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Visualisation in golf

A complete guide to effective visualisation in golf

4 min read
  • Sport psychology

Visualisation is a process in which golfers use all their senses to create a mental image of what they want to achieve. For many golfers, visualisation is something they are often told to do – especially as this technique has been used by many of the golfing greats. But why should you visualise? And how can you do it more effectively?

Why is visualisation important?

Visualisation allows golfers to stay confident and focused by regulating any nerves or yips. Visualisation can also motivate golfers, by giving them a vision of what they want to achieve. Finally, whilst injuries can be frustrating, research has shown that simply visualising an action produces muscle patterns that are similar to those produced when the action is actually carried out. Therefore, whilst an injured golfer cannot practice their new swing, they can practice visualising it to make the execution easier when they are able to practice again.

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7 ways golfers can carry out visualisation effectively

1. Physical processes

Golfers are often taught to carry out visualisation when “lying or sitting comfortably”. However, carrying out visualisation under such conditions can be ineffective, as lying or sitting comfortably will relax the golfer and not offer the necessary arousal they need to perform well.

Instead, visualisation should be a physical process, where the golfer imagines the relevant physical characteristics. For example, golfers should try and carry out visualisation standing in the correct stance, wearing the same clothes that they would play in, or even holding a golf club.

2. Replicate the environment

Whilst it may be impossible to carry out visualisation on the actual competition course, golfers should try and carry out visualisation in an environment that is as similar as possible. However, this may require some innovation. For example, recent research found that golfers who visualised their bunker shots whilst stood in a tray of sand showed an enhanced execution of such shots on the golf course.

3. Specific tasks for you

When golfers carry out task visualisation, they need to try and be as realistic as possible to ensure their imagery is specific to their abilities and level of performance. In other words, golfers should avoid visualising a golf swing more advanced than theirs, or hitting a 400 yard drive similar to that of Dustin Johnson when they usually only hit around 200 yards off the tee. It is vital that what you visualise is specific to you.

4. Done in real time

Golfers should try to imagine the timing of the action they are visualising. As the timing of the golf swing is so key to hitting a good shot, it may be better for golfers to visualise their swing in ‘real time’. However, slow motion imagery can be useful if they want to focus on more specific movements and improve the phases of the swing that they find most difficult.

5. Updated learning

Golfers should be continuously reviewing and adapting their visualisations as they make improvements and develop. In other words, as a novice golfer progresses and perfects their golf swing for example, they should adapt their imagery to reflect these improvements. This is so that what they imagine is the same as what they are now able to produce.

6. Get emotional

The role of emotions in sport is often underestimated. Golfers should try and visualise the positive emotions they will experience when on the golf course as this will improve their performance. However, the golfer needs to ensure that they do not let any negative emotions creep into their visualisations. To find out more about how golfers can better manage their emotions, click here.

7. Keep perspective

How does the golfer visualise themselves playing? Whether the golfer sees themselves in the first person (through their own eyes) or in the third person (as if they are watching themselves on the TV) probably does not matter too much and is simply down to personal preference. It may be that the golfer uses a combination of the two: using the first-person perspective to mimic what they actually see when they are playing, and the third person perspective to analyse the different components of their golf swing.

Final thoughts

Visualisation is a complex process, containing many different aspects. Golfers need to try and carry out the process in a similar environment, imagine what emotions they will feel, and adapt their routine to their changing abilities.

Therefore, visualisation needs to be practiced. Golfers would never dream of entering a competition and trying a new swing for the first time – and visualisation should be treated in the same way. When the golfer enters a competition, they should be prepared so that they can use visualisation to maximise their performance when it matters most.

More resource about sport psychology for golf can be found on our handy guide page.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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