“If little else, the brain is an educational toy. The problem with possessing such an engaging toy is that other people want to play with it, too. Sometimes they’d rather play with yours than theirs. Or they object if you play with yours in a different manner from the way they play with theirs.” Tom Robbins Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
What exactly is imagery? Imagery is the internal, non-verbal processing of sensory perceptions which may or may not be externally stimulated. The processing includes all sensory modalities such as visual, kinesthetic, auditory olfactory and taste. When we hit that perfect shot on the course, it is a sensory rich athletic experience. Believe it or not, just before you hit that “perfect” shot, you had an image of the shot. It may have been at deep level, below your conscious awareness, but make no mistake about it, that image was there.
It takes brains to play golf. One of the best things, in my opinion, that our brains can do is create rich, vivid and deep imagery. The crown royale of imagery is called Eidetic Imagery, more on that later.
Imagery is one of the most valuable skills a golfer of any level can possess. This skill is so powerful that it can work for you or against you. The good news is you have 100% control of your own images. However, as the quote above states, sometimes your playing partners want to play with your brain and try to create images for you. They will say things like “that pond we have to hit over looks like Lake Superior”, “The O.B. right on this hole is a magnet for my ball”, “I just hit a worm burner”, or “that downhill right to left 4 foot slider is a knee-knocker”. What kind of images did you create reading those typical things a golfer says? Could you imagine a giant magnet like something from a 1970’s Sci-Fi movie hovering above the earth imparting its magnetic force on your Titleist to pull it Out of Bounds? Depending on how skilled you are at playing with your own images, these culturally accepted cliché’s in golf are more than just words. They provoke images at even a low level image state which produces a corresponding physical response. In this case with the “magnet”, you come over the top with clubface a little open, and sure enough that magnet pulls your ball out of bounds, just like your player partner.
The trick with imagery is to practice creating images on the golf course that work in your favor. You get what you think. If you think of the water hazard as you get to the top of your swing, and then you proceed to chunk it in the water, was it really a bad shot? Or did you perfectly execute the image you were holding in your brain? One example of a player using creative imagery to his advantage is PGA Tour Player Peter Jacobsen. He would imagine that he had shrunk himself small enough to ride on his putter just behind the aim line. He imagined “little Peter” hovering just over the top line looking down the putter face toward the hole on the green. (think “Killroy was here”… google it…). This image helped Peter to “see” the putter face square at impact relative to the target line. This rich and vivid imagery helped him make a lot of putts and earn back to back wins on the PGA Tour.
You can develop your own rich imagery by simply practicing and playing with images that are engaging to you. For example, on the driving range when hitting a driver, you can imagine the ball flight taking off like an F-16 and soaring to its apex leaving a vapor trail (like a shot tracer). Take the imagery deeper, what color was the vapor trail? Was the trail wide or narrow? Could you feel the vibration from the jet engines? Did the F-16 have any sounds? You can practice the “stinger” shot by imagining your ball breaking through a big glass window that is 10 feet in front of you with the impact on the glass toward the lower part of the window frame. What was the volume as the ball broke through the glass? How did the glass disperse, large pieces or small pieces? You are in complete control of the imagery. Make it multi-sensory, rich, vivid and engaging.
As you really get into the imagery, and play with your own brain, you will begin to direct your physical body to create these desired shots. Always remember that great golf shots are a multi-sensory athletic experience that you create. Attach your imagery to the experience of the ball behaving in complete compliance with your images.
I have my team practice a form of imagery five times a week called guided imagery. The consistent practice of creating imagery, whether directly related to golf shots or not, is a skill that will give our players an edge, especially in creating strategies for challenging golf holes, golf shots or recovery shots.
As you practice and develop your own imagery, you will undoubtedly have moments of “eidetic imagery”. This is what we call a Zone Experience. This is the unique experience of Peak Performance that defies reality yet is emphatically real. Whether it’s an entire round, a stretch of holes, or just one shot, it is within us to create those experiences through our imagery. After all, images are M.E. (mentally engaged).
inspiration for this article: Five Days to Golfing Excellence by Charles N Hogan