“Visualization is the most powerful thing we have.” – Nick Faldo

The Golf State of Mind coaching philosophy is about using everything you have to get the most out of every performance. Visualization is one of those things that doesn’t require any physical skill to learn, but as Nick Faldo says, it’s the most powerful thing you have.

Why visualize?

The world’s best athletes use the practice of visualizing a great performance before the action for a very good reason – it works!

Visualization has been proven to:

  • stimulate the muscles necessary to perform an action
  • program the mind and muscles prior to playing to increase confidence
  • control pre-round nerves and relax the body and mind
  • re-frame from negative to positive outcomes
  • Help with swing changes
  • Help recovery from injury
  • Improve concentration

The body responds far greater to images than words, both in the short term (a golf shot) and long term (our future goals). The reason is that it speaks directly to your subconscious, which is ultimately controlling your actions.

We have no control over the subconscious mind, it just responds to the images that the conscious mind feeds it. The subconscious is your belief system – if you feed it positive images, it will believe them to be real and make them more likely to become real. Let’s look at a couple of cases which support this.

In a study done at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, they tested the effect of visualization on a group of 30 golfers.
The group was divided into 3 groups (at random) to conduct a test on the effect of visualization on putting. Each group was asked to do the exercises for the same amount of time. Firstly each group did a series of putting exercises using their normal putting technique.

After this, the first group was asked to perform the same exercises as before, but this time, just thinking about only their stroke. The second group was asked to visualize each putt in its entirety before it was hit (seeing the exact line of the putt, the speed and where on the hole it would go in). The third group was asked to visualize the ball finishing short of the hole each time. After a week the change in their results was as follows:

The group that just practiced the stroke improved by 11%.
The group that visualized each putt following its line to the hole and going in improved by 30%.
The group that visualized the ball finishing short, worsened by 21%!!!

Another great example is the story of Major James Nesmeth. For 7 years he was a POW in The Vietnam War and locked in a box barely big enough for his body. With nothing but his thoughts to comfort himself, he would imagine playing 18 holes of golf every day at his favorite golf course. He would recreate everything about the experience – the sounds of the birds, the smell of the grass, the
weather, and most importantly, the sound, feel and imagery for every golf shot he hit. Amazingly, he survived the brutal ordeal. When Major James was freed, he finally got to play a real game of golf, and shockingly, the 25 handicapper shot a 74! He had knocked over 20 shots off his handicap by simply visualizing what it was like to play better golf.

The explanation for this is what sports scientists call “Functional Equivalence”. The hypothesis of Functional Equivalence is that imagining a physical action can stimulate the same parts of the brain that are used to actually perform that physical action. So imagining hitting a golf shot can be just like playing that shot in reality. It’s like practicing without being at the driving range! E.g if we were to hook you up to an MR machine and you were to close your eyes and imagine hitting a fade with a 5-iron, we would be able to detect activity in those exact muscles necessary for hitting that shot. For that reason, it’s also been proven that by simply visualizing improvements in your swing, you can teach your muscles how to do it.

But be careful, visualization can work the other way! Imagining yourself performing badly can make your real performance get worse.
There are a several different times you can benefit from visualization.

1) Before a shot
2) Before the round
3) Short-term goal visualization
4) Long-term goal visualization

Visualization exercise:
I want you to imagine playing a chip shot from about 3 yards off the green. You’ve got about 30 ft of green to work with and most of it is down-hill right to left. The pin is out. Assess the shot and play it in your mind. See everything about it.

Now answer these questions:

1. How far onto the green did the ball land?
2. Did you have an exact landing spot picked out?
3. How high was it?
4. How many times did it bounce before it started rolling on the green?
5. Was there any grain on the green?
6. Did it go in the hole?
7. Did in barely make it or did it hit in the back of the hole and bounce in?

If you hadn’t thought about any of these things, then you need to improve your visualization!