Body Magic II

In response to Monday’s post, “Fearing The Unknown,” about Graeme McDowell’s game coming off the rails in the final round of The Players Championship, a reader wrote:

So, what’s the average guy or gal to do to overcome this? This is what Bob Rotella is all about and I’ve seen this work on low single digit players to the 20’s folks. Trust your swing no matter what it is: the [do-or-die] tee shot on [a really challenging hole] is no time for swing thoughts. Of course, this is easier said than done.

McDowell was cruising along in the final round, having just made a birdie on 5.

The reader is right, of course, trust your swing no matter what. The worst thing to be doing in such a circumstance is to be thinking about your swing as McDowell was rudely reminded:

And I stand up on 6 and adjust [my swing], make a negative swing and hit it in the right trees there.

He hit it into the trees because he began first by trying to “adjust” his swing rather than by affirming his swing. It’s possible to adjust a previous bad swing, of course, but it has to be done with his attention specifically on the adjustment before he was in his pre-shot routine. Make the adjustment, confirm the adjustment, and then begin the pre-shot routine with the adjusted swing. If he’s making the adjustment during the pre-shot routine, his attention is on his swing and not of the shot he’s trying to hit. You have to be holding the shot in your mind’s eye during the swing, not the swing itself.

McDowell also said that he made a “negative swing.” What he meant by that is that he was thinking about what he didn’t want to do, “Don’t hit it left into the water!” rather than what he “affirmatively” wanted to do, “Hit it at the edge of the fronds on the right side of the third palm tree to end up in the right center of the fairway.” Sounds too detailed, but it’s not that pedantic in the moment: you simply look at a very specific target as you’re shaping the shot in your mind’s eye. Nick Price once described a tee shot he was hitting at a rake out by a fairway bunker. He said he wasn’t just aiming at the rake hundreds of yards away, he was aiming at a missing tine on the rake.

All of this, of course, presupposes some level of consistent practice on the range. Here’s what I said about this in “Body Magic,” hence the title of this post, “Body Magic II:

…When you first try to get your mind on the shot and not the swing, the body may recoil in distrust. You may find that you’ll initially have a lot of mishit shots. It’s a good reason to practice this on the range and not the course until your body learns to trust that it can just let go. Switch targets frequently so that your mind stays engaged.

This is very subtle stuff. You have to really pay attention. You may start out with your mind on the shot, but in your follow-through pose, realize that you ended up thinking about your swing anyway. So it will take as many reps at this as it does when you’re working on your swing mechanics.

It would help to begin small on, say, 30 or 40 yard pitch shots. Imagine the trajectory and carry of the shot and see if you can hold that in your mind as you make that little swing. Since that “little swing” is a microcosm of the “big swing,” gradually work your way up to full-speed swings…and then take it to the course. It takes trust and it takes awareness of where your mind is through the swing. This is why Tour players sometimes come off the course mentally exhausted from trying to stay so focused for an entire round. This is what they’re “doing.”

I highly recommend re-reading that whole post because not only is there more nuance and subtlety than in just these three paragraphs, there is also the pre-shot routine of PGA Tour player, Dustin Johnson. His routine was not only the impetus for that post, it was also the affirmation of its ideas.

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