Updated: May 10, 2020
Do you daydream? If not, that’s okay, but many will agree that letting your mind wander off from time to time is a luxury in an otherwise chaotic world. Now, before you stop reading for fear of being shamed for admitting you’re not always dialed into what’s in front of you, hear me say this. Your daydreaming may lead to a better golf game.
Hold on, what?
While daydreaming itself may not contribute to a better putt or stronger drive off the tee box, the process your mind uses while daydreaming isn’t far off from one of the most important mental skills in golf: visualization.
Visualization, or imagery as some call it, is the mental act of seeing something in your mind before it happens. To visualize is to mentally rehearse an optimal outcome before ever stepping up to the ball or even getting to the course.
Imagine you’re on the fairway, just off to the right, about 165 yards from the pin. There are aged maples off to your right 15 yards from the fairway lining all the way up to that sand trap you know all too well. That giant sandbox boarders a third of the green and you happen to know there’s a steep decline off the back of the green. In the shape of an oval, the green has a slight downward break from right to left with an unforgiving drop just past the rough off to the left. You grab your choice club- what now?
Many analyze the lay of the ball, study the remaining 165 yards, and adjust to what they know from playing the hole last time. Do you stop to see the ball going where you want it to before your swing?
An interesting thing about the brain is that it cannot tell the difference between things that are real and imagined. That’s right. Whether you actually see something or imagine yourself seeing it happen, the brain sends electrical currents throughout the body the same way. Seeing something happen before it’s your turn to step up to the ball creates some comfort, and the more comfortable you feel, the more likely you are you let the natural process of your swing dictate what happens next.
So that shot from 165 yards out? Should you spend even just a few moments seeing the ball fly through the air and landing where you’d like it to, the greater your chance that it will actually happen.
There are a few key elements to keep in mind. When you’re visualizing, try to have the mental picture or video be as vivid as possible. The more clear the image is, the more your brain becomes engaged. Another thing to consider is to have the image play in live time. This means that you should try to see the ball moving through space the way it will in real life- not sped up or played in slow-mo. Lastly, have the outcome be optimal, that is, see the ball do exactly what it is you want it to.
Take into account the height of the ball, the shape of the shot, the velocity, where the ball lands, where it breaks, and other specific information that’s applicable to the hole you’re playing. Work to put it all together- see the ball from a first-person perspective moving from the ground through the air, landing, and rolling where you’d like it to. The more complete the mental picture, the better.
As you’re about to see the shot you’re after, work to bring in as many senses as possible. Feel the shot from your feet on the grass to the club in your hands. After you can see the shot and you can feel the shot, trust that it will happen.
Not only does visualizing help you succeed by strengthening the mind-body connection, it also causes you to slow down and be more intentional about your shot. The more you stop to study what’s around you, the more likely you are to take into account information that may improve your shot.
While it can be helpful to see the ball do what you want it to just before the shot, you may find it’s more helpful to spend some time visualizing when you’re away from the course. That rainy day that wipes out your chances of getting in a day of preparation before the weekend scramble? That may be a time to play your upcoming round in your mind.
While I’m not suggesting you spend time at work or school playing your favorite 18 in your mind instead of attending to what’s in front of you, I am suggesting that turning that daydream into something intentional is a steadfast way to improve your golf game.
Originally written for The Wisconsin Golf Academy's Forethoughts