Visualization is one of the key skills that separates better golfers from the rest. If you want to play better golf, learn to visualize every shot before you hit it. Visualizing the shot in advance will help with your consistency, accuracy and confidence.
But there’s more to it than simply seeing the shot. In fact, the missing link – and something I never hear discussed – is how visualization is turned into action.
Understanding this critical link is the real key to making visualization work for you. And the key to understanding the visualization-action link is understanding how our brain works and how it communicates with your body.
In my own experience, I know that when I understand what something is, why it is supposed to work, and how it works, I not only appreciate its importance, but I can actively work to learn it and apply it much faster.
In this video I discuss the strengths and capabilities of our three brains – our Thinking Brain, our Emotional Brain, and our Athletic Brain so you can understand the What, Why, and How.
Here’s the most important lesson to pull from the video: Our Athletic Brain, which carries out the physical motion of the swing, only understands images … not language or verbal/mental instructions. But it is our Thinking brain that develops the shot strategy.
Somehow the strategy – which is a concept – has to be communicated from our Thinking brain to our Athletic brain so out Athletic brain can turn the concept into action.
The only way that happens is through imagery.
You’ve learned from the video that the clearer your mental picture, the more clearly your Athletic brain will understand the shot and the more accurately it will carry out the shot.
So what is visualization?
It is simply seeing the shot in advance, before you hit it.
Golfers vary in their ability to visualize shots in advance. Jack Nicklaus was a master at it, and in his book he states that he never hit a shot until he could see it in advance: from impact to the ball in flight, to landing, to roll-out, and even seeing where the ball will stop. He even saw a mental picture of himself making the swing.
Some players see only parts of the ball flight, or see the ball landing or where it will stop. Regardless of your visualization skill level, there are two things I can tell you about visualization.
First, it is a skill, and like any other skill the more you practice it, the better you will get.
Second, in the end the only part that really matters is how well your body can feel what it is supposed to do. The feeling of movement is the way our bodies translate images. So don’t despair if you think you are not a great visualizer. Keep at it, and you’ll improve.
But mostly … look for the way your body responds to the information you are sending to it, and cultivate a feel for the shot in advance.
I have a student who is at the very low end of the scale in terms of visualization skill level. He just can’t form a mental picture of the shot in advance. But as we talked in depth about visualization and I asked him to describe shots, I noticed that he would act out the shots as he was trying to picture them. In other words, if he was trying to visualize a fade, his hands would create the fade shape.
What we discovered was that even though he couldn’t really visualize the shots in his mind, his body could immediately feel them. In other words, he by-passed the visualization part and went straight to the feel part. And he was very good at it.
So we call this type of visualization “kinesthetic” vision. He “sees” a shot physically, rather than mentally. And since this was the end goal we shoot for anyway, there was little to be gained by working on visualization per se.
The point of this example is to highlight the end-goal, because once you know where you are going, it is much easier to understand the tools that will work best for your unique skill set to get you there.
So the next time you play or practice, I advise you to pay some attention to what you see and what you feel, and to understand the link between what you imagine and what you do.
See it. Feel it. Do it.