Visualisation, a closer look

At the time of writing, the UK is in virtual lockdown as we hope to limit the spread of this dreadful virus that has gripped the world.

Golf courses and driving ranges are closed and I personally believe that is absolutely the right thing to do, social distancing is not to be taken lightly. However, this means that all of us who love to be out on the golf course currently can’t play the game we love or even hit balls on the range.

Ordinarily at this time of year, we would be looking forward to watching The Masters on TV, drawing inspiration from the world’s best players to spur us on for the coming season.

That obviously won’t be the case this year but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your game at this distressing and uncertain time.

Ask anyone who has ever played this great game and they will tell you that golf is largely a game played very much in the mind.

If we all know that, why do we spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the physical side rather than developing the mental skills required to play your best.

Splitting the fairway with your best drive, knocking the flag out with iron shots and holing putts are clearly hugely rewarding and satisfying but at the moment, they are sadly out of reach for us all until we can all get back out on the course.

In the meantime, I’d like to talk a bit about the power of visualisation and how it can benefit not only your golf game but your life in general.

When you read, hear or talk about visualisation in golf, the reference is more often than not, linked directly and solely to swings or shots. While I am a great believer in creating a very clear image of the shot you are about to play or create, if you dig a little deeper on this subject, there is so much more we can learn about visualisation.

In a book I recently read called “Coaching For Performance” by Sir John Whitmore, I came across a fascinating exercise relating to visualisation. Sir John doesn’t reference golf specifically in this exercise, so I have adapted it slightly to put it into a golfing context.

Sit in your favourite armchair and close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground beneath them. Focus on your breathing, become aware of the rise and fall of your breath.

In your imagination, transport yourself to your favourite golf hole or course.

  • Imagine you are a bystander watching yourself play golf.
  • What does that version of you look like?
  • Do you look like you have just stepped out of a display case in the Pro shop or do you look like you got dressed in the dark?
  • Are you happy or distressed, smiling or frowning?
  • Do you look confident and relaxed or does your facial expression suggest you have just locked eyes with the grim reaper?
  • How do you carry yourself as you walk down the fairway? Head up or head down?
  • How do you react when you realise that your third shot on the par four 1st hole requires a delicate pitch shot over a bunker?
  • Do you view this shot as an opportunity or an obstacle?
  • Can you see the ball plugging in the face of the bunker or can you see it landing exactly where you intended it to as it rolls to within a few inches of the hole for an easy par?
  • As you walk to the next tee, are you staring at your shoes shaking your head, mumbling to yourself about how you dodged a bullet there, or are you looking up, taking in your surroundings while sharing a joke with your playing companions?
  • Would you like to meet / spend time with / play golf with this person?

Ask yourself these questions and see what images form in your mind’s eye.

While this exercise may sound a little odd and very different to what you read in most “coaching manuals”, please do not underestimate the power of how you view yourself. “Your Story” is vitally important and will be massively influential on your behaviour and attitude. So much so, Karl Morris and I dedicated an entire chapter to “Your Story” in our best selling book “The Lost Art Of Putting”.

If your perception of you as a golfer and / or as a person for whom everything is hard work and a struggle, chances are that you will live your life accordingly. Golf and life will be tough.

Conversely, if the character playing the lead role in “Your Story” is a person who has everything under control and can’t wait for the next challenge, chances are you will play out the role you have imagined or visualised. Golf and life might still be difficult at times, but the confident, capable you will be ready to deal with whatever comes your way.

As my late father used to say, “You can go through life two down with three holes to play or two up with three to play, the choice is yours.”

Over the coming weeks, we will probably all have more time on our hands than normal, so please spend that time wisely. Visualise yourself playing golf. Visualise not only the shots you want to play but look closely at how you behave and how you react to these shots you have played in your mind.

Perhaps more importantly, visualise how you are going to act during this testing time and how you plan to live your life when the world regains a level of equilibrium.

Until next time, take care of yourself and those around you, stay safe and fingers crossed, we will all get through this difficult period together.