The human brain has two sides a golfer needs to try to balance. Basically, the left side is the analytical side and the right brain is the creative/feel side. The left side deals with the function of analysis, logic, computation and rational thought of the game. The right side deals with intuition, creativity, imagination and emotions of the game. Let’s discuss these two areas of the mental game.
A true balanced golfer utilizes their left side of their brain before the swing begins and more of their right side when the swing is in motion. An example of this would be that before a shot, a player should assess the situation behind the ball including picking out the target, club selection and type of shot (left brain analysis). Many great players even pick out an intermediate targets such as a piece of grass or spot on the ground a few feet in front of their ball for aiming. Then, after the player finishes their left brain routine he will move into right brain mode and make a relaxed free flowing swing. This is a great example of playing with both sides of the brain. The player was not overly wrapped up in swing mechanics during the swing. If a player gets too stuck in one side or the other, he/she will most likely not perform at their best. Overly analytical players become so wrapped up in swing mechanics that they lose their creativity and feel for certain shots. Heavy right brain players miss out on some of the complexities of the game that require more of the analysis, such as wind direction, slope lies, green reading, and tactical course management. These variables are examples of some of the left brain analysis that a golfer needs to complete during a round of golf.
Another aspect of balancing the mental game is determining when to play aggressively and when to play conservatively. Prior to Phil Mickelson winning his first major, he was known for his “go for broke” mentality. Although he’s always been one of the greatest golfers, he started winning majors when he did a better job of managing the game. He started playing more conservatively when it was called for, and aggressively when the opportunity was there. Phil has now won four majors. For the amateur golfer, managing aggressive and conservative play should be a part of their game. Let’s call it the 50/50 rule, meaning that if you face a shot that you could not pull off over 50% of the time, then it is not a shot that should be attempted on the course. This style of play can lead to tension in the swing and probably a poor result. The range is the place to practice shots not the course. A player must make wise decisions and play within their limitations, such as deciding when to attack pins and when to aim at a safer part of the green. Think how many greens in regulation you would hit if you aimed at the middle of every green. I am not suggesting this is the way for everyone to play, but it’s important to know when to take a pin on and when not to.
Next time you play, try to incorporate a good pre-shot routine that encompasses the left brain computations of the shot, but when it is time to pull the trigger relax and make a tension free swing with the target etched clearly in your mind. Also try to choose targets (fairway and green areas) that are more comfortable spots to take aim and I am sure that you will start scoring lower.
One thing to remember is that studies show that the human brain does not compute negatives as it does positives, so when picking your target mentally tell yourself “I will” or “I want to hit the ball there” instead of “don’t hit the ball in the water.” All the brain recognizes is water. This type of negative thinking will almost guarantee a bad result. So keep your thoughts positive and your results with greatly improve. Good luck!
Brech Spradley, PGA
Director of Instruction