Armchair Golf Pro: Baddeley, Riviera, and Imagination

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.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Aaron Ba...

Getty Images via @daylife

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?

Imagination.

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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7 Responses

  1. Ken Foody says:

    Hey E! Enjoyed your post, the first one I’ve read actually. You write very well! The thing I find most interesting about Baddley and would LOVE to ask him sometime is that he’s actually been doing the eye closing visualization pre-shot routine for years. At least the last 5 years he’s been doing it. The difference is that over the last few he’s gone away from the Stack & Tilt technique he adopted and started struggling with and went back to his old coach and his old swing. I’d love to ask him about the mental struggles he had still trying to visualize every shot when his swing was in such a state of disarray and he was hitting it so inconsistently. My guess is that we’d find that it helped him make the transition faster. As we’re seeing with Tiger, it’s one thing to make the physical change, but a whole other thing to have the peace and inner confidence to trust it under the most intense pressure you can feel at your level. It’s why I love to study, talk about and write about the Mental side of the game. Talk soon – Ken

  2. Dave Maloney says:

    I began to take golf somewhat seriously at age 45. I was a baseball player prior to that (amateur). I loved to hit. Really loved it! Sometime in my teens I began to take batting practice in my head every night when I closed my eyes. I saw all the pitches, all the locations and “felt” myself seeing them, starting on them, making contact and following through. I did this every single night. Hence, when I got to the ball park nothing that guy could throw would/could be new to me or too tough. I couldn’t wait to get in the box because I had taken thousands of BP swings in my head since the last game. I couldn’t be surprised or fooled. I felt that I owned the field and the pitcher. I was ready and eager.

    Did I take this to golf? No, because I’m a dummy! I will now!

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Dave- great comments on how you used to take batting practice in your head to both visualize and get the feel. The cool thing is that you already have the skills, so now the goal is to apply them to your golf game. Please keep us posted on what you learn. I bet other golfers would benefit from your feedback. See you down the fairway! Eric

  3. Wade Gaddy says:

    Great post and analysis. Can’t wait to try eye closing to help visualize.

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Wade! Thanks for the note. Please keep us posted on what you learn and experience. I bet other golfers will be interested to read about your experience. Eric

  4. Tom says:

    Great Post Eric.

    Another key thing about Baddeley’s routine – especially evident with his putting – is that once he gets the image in his mind, he doesn’t waste time executing the shot. If you wait too long over the ball after you’ve “seen” the shot you want to hit, it only allows extra, unwanted thoughts a chance to creep in.
    Take your time visualizing and feeling the kind of swing you want in the practice swing, but then just step up and hit it…
    With Aaron’s putting, he stands behind the ball, picks his spot and visualizes as he makes his practice strokes, then steps up, one look at the hole and bam. I’ve adopted that routine in my game and it’s helped me a lot.

    Tom

    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA says:

      Hi Tom, thanks for the note. Always appreciate your comments and insights. I also noticed Baddeley’s “step in and hit” routine. It’s great, and I wish more golfers would adopt it. Make all your decisions first, then step in and execute. Your comments about how unwanted thought creep in if you stay over the ball are all too true! I would have written about that as well, because I think it would benefit almost everybody. But I try to limit my posts to just one topic, or they would get too long. However, feedback from observant golfers like you can help to point out other lessons that will benefit everybody. Thanks, and keep ’em coming! Eric