to landing. Take two or three practice swings. Maybe the first to find your rhythm, but the second and third should definitely be to rehearse the shot.
Your last practice swing should be identical to your intended shot as your body has a great memory and is likely to repeat that last swing. So make sure it feels right.
Now you can cross the line
You are now ready to cross the line into ‘doing’ mode. As you walk to the ball keep the target you have selected as your main focus. Unlike most sports, golfers are forced to play blind shots, where the target is not in sight as you strike the ball. So it's important to embed the target in your memory. We all possess a very strong visual memory and can recall imagery at will, be it a previous holiday or a childhood experience. With golf it’s the same .
Address the ball
You are now ready to take the shot; to let your natural ability take over. Breathe out and expel any negative 'what ifs?'
Take one last look towards your intended target and really focus on the ball. As you breathe out make your swing and think of nothing except one calm swing thought. Trust your swing; it has performed before and will do again, provided you don’t confuse yourself by 'over thinking'.
Now it's important to ‘switch off’. Use the same process as you used to ‘switch on’ - by it exhaling, removing you glove or saying ‘done’ to yourself.
It's vital to practice your pre-shot routine so it becomes natural, smooth and takes only a few seconds. Use your time on the range to build in a pre-shot routine. Once it becomes second nature, you will be surprised how much your game improves.
NEXT TIME: Overcome those first tee nerves.