Visualization

I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there; its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality. –Jack Nicklaus

Research from the world of neuroscience tells us that the same motor regions of the brain are active whether we are imagining, or visualizing, ourselves doing something versus actually doing it. Not surprisingly, visualization, or imagery training is a psychological skill employed by many of the top athletes in the world to help them play their best. Here is a great YouTube video of Jason Day describing how he uses visualization in his pre-shot routine.

In essence, by visualizing, or imagining, your shots before you hit them, you are giving yourself an opportunity to virtually practice hitting the shot before it even happens. By doing so, you allow yourself the opportunity to make any necessary corrections or adjustments while at the same time you are priming your mind and body to more effectively execute the shot you want to hit. 

As an aside, the terms “visualization” and “imagery” can be a bit misleading. Ideally, mental rehearsal should include both a mental and a physical component. In other words, when mentally rehearsing a behavior, it’s also crucial to physically rehearse the behavior as well. Essentially, your practice swing should mimic the shot that you have visualized. 

Consider the following questions, when you visualize your shots, try to be as descriptive and specific as you can focusing on the senses of sight, sound, and touch. What will the shot look like? How high will the ball fly? Will it fade, draw, or go straight? Where will the ball land? How will it roll out? How many times will it bounce? What will the shot sound like when it’s struck? Now add the physical rehearsal. Make a practice swing and try to feel the shot you envisioned. How will your body need to move to make the ball fly the way you imagined? Feel the rotation of your body, your arms, and your hands. Feel the tempo and balance that will be required. Do your best to try and make the practice swing as similar as possible to the shot you want to hit. 

You can decide on your own when to visualize, but like Jason Day, I would recommend making it a part of your pre-shot routine. Like any behavior, the more you practice visualization, the more proficient you will become at it, and the better you will play.