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Golfer see, Golfer do?

When thinking about hitting shots might be good enough...


One of the most remarkable capacities of the mind is its ability to simulate sensations, actions and other types of experience. In a recent study participants watched a video of someone running. They watched this video from the perspective of the person running. What they found was that large increases were seen from before watching the video to during the running phase in the video in terms of increases in heart rate, respiratory rate and muscle nerve activity. Participants in this study were able to imagine what it was to run based on passively watching a video. These results suggest that imagination and observation of exercise can cause bodily changes (i.e. increased heart rate), even though you haven’t moved a muscle! So perhaps watching ourselves perform golf shots could be a very useful form of practice? We will return to this later.


This ability to simulate, is better known as mental imagery, and is a performance-enhancing technique widely used by athletes. This ability is what Tiger Woods was referring to when he said that for optimal golf performance ‘you have to see the shots and feel them through your hands’. You see mental imagery is more than just seeing pictures in your head. We can see movements and golf swings in our minds eye but we can also imagine the sound of a well hit iron for example and even imagine the ‘feel’ of the ball squeezing off the aforementioned well hit iron shot. Imagery is a mental technique that can be refined with practice much like any skill.


So what does all this mean for golfers?


To begin, I am reminded of an episode of the Simpsons when Homer was asked to imagine winning a boxing match. He imagined a trophy. And was subsequently knocked out by his opponent! So the question then needs to be what should we imagine? Rather than using imaging to see us win a match or competition maybe as golfers we should imagine specific things. For example, we should imagine the feeling of a well hit drive, the sound it makes and the feeling of arms, core and legs all connected. Or if working on something technical try to imagine the successful change in technique and incorporate that into your performance routine.


Our ability to imagine is spontaneous, effortless and very useful. Finally it is controllable. We can slow down or speed up our imagination. In fact we regularly do this when imagining a past round of golf we fast forward through the in-between walks and think back to the shot executions. Interestingly given that the ability to correct ones errors is a hallmark of experts in any field we should imagine a poor shot and mentally correct the error we made by rewinding the shot in our minds eye and playing it again correctly so to speak. The benefits this can have can be feeling more confident as a result of feeling more prepared; feel like we have been in that situation before and feel technically more sound as you have worked on the problem (mentally).


So get out your smart phone and record yourself hitting shots. Then view this footage and see what you can see or should that be imagine!


Mark is a performance psychology lecturer in the department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. Mark is also a professional member of the Irish Institute of Sport providing psychological consultancy to elite Irish carded athletes.


Mark can be contacted at the address below for any queries.


Dr Mark Campbell PhD Reg Psychol Ps.S.I.

Sport Exercise & Performance Psychology Lecturer

Department of Physical Education & Sport Science

Room P1-041

University of Limerick


[p] +353 (0)61234944

[e] mark.campbell@ul.ie

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