Manual labour or mental labour?

We have all heard, read and said that golf is all in the head more times than we could possibly count. Golf is a mental game.

Perhaps Bobby Jones said it best: “Competitive golf is played mainly on a five and a half inch golf course… the space between your ears.”

So why is it that the vast majority of golfers spend a disproportionate amount of time hitting balls rather than thinking about how they are going to get round the course by creating a plan or strategy?

There could be any number of reasons. 

My personal belief is that the culture of golf in general and coaching in particular would suggest that “the secret is in the dirt”. I’m not saying you don’t have to work hard and hitting lots of shots on the range is not the way forward. Anyone who has ever achieved success in golf has put in the hours, without exception.

There are countless tales about the best players over the years having hit shots from dawn until dusk or until their hands bled in their quest for improvement. We always hear about the manual labour but one thing we never really hear about is the mental labour. What were they thinking about? What were they focusing on? Were they working hard or working smart?

Hitting shots on the range. Not hitting balls. On the surface, they may sound similar but trust me, hitting shots and hitting balls are two entirely different things. The golf course and its designer are constantly asking you to do two things – to think about and to execute a particular shot at a unique moment in time.

Close your eyes for a second and visualise your practice routine, if you have one. How much thought goes into what you are doing on the range? What are you paying attention to? What are you focusing on?

In essence, if you are working on your technique, your attention or focus can and will be in one of three places – what you need to do, what the club needs to do or what the ball needs to do.

In all likelihood you are thinking about what you need to do with your hips, shoulders, lead arm or trail leg – what ever happened to left arm and right leg? 

Or you might be thinking about what the club needs to do – not too much on the inside on the way back, parallel to the ground and your target line at the top of your backswing or whatever. 

Quick question: When was the last time you hit the ball in your backswing? Correct, never. So why pay so much attention to it?

What we pay too little attention to is what the ball needs to do, to the shot itself.

In today’s world, with so much contrasting, conflicting and as a result, confusing information out there on social media (YouTube, Twitter, Instagram) it’s all too easy to jump from swing tip to swing tip in a bid to find the answer to all your woes. Unfortunately, quite the opposite tends to happen. In a bid to get better, you actually get worse. Why? Because very little is said about the shot. It’s all about technique.

While a good technique may be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it does not guarantee that you will hit good shots. Hitting good shots guarantees hitting good shots.

Virtually everything designed to serve a purpose, whether that be the device you are reading this on, a formula one race car or the shoes on your feet is designed with a function in mind. The function creates the form. Why should hitting a golf shot be any different?

The three products I mentioned above were all designed with specific purposes or functions in mind and built around that. In golf we learn to swing first then create shots later. Does that make any sense to you? It makes no sense to me either.

Rather than working relentlessly on trying to perfect your swing, would it not be sensible to pay attention to creating better shots. Let the function create the form, let the task create the technique.

To me, that is working smart. That might involve more mental labour in experimenting and learning how you actually create a variety of shots and how you are going to use them on the golf course but it will almost definitely reduce the amount of manual labour required.

The choice is yours, choose wisely.