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Too many swing thoughts – What is the answer?

How do you think when you play your best golf? My guess is that you don’t have 92 swing thoughts in the 1.5 seconds it takes to complete your golf swing.

So why do we sometimes think so much about our golf swing?

In this article I’m not going to try to get you back to a Zen-like state and tell you the answer is to think about nothing. Some days this sense of ease is achievable, however on other days I feel you just have to find different ways to think in order to get the ball round the course.

I’m going to give you five pieces of advice that I have found useful. They aren’t magic bullets, but they are five different strategies that can really help when you start overthinking your golf swing – or any part of your golf game.

After that, I’ll cover some simple ways to practice and refine your swing without getting too technical.

Take the strategies below, try them out, and keep working on them to make them your own. They can all become useful tools to help you combat bad golf and overthinking.

Playing golf with no swing thoughts

# 1 You don’t need to ‘think‘ to swing a golf club

Our conscious mind is really stupid. Our subconscious is a quantum super-computer. The golf swing requires us to coordinate ~700 muscles across ~200 joints. We cannot control this at a conscious level.

When our conscious mind tries to control our golf swing it is the equivalent of jamming a spanner into a super-computer. From this perspective, we don’t really need swing thoughts as long as we keep our conscious mind out of the way.

You don’t really need a swing thought, let alone five.

Re-frame the concept of a ‘swing thought’ to keeping your conscious mind focused on something useful.

Key point – more swing thoughts are not better.

# 2 What is a swing thought

This leads nicely onto point two. In essence, a swing thought has one of three purposes.

  1. It can distract our conscious mind whilst our subconscious plays golf.
  2. It can raise our awareness of a certain movement we want to produce – more wrist hinge, a more balanced finish…and so on.
  3. It can guide where we focus our attention, to help our subconscious perform.

Lots of research suggests that when we think about our target, rather than our movements we tend to perform better, learn quicker, and retain more skill. However, this research is nearly always performed with complete beginners, click the link above to read more on this topic.

Thinking about hitting the golf ball to your target, and nothing else, is probably the most natural way you can play golf. This is how we naturally play most other target sports, such as tennis, throwing, catching and so.

Key point – If you ever get lost in a world of swing thoughts get back to focusing on hitting your golf ball to your target.

# 3 How do I make swing changes without overthinking?

Great point, swing thoughts are really useful for making changes and become a mental crutch when we go from the golf range to the golf course.

When things get too complex with swing changes I have the following solution – before every shot use one or two practice swings to turn your 2-3 technical thoughts into a swing a simple feeling. When you get over the golf ball just play golf by replicating this feeling rather than thinking too much – I love this approach.

Key point – turn multiple swing thoughts into one simple feeling.

# 4 Trying dialing up and down your swing thought

Somedays swing thoughts seem to ‘work’ other days they don’t and you can start searching for a new answer.

Before you add another 7 new swing thoughts to your game, try sticking with your original swing thought but dialing up and down the intensity. Some days our swing feeling needs to be a 3/10 to create a position. On other days it needs to feel like a 23/10 to create the same golf swing.

I wish I knew why this was the case, but take this concept and go play with it.

ps – elite players often make swing changes on the range and course with this ’23/10 approach’ whereas most amateurs are stuck not exaggerating movements enough.

Key point – try over or under-exaggerating your swing thought and note the effect.

# 5 Create golf shots, don’t make a golf swing

Golf is about hitting the ball to your target. We, as golfers, get far too focused on trying to make perfect golf swings. If you start overthinking the swing matrix, trying to hit very different shots from your normal shot shape (low ones, big draws, 50% shots) this can release your brain from trying to perfect your golf swing and get it focused on getting the ball to our target.

A quick story – I was playing a match-play game at Fulford GC, near York. I was 6 holes down through 9-holes and playing awfully. I couldn’t hit the ball straight – mainly big blocks right, hooks left, I felt like I’d never played golf before. On the 10th tee I decided I needed to just get the ball round, not fix my golf swing. My aim was to fade every shot (the opposite of my bad shot). I wasn’t going to get annoyed if I missed any shot right (push or over fade), but I wasn’t going to hit a single shot left for the next 9 holes. I ended up standing on the 18th tee 1 up, and 3-under for the past 8 holes. The stupid thing is, I doubt my golf swing looked any different to someone watching, but it felt like an alien motion.

Key point – Try to create golf shots and worry far less about your golf swing.

Our play and how we think are often a result of how we practice. With that in mind, I decided to update this article with a few additional steps you can use during practice to help you better manage your swing thoughts on the golf course.

Practicing golf with fewer swing thoughts

Most golfers do overthink the golf swing, but there are many times when you’ll play really well with swing thoughts. As we mentioned at the start the aim here isn’t to clear your mind, it is to learn where your focus, attention and feels need to be to perform at your best.

Most tour players have swing thoughts, but they are clear, well-practiced and consistent across practice and play.

Here are some practice tools to help you find your own optimum solution.

# 1 Use analogies

improve golf swing with analogy
Many top Pros use simple analogies to not get too technical when improving their golf swings.

Analogies involve using something you may already be familiar with, or a simple idea to change something far more complex and technical.

A simple example is telling a new golfer, who plays tennis, to hit a forehand topspin shot when trying to play a draw shot. This simple notion encourages all the components needed to hit a draw.

