|All motion originates in the mind, yet golfers rarely analyse the quality of their swing by the quality of the gap (the moment of non-action) before the swing begins.
Jayne Storey, Founder of chi-power GOLF, outlines her experience of helping golfers attain the satisfaction of a well-struck golf shot and offers her view on the key elements of hitting it pure, explaining how to achieve this goal time and again.
All motion originates in the mind, yet golfers rarely analyse the quality of their swing by the quality of the gap (the moment of non-action) before the swing begins.
When you review a game you’ve recently played or you listen to commentary on television about a tournament, it’s mostly a reflection on or analysis about swing technique or the putting stroke.
However, certain clues exist to let us know how important it is that things feel right in the gap before the motion, for instance, a commentator remarking that a player “didn’t look comfortable” over her putt.
Further exploration of the gap or pause before motion, helps us understand how a player – you, for example - can be technically excellent and have a flawless swing on the driving range, and yet when it comes to recreating that swing under the pressure of contention, things don’t always go to plan.
On the surface, it might seem as if your swing technique has broken down, i.e. that the moving parts of your body have come out of sequence because your head moved, you haven’t rotated properly or fully, shortened your backswing and so forth.
However, if you look deeper, you’ll be aware that the mental processes that occurred before the pure shot and again before the clumsy shot were markedly different.
So what is it about the gap, the pause, the ready-position that’s so important, and how can you use it to your best advantage?
First examine the experience of the perfect shot more closely.
All the golfers who describe their experience of hitting it pure recall similar outlooks such as being relaxed, not trying too hard, not thinking of anything in particular, increased confidence levels, having plenty of time and enjoying a sense of effortlessness.
Not a single golfer, when relaying their experience of the perfect shot, mentions swing mechanics or their focus on or thoughts about technique – they only remember the feelings of effortlessness, confidence, and having a mind free of mental interference. It’s interesting too that golf’s elite as well as the recreational golfer who plays 18 holes every Sunday morning reports exactly the same thing.
Bobby Jones once said that when he played good golf he thought very little, but that when he played exceptional golf he didn’t think at all. This comment parallels those of champion athletes from golf, tennis, athletics and other sports about their experience of “silence” before beginning a sequence of motion.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, the more you try to execute the perfect swing or putt, the less able your body is to produce a fluid motion. The science behind this is simple. When you over-think, the brain’s pre-frontal cortex captures and analyses your intention, interrupting the flow of time by holding up the signals to your motor-system, disrupting the chain reaction of muscles which need to fire in the correct sequence, thus rendering your movement imperfect.
The traditional way of sorting out the problem
The traditional way of tackling the issue of poor performance is perhaps to learn more about the technique of the swing, changing your approach or method altogether through instruction, or trying to understand more about swing mechanics. This would seem the obvious way to go about correcting your swing, which, after all, is a linked series of actions or movements which have somehow or other broken down. Maybe it’s not?
Changing your perspective
When you understand how the mind~body connection actually works and that the quality of motion begins with the quality of the stillness experienced before you take the shot, you will then be on track to reproducing a fluid, powerful and effortless swing every time.
It is more than just a pre-shot routine; it is a method of finding ‘the zone’ before taking your swing, and then staying in it. If you get your mind-set right before you start moving, the body will respond accordingly.
Fig 1. Improving your swing can be as simple as changing your perspective.
As the image illustrates, it’s all about where you choose to look.
The mainstream approach to the mental game can sometimes be counter-productive if it includes the re-framing of thoughts or positive internal dialogue, as research now shows that the quieter the mind is, the more able the body is to produce a fluid and powerful motion.
There are so many processes occurring in the brain, mind and nervous system during your swing that once you start thinking, the less able your body is to move smoothly, efficiently and with power.
Mind the Gap
Training yourself to think as little as possible really is the key to peak performance. Keeping your mind quiet, for instance by focusing on your breathing, helps you to use the ‘gap’ to activate the zone and experience fluid motion as a result.
The zone and fluid motion:
- Time seems to slow down as if you have all the time in the world to make your shot
- Thoughts become quiet and are in the background, so that you’re not thinking about what you’re going to do nor analysing the results
- The motion is fluid and feels effortless
Conversely, when your mind is busy and you’re talking to yourself about your swing technique or your performance, your brain starts interfering with the signals to your motor-system, causing a slight delay (10ths or 100ths of a second) which cancels out fluidity and effortlessness and makes the movement inept and awkward.
Where is the blueprint for this “in the zone” ability? Think of the Eastern approach, (commonly known as Zen) in which practitioners exhibit a quality of mindfulness before the sword or the bow and arrow is drawn.
Now imagine a more Zen approach to your own golf, not as a philosophy but as a series of actions you perform before you swing, to get yourself centred, quieten your mind and relax your body – just as the sword or archery expert pauses to gather mind and body before action.
Playing in the Now
“One hole at a time, one shot at a time, one breath at a time” is a mantra I share with golfers to emphasise the importance of being “in the now” - retaining the attitude of quiet concentration and a neutral emotional state.
Psychologists have identified the “now” experience as being approximately 12 seconds long; 12 seconds in which you can focus completely on the present, giving your undivided attention to the task in hand. 10 seconds to bring mind and body together at address and 2 seconds to execute the perfect swing.
12 Seconds of Zen
Practice on the range to get your timing right and develop a more seamless transition between stillness and motion.
At address, allow yourself 10 seconds to prepare for the shot and 2 seconds to swing using the following actions to achieve a state of relaxed yet alert readiness.
Relax your chest, direct your awareness to your chi-core/navel area (your centre of gravity) and sink your weight into your footprints. Each of these subtle, internal actions is performed sequentially with the aid of a few deep breaths. Note that as you focus on your body and breathing, your internal dialogue ceases and your mind becomes quiet as a result.
You can enhance your Zen approach with the following Tai Chi principle which uses breath control to develop power. In order to deliver at least 20% more energy through the target, i.e. the ball, simply inhale as you take the club away slowly, then breathe out as you hit down from the top and through the ball.
If you can discipline your mind and body to master the 12 second gap before each swing or putt, you’ll play a more consistent game and deliver more superior golf shots.