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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Raymond Floyd on Feeling the Target

With all the talk about mental mistakes at the LPGA and PGA Tour events on Friday, I thought it might be worthwhile to look at what Raymond Floyd had to say about the mental game. In his book The Elements of Scoring he has an entire chapter called Let Your Mind Feel the Target that deals with this topic.

Obviously I can't quote an entire chapter! But there are a couple of things he says that I think you could use immediately in your own golf games.

To begin with, he says that we may have the wrong idea about what it means to "play with feel." While it does involve what you feel with your hands to some degree, Floyd says he thinks you use your eyes to play with feel. Things like recognizing shot shapes, improvising swings in tough situations, and such are based on things you see, not things you can touch. He believes this is why so many pros have begun using mental coaches —you need to get out of your own way and give your mind more freedom, more trust to make the right decisions.

Then he says this about what we commonly call "target golf":
As a scorer, your goal on the course should be to just play golf. Even though golf is a slow game that allows plenty of time to think, from the moment you begin your pre-shot routine, you want a clear mind that is thinking only of the simple task at hand, which is to hit the ball to the target. In this state, the body is relaxed, and the focus is strictly on where — not how — you want to hit the ball. Imagine a very hungry caveman throwing a spear at his prey. I seriously doubt he had any thoughts about his release point or how high to carry his right elbow. I'll bet he was thinking


about precisely where he had to throw that spear. If he wasn't "out of his own way," he didn't eat.

I'm not saying golf should be played with a blank mind. Far from it. But rather than having many scattered thoughts, you should have one very focused one. A scorer has control of what he chooses to think of on the golf course. He knows that to a large extent, he is only as good as his thoughts. [p141-142]
Note what he says: "I'm not saying golf should be played with a blank mind. Far from it." Clearing your mind isn't about playing thoughtless golf. But instead of filling your mind with lots and lots of words about how you should do this and how you should do that, you want to fill your mind with a clear picture of what you're trying to do.

And I'm not even sure he's talking about visualization here. I haven't thrown any spears that I can remember, but I have thrown baseballs and discs and hit a few tennis shots and made a few free throws on a basketball court. I can't say that I actually visualize those actions. Rather, I identify my target and anything that might be in the way that I have to avoid, and then I just think about hitting my target. There must be some visualizing in there — I'm seeing things I have to avoid, after all — but it's not a conscious act. I just notice them.

I suspect that's part of why so many of us have trouble with target golf. We try to see lines curving through the sky and other things like that. But that may have the same effect as too many words. Perhaps we just need to "see and do." That certainly sounds like what Floyd is suggesting.

Here's an idea: Next time you need to play a shot — say, a low shot — just try swinging the club at an imaginary ball and imagine the ball coming off the face low when you swing. I bet your hands and arms will adjust to create the shot. If you then try to duplicate that shot without an undue amount of thought, you might pull it off. Maybe not the first time, because learning to play by feel comes from practice. But you might be more successful than you expect.

No lines curving through space, no elaborate body positioning. Just pretend you're Bubba. Playing that game on the range might teach you some new things about shotmaking.

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