Conscious Vs. Unconscious Golf Swings

By Mike Southern
When Tiger Woods is most dominant, he's focused on where the ball is going, not what his swing looks like.
When Tiger Woods is most dominant, he's focused on where the ball is going, not what his swing looks like.

It's an odd concept. You have to step up and address the ball with the intention of hitting it, then choose to swing the club and strike the ball. Surely all golf swings are conscious physical acts, not movements that happen without thoughts guiding them. Golf swings don't "just happen" when you least expect it. But lack of thought isn't what differentiates a conscious golf swing from an unconscious one. Rather, it's a difference in how you choose to focus your thoughts.

Not Mechanics

The pros realize that it's too easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the swing. When asked what makes the difference between a run of great golf and poor play, Tiger Woods said: "Just understanding how to play the game. It's not so much the physical part. It's about playing the golf ball. I was lucky that my dad always stressed to me that golf is not about how far you hit it, but where you want the ball to go." An over-emphasis on mechanics results in a conscious approach.

Conscious = Position

The way you understand your golf swing is the root difference between conscious and unconscious golf. Conscious players are consumed with the minutiae of the swing. Their thinking is geared toward hitting the correct positions at the correct moment, imagining how their swings look to others, and a dozen "I must" thoughts. Conscious golfers struggle to control every aspect of their swings, with nothing left to chance. Everything must be perfect. In conscious golf, a swing is a series of perfectly executed positions – an end in itself.

Unconscious = Target

By contrast, an unconscious golfer cares little about how his swing looks. His thoughts, rather than being about the swing, are about the target. He visualizes the path that the ball should take to reach the target – its trajectory and shot shape – then swings with the intention of getting the ball to behave that way. He focuses on his goal – where he wants the ball to go, as Tiger put it – with relatively little concern for how he creates that ball flight. In unconscious golf, a swing is how you move the ball toward the hole … and a score. This alternative focus makes all the difference in the world. An unconscious golfer may have a quirky swing, but he knows where to find the ball. The swing is just the means to an end.

Letting Go

Perhaps Darren Clarke summed it up best when he described his winning play at the 2011 British Open Championship: "For ages now I've been working on technique, technique, technique, technique. Now I've decided just to hit the bloody ball and let it happen. And it seems to be working." Unconscious golf does require a certain amount of proper mechanics. But a conscious golfer merely focuses on creating dozens of individual club positions; that's her goal. Ultimately, an unconscious golfer plays with much less anxiety because she just lets go and makes one smooth motion with the goal of scoring.

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