There is a lot of talk about how athletes use visualization to enhance their performance. There are a lot of questions about what that really means and how to do it ourselves. Below I try to provide some insight on this issue:
The world’s best golfers visualize their shots and putts before executing them. The purpose of visualizing golf shots is three-fold. First, it helps you commit to a specific shot; not only a specific target, but a specific path to that target. Second, it provides your body with essential information about what you want to accomplish with the shot. Third, it builds confidence by providing a successful rehearsal of the shot.
Before you can successfully accomplish any goal, you first need to be clear about what it is. (The alternative is to mindlessly swing and hope for something good.) Visualizing your shot helps you commit to a specific goal, with a specific swing producing a specific flight path to a specific target. After successfully visualizing your shot, there should be no doubt about your goal. In fact, your mind is filled with information about what you want to accomplish; information that is critically important to all of the muscles that will be used to perform the shot. Muscles follow the instructions they receive from your mind. Mentally rehearsing a shot sends loads of information to your body; information that primes it to do what it about to be called on to do.
This point deserves further explanation: you can never describe in words everything that is entailed in a golf swing, let alone the entire golf shot. (Though we have all seen swings that appear to be so burdened by thought!) Yet, you can experience it, and thus, know it happens. It is this kind of experience that you want to create when preparing to hit a shot. While this can be broken up into thoughts, these are not words so much as bits of experience. Words do not truly express what you want to happen during a golf shot; “swing thoughts” signify a synthesis of kinesthetic and sensory information. You sense what it means rather than hear or see it.
Visualizing shots, thus, instructs and primes your body with kinesthetic ideas and sensations directly related to successful execution of the shot you are about to make. This is a wonderful springboard for confidence. Actively use the experience of seeing and feeling the shot happen to build confident about executing the shot. All of the important information has been sent to your body; it’s ready to perform. So don’t confuse things with mental chatter. Stay focused on your visualization: you just watched it happen, now you simply need to repeat it. It is as though it already happened and now you are simply re-enacting it. This will evoke your natural excitement and flood your body with positive energy. Pause a moment to feel its effect before you use it.
How much detail is too much? Everyone is different. Some people are naturally much better visualizers than others. Some tour players claim they simply cannot visualize their shots. Others, when they mentally rehearse a shot, say they feel the swing as though it is happening, almost like a hallucination; they feel the impact, launch angle, spin of the ball as it pierces the air… Find what works for you and practice it. Remember its purpose: shot selection, informing the mind and body, and confidence. The rest will follow.
Try this exercise to build visualization skills:
Before hitting a shot, imagine yourself standing where you want your ball to go. Familiarize yourself with the target. Imagine the ball flying in toward you. Where will it land? How will it react when it lands? Where will it come to rest? Now, bring yourself back to where the ball actually is, and imagine the whole shot, from set up to execution. Imagine what the swing felt like, including tempo, impact, and follow-through. Visualize the ball drawing a line in the air, landing, rolling, and stopping where you were previously standing in your imagination. Having “been there”, the target should seem very familiar to you. Now that you have the shot fully in mind, it’s a short step to believing that you will make it happen.