Better Golf Swings By Way Of Less Thinking And More Feeling!

To improve golf swing performance golfers need to possess the right mix of mental and physical qualities.

But what percentage of the golf swing is mental? What part physical?

We could argue the answer all day and never reach a consensus on the matter.

We could, however, all agree that the right ratio of these two does wonders to improve confidence in our golf swing performance.
But here is the million dollar question? How do we consistently replicate this recipe of golf swing success? The answer, as fuzzy as it may sound, is “feeling”.

In his book, “On Learning Golf”, Percy Boomer expands upon the neuromuscular component of the golf swing. He explains how – feeling our swing instead of thinking our swing – may be the best path toward greater golf swing confidence and consistency.

Boomer writes;

“When we consider the make-up of a good games player we usually start with a catalogue of physical qualities, such as a good eye, steely wrists, good reach, etc. To these we may add—if we are advanced enough to be conscious of psychology—two or three purely mental qualities, such as “good nerves” and intelligence. For years and years I tried to strike a fair balance between the qualities in the two groups, and decided at various times that golf was 50 per cent physical and 50 per cent mental, then 40 per cent/60 per cent and 80 per cent/20 per cent, and all sorts of other proportions. But I admit that however I considered the matter I never felt convinced that I had found a correct answer. I already knew that we played reflex golf, and that a reflex was muscular memory, and this should have told me that any clear cut division between mental and physical was impossible. I now know why!…

…I had in fact reached the conclusion that any separation of the mental and physical functions in the playing or teaching of golf must be artificial because in the practical job of playing or teaching no such separation is possible.

But though I had reached this conclusion and was increasingly basing my teaching on it, I found it most difficult to express the idea explicitly—even to myself. Then by one of those happy chances which do occur when you are ripe for them, I read a remarkable little book, The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander.

It was the confirmation and exposition I had wanted. For here was a man with profound knowledge of psychology and physiology surveying the whole field of human activity and expressing scientifically the very truth which I had sensed, but found so difficult to express, in the sphere of golf.

Professor Alexander’s conclusion is that we never act purely psychologically or purely physically, but that every act is carried out in psychophysical unison. And further, that when this unison is functioning properly it provides a form of conscious control which is precisely what a golfer needs.

I realized at once that this conscious control was exactly what I was already trying to teach because I recognized it as a form of control that would replace thinking. And thinking had to be replaced because I knew by experience that if your golf was dependent upon thinking it was at the mercy of your mental state. Excitement, depression, elation—any emotion could destroy you.

I had always been considered a good teacher, but I had never been satisfied because I could not teach a pupil to play exactly and consistently—independent of their mental and physical feelings and of the state of the game. And I felt that I ought to be able to teach this. And now I am able to do so, provided that the pupil is willing to work at the game on a “long term” policy.

With my broadening view of the relation between physical and mental, and the possibilities of conscious control I have definitely gained a new capacity in teaching, enabling me to build up in my pupils one control upon another, by building up feel. I build up a feel of what is right in their golf. So when they get to the first tee in front of a gallery or is faced by a tricky shot at a critical moment in the game, mental excite¬ment can no longer tie their swing up and they can make their shots normally even if their brain is befogged.

A good boxer will box on even when “out on their feet,” and the good golfer should equally be able to produce their best shots even though they are five down with six to play. I had long realized the importance of this and the desirability of finding some way of insulating golfer’s shots from their mental state. I had worked out a very effective simple and satisfactory swing, but I did not know how to teach this except as a set of purely mechanical ideas.
But when I had developed the idea of control through remembered feeling, I was able to take the words “think” and “thought” out of my teaching vocabulary. The results were literally astounding.

And why? Not because I taught a better swing, but because my pupils learned to use their swings irrespective of conditions and states of mind! Many of my pupils now say, “I am no longer afraid of the ball. I do not even think of it; I just swing through it.”

That, of course, means confidence and consistency…

Now here, for those who collect coincidences, is a true story which shows an independent and extremely practical application of the ideas on which my teaching is based.

I was giving a lesson to a young American, a thoughtful, analytical fellow who up to that time had taught himself all the games he had played. He came to me because he could not connect what he knew he should do at golf with the physical action of doing it. So as briefly as possible I explained to him the idea of control by remembered feel. He was deeply interested, for though he had taken a course in psychology at college he had not thought of golf as one of the interests in which a knowledge of the subject might help him. He saw the point, and when he had reflected on it told me this very curious story.

“When I first came to England, the traffic keeping to the left instead of to the right as it does back home nearly got me time after time. Whenever I was going to step off the sidewalk I looked to the left instead of to the right as I should have done.

“This got so dangerous that I had to take a dip into my brain-box to find a way of checking it. It wasn’t any good just telling myself to look right; I had done that and promptly looked left again! So I decided that every time before stepping off a curb I would raise my right forearm and clench my fist. I reckoned it would draw my attention to the right as desired, and it did. In a few days I was cured.”

Do you see the full significance of that story? Here was an intelligent fellow who knew that he should look right before stepping off the curb, but who could not do it merely by knowing that he should do it, because he had been brought up to look left. Looking left had become a muscular memory with him, and in the control of actions, knowledge and thought can never equal muscular memory. Finding this so, this very intelligent young man decided to build up a new muscular memory with the sequence: edge of curb-raise right arm, clench fist—look right. And it worked.

Now here was a clear case of an effective psychological-physical control being developed out of the necessities of the moment with no formal knowledge of the concept whatever.

Exactly the same development has taken place in the game of every successful golfer.”

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