The benefits of

thinking clearly

Psychological Skills
20/05/2019

To better understand the benefits to thinking clearly, Think Clearly Golf has teamed up with Tom Davies, a PGA Advanced Professional, coach educator and researcher. Tom holds a masters degree in Sports Coaching and PhD in Sport Psychology and has kindly offered some insight into his research, and suggests different ways you can think clearly more often.

The benefits of thinking clearly. Thinking clearly before shots leads to better shot outcomes and better performance. Sounds pretty obvious, right?

However, in both my research and coaching experience how players think before each shot represents a clear area for improvement for many golfers. The way that a player thinks can positively influence their scores, without the need to make changes to their golf swing. Furthermore, a clearer and more structured approach to thinking (before shots) has been shown to be a differentiator of both player ability and shot outcome i.e. better players display clearer, more structured thinking more often than less skilled golfers, and better shot outcomes are associated with better pre-shot thinking (Davies, 2016; Davies, Collins, & Cruickshank, 2017).

Learning from the Pro’s. If you have ever been to a professional golf tournament in person or pay close attention to player-caddie interactions when watching golf on the TV you would notice the amount of planning that goes in to most shots.

In my experience most amateur golfers are a long way from applying anything like this level of consideration to their shots. I think this is one reason why many golfers struggle when playing on a course they are not familiar with. Most club golfers are used to playing the same course for nearly every round they play, a lot of the decisions made during the round are made on autopilot based on years of experience of playing that course. When these players go to a new course they do not have the same amount of course knowledge to draw upon and thus they struggle to make effective decisions ending up with poor shot outcomes due to poor decisions rather than hitting bad shots.

What does the research say? If you are a golfer reading this and the points above resonate with you how do you improve your on-course decision making for better shots? Based on my research and 10 years of coaching experience I suggest a 4 phase cycle for each shot you hit:

  1. Plan
  2. Prime
  3. Perform
  4. (Post)

To provide you with some clear action points from this article, I will address the key elements of the planning phase to give you some workable advice to take away and apply to your own game.

Bring your attention back to golf. I am a big fan of ‘zoning out’ in between shots and trying not to think of the round in progress. This helps to avoid mental burnout during the round and stops you ruminating over shots that have been played or potential future outcomes. However, at some point your attention needs to be brought back to your next shot. A useful time to do this is when you break away from your playing partners and start to get a clear view of your ball and the shot you need to hit. At this point you need to be in your own ‘shot bubble’.

Collecting and processing shot information. After you have entered your shot bubble you need to start collecting and processing relevant shot information. This can start on the walk up to your ball by asking some key questions. Where is the pin position? What direction and strength is the wind? How is the ball lying? This not only speeds up the game but also buys you some extra planning time.

Consideration (and adaptation) of course strategy. Good players spend a lot of time before tournaments planning a course strategy. However, despite our best intentions things rarely go to plan due to changing conditions or poor shots. In this stage the shot needs to be considered against the current situation and any pre-tournament planning. A key questions that needs to be addressed here is: What target and shot gives me the best chance of success in this scenario?

The DECADE course management system offers some excellent free guidance on how to plan a course strategy and then use this during a round. I would highly recommend players of any level check this out.

Committing to a decision. The final and most important part of the planning process is to finish having committed to a clear decision for your shot. This is important as it will influence how you think and act in the prime and perform stages. After making a decision it is useful to use a cue such as a decision line (advocated in Vision54) to demarcate the planning and priming processes. Once you step over that line you are going to be 100% committed to the well-considered decision you have made.

About Tom. Tom Davies is a PGA Advanced Professional, coach educator and researcher. With a masters degree in Sports Coaching and PhD in Sport Psychology Tom has previously been a Senior Lecturer in Golf Coaching and Performance and now runs his own golf coaching business in Bratislava, Slovakia.

For any questions about this article, to learn more about his research (including the further steps) you can contact Tom on e-mail via performancegolfsk@gmail.com or follow him on Instagram @performancegolfsk