The Armchair Golf Pro writes about PGA Tour events. Like you he is watching from his comfy armchair, enjoying the competition and drama, but also observing lessons that will lead to playing better golf.
Aaron Baddeley won this week’s Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club with a solid -12 under total on a very difficult golf course. And although he beat Vijay Singh by two shots and Freddie Couples by five, I must admit I was pulling for the old guys. It was fun to see them up there on the leader board. But once Baddeley got the lead he never let up, so credit Baddeley with maintaining the strong mental focus he needed to get the win.
I noticed something during Baddeley’s pre-shot routine and I wonder if you saw it too. Whenever the TV showed a close-up of his face before a shot it looked like Aaron was squinting or closing his eyes. Perhaps, like me, you were wondering what he was up to with all that squinting.
In the post-round interview he gave a clue, and it may be something you can use to your advantage when you play: visualization.
In the interview Baddeley mentioned that he was back with his old coach and that he was back to “shaping” his shots – moving the ball from right-to-left and left-to-right – like the way he played as a kid. And as a kid he was sensational – winning the Australian Open at age 19. As he said, he’s finally moved away from constantly “working” on his swing to just going out there and playing golf. And he’s having more fun on the golf course.
That’s enough of a lesson there: You can’t play good golf when you are focused on mechanics. Witness Tiger’s current performance. At some point you have to let go of the mechanics and just play. But I think there’s more.
Riviera is the kind of course where you have to shape your shots if you want to score well. What does it take to create different shapes with your shots?
My suspicion is that what Baddeley was doing before every shot was closing his eyes so he could really focus in on the mental picture of what he wanted to do with that particular shot. By closing his eyes he shut out the rest of the world and boiled everything down to just that moment and just that shot. Fascinating!
I practice and preach the merits of visualizing every shot. I firmly believe visualization is one of the three key mental skills every golfer should cultivate if they want to play better golf. But I’ve never tried closing my eyes before a shot to see how well I can actually picture it. Verrrry interesting! You can be sure I’ll be testing it out as soon as I get clearance from my doctor to start swinging, and I’ll let you know.
Take for instance Baddeley’s play on the par-5 17th hole. He pull-hooked his drive left into the 5th fairway. Clearly that wasn’t the shot he visualized before he hit it, so visualization isn’t necessarily a cure-all panacea. There has to be a link between what your mind imagines and what your body feels. I wrote about the importance of feel in my post on Bubba Watson’s win at Torrey Pines. But there’s no way to hit the kind of second shot Baddeley hit without creating it in your mind first.
Baddeley had to hit a 50-yard slice between eucalyptus trees to get back into position. The TV analysts even drew a picture on the screen to show what he was up against. Baddeley’s shot mirrored the drawing almost perfectly.
You can’t hit that kind of shot without imagination and “seeing” it before you hit it. You can’t hit that shot with “mechanics.” You can only hit it with feel, and the feel comes from imagining the shot first.
So the Armchair Golf Pro encourages you to work on your ability to imagine a shot before you hit it. Maybe closing your eyes is something that will work for you. It may be worth a try.
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