Golf is a game that is played by feel. Unfortunately, you must also master the mechanical aspects of the game in order to play well.
So how do you play by feel when you have mechanical flaws that you are trying to fix?
That is the question that we are going to explore in this post and we will conclude with our method to conquer the issue and learn to play by feel.
As a physical therapist, I am a biomechanics expert by trade. So I had always struggled with playing by feel. I was always working on technique trying to have “the perfect golf swing,” if that exists.
The crazy thing is that you CAN play well focusing on mechanics when the pressure is off. As a result, I would hit beautifully on the driving range and I would play with a high level of precision on the golf course as long as I was playing by myself.
However, once it came to tournament time, I would struggle. When I started to struggle, I would lean on my expertise: mechanics. So instead of letting go and playing with feel, I would hunker down into focusing even more on mechanics. Looking back it is obvious why I struggled so much but at the time I could not figure it out.
It has been many years since then I do a much better job of playing with feel and playing well under pressure. Honestly, I can not remember when I started to figure things out, but I will give you the strategy that I have used to become more target focused and to play by feel on the golf course.
Strategy #1: The Three Box Pre-Shot Routine
I began using this technique about 10 years ago when I read about it in: The Mental Game of Golf by Patrick J. Cohen, Phd.
Here is how it goes: There are 3 imaginary boxes that you step into for your pre shot routine.
Box #1: The Analysis Box
When you are in this box, you are analyzing the situation. You check out the lie, the distance to your target, the wind. You select your golf club and the type of golf shot you want to play. When I get lazy, I overlook this step. However, strategy is a huge part of the golf game and this is the time in your pre-shot routine to make the correct choices.
Box #2: The Rehearsal Box
When you are in this box you are allowed to think about mechanics. However, keep your swing thoughts to 1-2 mechanical things at the most, keep it simple. Next, take a practice swing but make sure you are taking a very good practice swing. You are training your body to execute the shot correctly.
Box #3: The Play Box
Emphasis on the word “PLAY.” In this box, you are by yourself, completely alone. Nobody can see you and you do not see or notice anything else but the job at hand. I usually tell myself to “relax,let it go and just swing.” No thoughts about mechanics are allowed in this box. You are only focused on the target a making a smooth rhythmic, aggressive swing. Let go and just swing.
My Current Struggles
Now days, I am prone to only 2 swing problems. 1) I am taking too big of a backswing which can throw off my rhythm and time. The easy fix is to simply shorten up my swing. 2) I am moving my head/body too much. The easy fix is to simply focus on keeping my head more still. This automatically quiets the rest of my body down getting rid of excessive movement.
Strategy #2: Play by Feel, Not By Thought
The following is another method that may work better for you. This article was authored by Steve Whidden and you can link directly to his article by clicking the link below the text.
This is my favorite training aid that helped me overcome my overloaded brain and learn to play by feel. I use it literally every time I step on the golf course The new SKLZ Gold Flex golf trainer helps develop a smooth, natural tempo & on-plane swing.
Line up the shot from behind the ball, picking an intermediate target a few feet in front of the ball to aim the club face, and pick a target left of the intended target in the distance where it will feel as though they are aiming when they correctly aim parallel left of the target.
Walk to the side of the ball and place club head away from but equal to the ball, and get ready for practice swing.
Make a real length and speed practice swing fulfilling the requirement of good impact for that shot (swoosh at the ball and left of it for a driver, a divot at the ball and left of it for irons, a bushing of the grass at the ball and left or it for hybrids and fairway woods, a putting swing while looking at the hole that feels just right).
Once that requirement is accomplished, the student should step up to the ball and say to themselves “same thing” as they actually hit the shot.
The key to mastering this is to practice playing by feel. When you are at the driving range, practice one or both of these routines and go with the one that allows you to play with feel.
Newish Trend in Golf: Hypnosis
Final thought: if you continue to struggle with the mental game and freeing up your swing, there is a new growing trend in golf to work with performance hypnosis. Don’t worry! It is not black magic or anything crazy. Hypnosis is simply training your brain to get “into the zone.”
I feel it’s definitely worth trying some hypnosis for mindset, mental skills or personal improvement plus a whole range of other options.
Thanks for Reading!
QUESTION: WHAT METHODS HAVE YOU TRIED TO MASTER IN THE MENTAL GAME AND PLAY BY FEEL? PLEASE COMMENT BELOW, THANKS.
Dr Ryan York, DPT CGS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Golf Performance Specialist
Age Defying Golf