When most people have a pitch shot of say 60 yards, they take a look at the flag, make a couple of practice swings and hit the ball with the speed which feels instinctive.
This is probably the most natural way to play – after all, when throwing our car keys to someone we would also just look and throw. However, this is not the only way to play these shots – and I often find it is not the optimal way to play them.
When we first had our TrackMan unit at our facility, we set it up indoors initially. When we were practicing full shots, we were amazed at how accurate the system was regarding yardages. However, when we were hitting half shots/pitches, we were often amazed that we were unable to feel the yardage of these shots, often trying to hit the ball 60 yards and ending up hitting it 90 (which is not good for a professional golfer).
The system was highly accurate – but we hadn’t learned to hit yardages without the visual of the flag.
I trained on the system a lot, and did a lot of TrackMan Combine tests indoors. Through going through all the yardages between 60 and 100, I found something amazing happened. I was suddenly able to sense how hard to hit a shot based purely on the number desired.
With the visual stimulus taken away (by being indoors), I was unable to rely on that sense, and had to learn to develop an association between the word/number and the feel of the swing necessary to produce that shot.
My brain was linking the verbal command to the movement pattern.
I was now able to simply call out a number (say 70 yards) and instantly recall the feel of the swing. I no longer needed the visual stimulus to produce the correct yardage.
Best of both worlds
Being able to produce a yardage both instinctively through visual information and also through verbal commands gave me much better feel on the course, improving my ability to control distance.
Having both options available to me also gave me much more flexibility. So now, if I am on the course and I am between 60 and 100 yards away, I can decide to use visual or verbal commands, which gave me a conundrum – which one do I perform better with?
In my book, The Practice Manual – The Ultimate Guide for Golfers, one of the 5 phases of training I describe relates to maximizing performance short term (used for peaking for events).
In this phase, we A/B test certain variables (usually attentional variables) to see which ones offer the best performances. This is a highly individualized process, but often results in dramatic improvements in a player’s ability to score well and shave the last strokes off their game before tournament play.
Testing this process revealed to me that I perform better visually up to 60 yards, but then my performance dramatically improves using the verbal sense between 60 to 90 yards, before flipping back to visual being the dominant focus from 100 yards plus.
This allows me to create my own personal game-plan which I know offers me the best performance with what I have at the time (skill-sets, perceptions, technique etc.), and I do this for my players also. Just like a formula one car has to select the correct tires for a race based on the conditions, a player needs to be able to select which variables create the best results for them at any given time.
In The Practice Manual, I detail this process and much more.
This is not to say that there is one universal way which is better or worse – it’s simply that there are plenty of options available to us when creating distance control. Different thought patterns tend to create different result patterns, and we can use these patterns to find out our optimal mental strategies over each shot.
Ultimately, by practicing lots of different ways to achieve the same thing, we improve our ability across the board. But, more beneficially, we often stumble across something that really optimizes our performance. I use TrackMan to test and evaluate this, as the data provided is second to none.
To find out more about performance training, as well as other ways to improve your game, pick up a copy of The Practice Manual. The book is a best-seller on Amazon, achieving the number 1 spot in the USA, Canada, UK, France and Germany.