Mental golf practice to improve your swing and your golf performance


Imagining yourself playing mental golf can be just as effective for your swing and golf performance as actually hitting shots on the range or playing a round of golf on the course. That’s a view I’ve long held and one supported by a recent article by Matthew Hutson in Psychology Today Magazine.

The article explains how golfers and other athletes have used mental imagery to complement their physical practice. Sometimes practicing golf in the mind actually produces better results than physical practice. In a study of medical students in Texas, students were given 30 minutes of guided practice for a complex medical procedure followed by either

  1. no further training
  2. a further 30 minutes of physical practice
  3. 30 minutes of guided mental imagery.

In follow up tests, the students who did the guided mental imagery performed at the same level as those who had the additional physical practice and both these groups were significantly better than the group who received no further training.

So why is mental practice at least as good as physical practice? Well other research shows that the act of “Imagining” fires up the identical parts of the brain that would be activated if you were actually playing a stroke. The neurons used in the brain are the very same ones that would be used if you were actually playing. Indeed, some of the actual muscles involved in the imagined shot experience tiny movements. You effectively practice just by the act of visualisation.

One of my favourite stories about the power of imagination in golf comes from an American Major, James Nesmeth. He was an average golfer consistently scoring in the mid 90’s, until he developed a unique way of improving his golf game. It came when he spent seven years in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. During those tortuous years, Nesmeth lived in solitary confinement inside a prison cell that measured four and a half feet high and 5 ft long. To keep from losing all hope, he realized that he needed to do something to occupy his mind.

Every day he played 18 holes of golf in his mind. He imagined everything in vivid detail from the country club he was playing at to the smell of freshly cut grass in the summertime. He would imagine the grip of the clubs and practice his swing mentally many times until he perfected it. In reality, he had no place to go, so he spent four hours a day on the course in his mind never leaving any detail out. When he was released from prison and returned home, he played his first real game of golf for 7 years, he scored 74!

So when you find yourself with nothing important to do, maybe when you’re travelling on public transport, when there’s nothing worth watching on television or you’re just daydreaming, just go inside your golf mind and imagine playing a round of golf. You may be surprised by the positive results.

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