Column: Golfing like an athlete means less thinking

Golf instructor Jennifer Greggain says the time to tweak technique is in practice and not during play.

As many people decide to take up golf, they realize fairly quickly that there are a lot of elements to the game to learn.

This process can be quite overwhelming.

Even for the seasoned player, thoughts of how to swing the golf club can get muddled, leading to devastating results on the golf course.

For many of my students, we talk about the idea of making a shot with fewer mental restrictions rather than more.

Oftentimes when first hearing this idea, confusion sets in.

This golfer believes that in order to hit shots well, you must be in complete mental control of them at all times. Which includes thinking about every move the body makes when executing a shot.

This belief, held by the majority of golfers, is not the ideal state of mind when it comes to performance. Especially while playing on the golf course.

I use the analogy of how athletes in other sports achieve peak performance.

Golf is unlike most other sports in that the player initiates the motion.

Other sports respond or react to a motion, leaving very little time to think.

In baseball, for example, the batter hits a ball that is being thrown to the catcher. The fielder reacts to a ball that is hit to them, and then throws the ball to the first baseman.

In basketball, players pass the ball to teammates and shoot to the basket while maneuvering around defenders.

A tennis player responds to a serve that is hit to them from the other side of the court.

When these athletes are playing their best, they are in the ‘zone of peak performance.’

When asked about their state of mind in those moments there are many common themes that come up.

First of all, there is very little cognitive thinking happening. Athletes describe their abilities as effortless. They think of very little other than the target and their intention. They do not think of the motions the body makes as they are performing.

The baseball batter is not thinking about how to swing the bat, and the fielder does not think about how far the arm will come back and how hard to throw the ball to the first baseman.

The tennis player does not think about the squareness of the face of the racquet when returning a serve.

The game is too fast to allow for this type of thought.

But what would happen if these sports allowed enough to time to think about their technique? Do you believe these athletes would perform better or worse?

I think we can all guess that performance would be hindered if you ask these athletes to have technical, cognitive thoughts about their skills during a game.

So what can golfers learn from this?

When I use this analogy with my students, they do not believe that their skills are good enough to trust themselves to play without thought. I disagree whole-heartedly with this line of thinking, no matter the skill level.

The time and the place to think about the golf swing and make changes is in practice, not in play.

Responding more to the target and intention, and less on how to swing the club is the best way to find peak performance.

This is true for every skill level.

You would be surprised how your body will react to the nervous system when it is in the ideal state of mind.

Leave the technical thoughts at home, and use your instincts to respond to your target.

 

Jennifer teaches golf to adults and juniors at the Chilliwack Golf Academy.

She played professionally on tour for over 10 years, including two years on the LPGA. She is the 2015 Pepsi Norhwest Open Champion as well as the 2015 PGA of BC Women’s Champion, and is now the lead instructor of the Sardis Golf Academy.

She can be contacted at 604-798-9805, chilliwackgolfacademy.com, or at Jennifer@chilliwackgolf.com