Visualization – the Key to More Consistent, Accurate Golf Shots

eric-jones-on-visualization

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.

three-brains-imageUnderstanding 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.

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?

jack-nicklaus-swing-sequenceIt 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.

chipping-trajectoryFirst, 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.

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  1. Jim Merwin
    4 years ago

    Eric:

    Your brief discussion on how our brains visualize shots clearly demonstrates why it is critical we form a clear picture of our intended target and swing so our athletic brain can understand what we want it to do! In the 50 years I have been studying and playing golf this is the best discussion on this difficult topic I have ever read or seen! We obviously need more instructors who are also PhD’s to help us truly understanding key topics like this.

    Thank you for sharing your insights. You are a great credit to the golf profession!

    Jim


  2. John Feagler
    4 years ago

    A very good explaination. I can now see this activity with the pros when taking practice swings for difficult lies, etc


  3. Tom P
    4 years ago

    Eric,
    Hi and you have surprised me once again, first with your great pinpointed instruction, but now after some months have passed, I receive this email of further instruction, when others would have long taken the funds and run, you are still there pitching in.
    Afraid my body’s handicap is raising higher than my game, now gas in my eye from a retinal tear, but still shoot in the 70’s when the eyes are seeing both the same target again…lol I will have no fear. Thanks for Being A Great Instructor but with the added touch of a caring friend..
    Tom


    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA
      4 years ago

      Hi Tom,
      Thanks for leaving a comment. My goal above all else is to help golfers improve, so I really appreciate hearing from you. Be sure to check out the next newsletter, which will have Part 2 on Visualization. Hang in there!


  4. Dan
    4 years ago

    Eric, I wasn’t sure how to comment on your latest newsletter article, so I’m using this venue. I just wanted to say that I really appreciated the video on visualization. Your description of the “three brains” and how they work together is easy to understand. I know when I step up to a shot and visualize where I want the ball to go, and if I can clear my mind of all chatter, the ball usually goes to my target. It’s an enjoyable way to play golf. You began your talk referencing Jack Nicholas, and the other day at my golf lesson (from a man you may know… Pat Carroll in Sacramento) my instructor told me about how Jack visualized his shots, especially through the swing and staying in the swing… allowing the ball to stay longer on the clubface and having more control over the direction of the shot. The technique of course is learned, but it’s the rehearsal and visualization that allows you to successfully implement what you have practiced. Thanks again for the instruction on “see it, feel it, do it.” We would all play better golf if we could incorporate this concept into our games.


    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA
      4 years ago

      Hi Dan,
      Thanks much for your comment. I’m always glad to hear of other teaching pros talking about the importance of visualization, and not just mechanics all the time. Visualization is one of the highest level playing skills. By that I’m not saying that you have to be a better player to benefit from visualization. What I mean is that no matter what level player you are, using visualization will help you play at the highest level of your playing abilities. I encourage you to keep at it!


  5. John Lundsten
    4 years ago

    This is powerful stuff; I can’t wait to try it on the course. It seems it should work particularly well for putting. I have heard that our performing (athletic) brain does not understand the word “don’t” so when your thinking brain says “don’t hit it in the water” the performing brain understands everything but “don’t” and performs exactly as it thinks it is being directed and hits the ball in the water. This makes some sense to me because any physical movement is a positive action, the body changing from stasis to movement or vice-versa.

    I really appreciate your in depth analysis of the mental aspects of golf. Thank you.


    • Eric Jones, MA, PGA
      4 years ago

      Hi John,
      Thanks for the comment. You are exactly right on what the Athletic brain “doesn’t hear.” It doesn’t understand language, so “don’t go …” won’t register. Just the image. So one of the keys is to create an image of what you DO want. And yes, the visualization works equally well for putting! See every shot drop into the cup.

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