The greatest illusion in golf is found between what you feel and what is real. It’s our biggest struggle in improvement and the most confounding aspect of teaching the game. Unless a player has a high degree of proprioception (the awareness of the body in space), it’s extremely difficult to correctly feel a swing change and make it permanent.
There are two main challenges under the umbrella of feel vs. real. The first is the golf ball. Most of us can make very good practice swings when the club is hovering above the ground and no ball is involved (see Barkley, Charles). There is no “hit” instinct and it’s very easy to feel the weight and momentum of the club as it swings effortlessly. When a ball is introduced and results are involved, muscles tense and our “hit” instinct kicks in.
The second is that we can’t see what’s happening with the club, only feel it, and feel often lies. As anyone who’s tried to shorten their swing can attest, it needs to FEEL like you’re taking the club to the L position or even hip height. If you fight an inside takeaway, you might need to FEEL like you’re taking the club way outside. Pros will often have slicers try to hit massive hooks to balance out their swings.
So how do we combat this when we’re trying to improve? It’s easy during a lesson when the instructor is watching every swing and giving you feedback, but it’s how we implement changes in our own practice sessions that truly ingrain motions. First, you need some sort of feedback mechanism for whatever you’re working on. That could be alignment rods, training aids, a friend watching (if they know what they’re doing) or video. You need to be able to evaluate what is happening as you swing.
Second, your muscles don’t know words, and your body doesn’t translate your thoughts. This is the reason a new tip only works for a finite amount of time. It’s why it’s important to develop hand-eye coordination and an athletic personality. When practicing, try to ask yourself what certain shots felt like in your body rather than thinking. If you can’t hit balls, make slow motion swings that last over a minute while keeping your focus on a piece of carpet or grass. You need to ingrain feelings in your body rather than thoughts in your mind.
- the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury.
This concept isn’t limited to technique. It has been shown that cognitive behavior can be retrained at any age. If you have anxiety on the first tee in front of a crowded clubhouse, for example, that can be retrained. If you tend to get angry and snap clubs in half, that can be retrained. Changing the way your brain works during a performance situation is the key.
The point is that you don’t have to be stuck where you are in golf. No matter how long you’ve been playing, or your skill level, you can get much better by rewiring your brain. The trick is to go about improving the correct way. Happy seeking!