Use your unconscious golf mind to protect your golf swing from analysis paralysis


It’s good to be back in the writing saddle and staring into my computer screen once more after a week’s break. Seriously though, I’m glad to be back talking about analysis paralysis and unconscious golf – two of my favourite golf psychology topics.

Concentrating on how you swing will often prevent you from playing your best and most natural game of golf. You probably recall similar messages from me before and it ties into the concept that there’s a place for thinking consciously on the golf course, about where you want the ball to go and how you want it to get there, and a place for trusting your unconscious to put your best swing on the ball without any interference from the conscious mind.

I’ve heard over the years and read in some of the older golf books in my library about Ralph Guldahl a really great golfer from the 1930s. After a relatively slow start as a professional golfer he ended up winning 16 PGA Tour events in a nine-year period. He peaked with three Major wins towards the end of this period, but never won again after 1940. His Major wins were at the US Open in 1937 at Oakland Hills and again the next year at Cherry Hills and finally the Masters in 1939. What’s always seemed odd to me is that until recently, I’ve never come across anything about his record after that time. I guess I thought that he had died or been injured in the Second World War. Perhaps, in a similar way to many great British golfers of the late 1930s, he never got back into winning again when professional golf competitions started up again after the war years.

So imagine my surprise when I came across an old news article that confirmed that he had continued to play professional golf in the 1940s before becoming a successful club professional. However, he completely lost his game after taking a couple of months off in 1939 to work on his book "Groove Your Golf." He started to struggle with his golf after completing the book and never won again after 1940. Paul Runyan, twice US PGA Champion, said of him, "It’s the most ridiculous thing, really. He went from being temporarily the absolute best player in the world to one who couldn’t play at all."

So what happened? Well according to his wife, he went into such detail analyzing his swing in order to write the book, that he could never play his natural game again. Others spoke of him practicing shots in front of a mirror so that he could describe his exact movement in the book.

It certainly seems to me that up to the time he was commissioned to write the book Ralph Guldahl played with a natural free-flowing swing that he had learned unconsciously. Other articles I’ve read suggest that he was relaxed on the golf course and just took a few moments to pan his shot before hitting the ball. Until he started analyzing his swing for the book, he probably had never even consciously thought about how he swung the club while he was on the course. In fact, it seems that everybody described him as a natural gifted golfer.

So if you want to play your best golf on the course, leave your swing thoughts on the practice ground, use your conscious mind to assess the shot and then trust your unconscious free-flowing swing to hit the ball.

Note: After first posting this article, the latest copy of New Scientist dropped through the letterbox. I was intrigued to see it included an article entitled "How Ralph lost his groove." I was more intrigued to read it’s use of seemingly unrelated studies to suggest that Ralph Guldahl’s fate had little to do with his overthinking his game. You won’t be surprised that I remain unconvinced of their arguments!


  1. […] I’ve written here before about the perils of Analysis Paralysis , the benefits of Visualisation and the need to Speed up your shot routines, but I’m not […]

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