Golf insider geek: This analogy encourages the arm and body motion required to create an in-to-out swing path. Good Tennis players begin a forehand topspin shot with the racket pointing down toward the ground and maintain this throughout the shot – mirroring a closed club face. This is how a draw shot should be executed – with a club face closed to the swing path before impact. Not by wildly flipping your hands over through impact.

Asking a beginner golfer to hold the golf club in their right hand and imagine they were holding a hammer gives them a great analogy for a good right hand grip. Asking them to pick the club up and then hammer the golf ball into the ground gives them an idea for how to hinge their wrists during their backswing.

As you become a better golfer, analogies can still be useful. Many single-figure golfers make a great set up and backswing, but see their body action and club face control break down through impact.

If this sounds like you – imagine holding a bucket of water with both hands and try throwing the water at your target as you move through. You’ll find this analogy creates a great body motion through impact. It also prevents your wrists and the club face from rolling over (you’ll throw your water left of your target if you do).

The use of analogies can really help you make swing changes. They have also been shown to help you perform better under pressure. So they are highly useful when trying to take your improved golf swing onto the golf course.

Creating your own analogies

Analogies work when:

  1. They encourage the right action.
  2. They make sense to the individual using them.

You can, and should, create your own analogies as you make swing changes. Spend a little time to think what the swing changes feel like, then boil the complex changes down into one simple analogy – this is your swing thought.

# 2 Use a constraints-based approach

improve golf swing with constraints of a towel under your arms

Next up we have constraints-based approach to practice. Sorry for the geeky scientific term – I will explain it. However, using the term constraints will help you go read and learn a lot more if you so wish.

Essentially, a constraints-based approach suggests the golf swing you make is a result of three things interacting:

  1. Individual constraints (height, strength, previous experience)
  2. The task at hand (hitting a 7-iron, Driver, a short chip)
  3. The environment (playing surface (matt vs grass), lie of the golf ball, weather)

You will never have exactly the same set of constraints twice – hence why you will never exactly repeat the same golf swing twice. Adapting your practice constraints is a brilliant way to improve your golf swing without over-thinking your technique.

Below are some simple ideas for you.

Improve strike using constraints-based practice

There is plenty of technical information on how to strike your irons shots better for beginners, but thinking about the intricacies of your weight shift during your downswing is a terrible way to play golf.

Instead, read the information then go and put the ball in a bad lie. Or set yourself the task of seeing how low you can hit a mid-iron shot on the golf range.

Both of these simple constraints encourage you to shift your weight onto your front foot, keep your hands ahead of the club head at impact…and so on. Essentially all of this technical work can be changed by repeatedly practicing under certain constraints.

Golf insider geek: This approach is not new or magical thinking. John Jacobs famously ask beginners to hit a ball over a rope he hung 5 yards in front of them and 3 feet off the ground. The result – they all topped it along the floor. He then asked his students to hit the ball under the rope. They all hit down on their iron shots and hit brilliant iron shots over the rope – no 57-swing thoughts needed just one simple task during practice.

Swing path example

Placing a basket outside the golf ball is an excellent constraint to move from an out-to-in swing path to a more neutral one. Again this isn’t rocket science, but it is far easier than trying to manipulate your body and arm action during your downswing to create a more neutral swing path.

improve golf swing without getting too technical
This simple way to practice shows how an obstacle place in the right place can really encourage a swing path change.

If you’re a coach and want to know more about applying constraints check out the articles here.

# 3 Use ball flight to change your technique

Golf ball flights for hook

Last up, on how to improve your technique without getting too technical is to focus on your ball flight. In reality, this is still changing your task constraints, but it is so important I felt it deserves its own home.

Improving your golf swing is all about becoming better at golf. This means controlling and adapting your ball flight.

If you struggle with a slice. Find a great pro, get some simple coaching, then use it to go to the range and try to hit draw shots. Start off by just trying to get the ball moving left-to-right through the air. Don’t worry about the start or finish direction. Then add in the next step of trying to start the ball right of your target.

Just like the previous two other ideas in this article, this simple way of practicing will make the technical changes you need without overthinking the whole thing.

This approach works equally well if you struggle with a hook, pull, push… Just aim to create the opposing ball flight. Start big and bold, then slowly refine the feeling to get the ball back to your target.

Over-thinking golf summary

Unfortunately, overthinking golf is not one of those problems that will go away as you improve. If you are off a 36 handicap or a +4 handicap over-thinking will still occur when you’re playing. Your key aim is to find strategies to cope with it when it occurs and ensure you practice in an effective way.

I hope this article has given you a new perspective on golf swing thoughts and how to improve your performance on the golf course. If this has been handy, please do share with a golfing friend we’d love to reach and help as many golfers as we can.

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Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider

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Will Shaw, PhD, MSc, PGA Pro

Will is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

6 thoughts on “Too many swing thoughts – What is the answer?”

  1. Hi John, I’m the classic over thinker in golf . . . Sometimes I go out and play some really great golf and other times I have absolutely no idea at all. It usually occurs when I’m not playing too well and what worked yesterday just doesn’t work today so I start wondering and start googling to find an answer. I went to a golf shot and tried new clubs and always can’t seem to hit a good shot off artificial grass in the nets.

    Is there really a cure?

  2. New Zealand golf Nick Bayley (back in 1990s) taught using nursery rhymes for “swing thoughts” especially for putting to reduce active brain thoughts, develop rhythm, and let subconscious mind do its thing. He liked “Mary Had a Little Lamb swing”


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