Learn to trust your instincts

By BETSY LAREY – Gazette Columnist

Have you ever gone to the range to warm up before a round and felt like you completely lost your swing? If you haven’t, you’re in the minority of all golfers. So what’s the first thing that enters your mind? What am I doing wrong and how can I fix it.

By and large, that’s the worst thing to plant in your brain before heading to the first tee. Why? Mechanical swing thoughts (more than one) make it very difficult to swing the club with any consistency whatsoever. Last week I talked about learning to be creative with your golf game. This means allowing the right hemisphere of your brain (the creative side) to be in control when you’re on the course.

The left hemisphere of your brain is the analytical side. When this side is in charge of your thoughts on the golf course, nothing instinctive happens during your golf swing. If you’ve got your "A" game going that day, you can probably get away with it. If you don’t, you will start making changes if and when you hit a poor shot. And as we all know, most of the time one poor shot can easily lead to another. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you are a "mechanics focused" player, and you are having problems with your swing, tension takes over. A successful golf swing is one that repeats, especially under pressure. And nothing sabotages a golf swing more successfully than tension, – those times when you grip the club too tightly or swing too fast or just get so angry you can’t think straight. Tension comes from fear, and fear comes from a lack of confidence and a loss of trust.

Learning to trust your instincts on the golf course will take time, practice and patience. It’s my number one goal this summer. Here are some things you can work on to help you accomplish this goal.

Work on becoming "target" focused. You can do this on the range, and also on the course. Once you’re set up over the ball, turn your head (just your head, not your body) and stare down the target for 3 to 5 seconds before you swing.

Swing with different tempo’s on the practice range. The simple fact is most men swing too fast. Every human being has, what I call, an innate tempo. Practice swinging with 60, 70, 80 and 90 percent of your maximum swing speed. I guarantee you will find one that works best for you.

Put away the range finder and learn to "eye down" your distances as you get closer to the green. You’d be amazed at how well this will help your wedge game. I believe it is easier to "feel" a 60-yard sand wedge instead of the Dave Pelz "4 o’clock to 8 o’clock" mechanical method.

When you practice putting, start by throwing the ball underhand across the green. The goal is to learn what it feels like to release the ball. Next, putt with just your right hand. Sense what it feels like. Then putt with just your left hand. When you putt with both, try to relax the dominate arm. Putt with your eyes closed. The idea is to develop a smooth stroke. If you feel like your stroke is jerky, count "one two" on your backswing and "one two" and your forward swing.

Putt a nine-hole match with a friend without any routine or reading the putts. Just putt and totally trust your feel. If you played as a child, you probably did this all the time. You’ll see how this helps train your mind to imagine different kinds of shots.

These exercises are designed to make you feel the game. Next week I’ll write about more ways to cultivate creativity on the golf course.

Betsy Larey is an LPGA Teaching Professional who enjoys writing, researching and playing golf. You can reach her directly at [email protected] or call 651-470-2297.