Almost everyone knows (or has heard) of a golf swing key. But are they really beneficial or just a mental band-aid at the time?
A while back I remember an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal by John Paul Newport called ‘The Keys to Swing Keys’. It discusses something every serious golfer has encountered; swing keys can be useful but they’re lucky to last even one round. So how do we get swing thoughts to work in our favor?
Nobody tames golf, you just ride the bucking bull for awhile knowing that sooner rather than later you’re going to be thrown. Good golfers are the ones that get right back on board without feeling bad about being slammed in the dirt.
Swing thoughts are usually an attempt to ‘fix’ what ails our game—to make us believe we won’t get thrown again. Often they’re not much more than superstitions, like the baseball player who adjusts his batting gloves after every pitch.
Most golfers have a swing thought in their mind when they start a round of golf—’keep the left arm straight, swing within myself, turn my back towards the target’ and so on. When our shots stop working we assume the current swing thought has lost its magic and, panicked, start to look for a replacement from our stock list.
Too often, swing thoughts spring from fear and are focused on a particular physical move. And that’s exactly why they don’t work for very long. There are no absolute physical moves. Golf, like all sports, is too complex for that approach to work.
A good swing uses thousands of muscles, indecipherable biochemistry and a mysterious connection between brain and body. How can a focus on one particular ‘move’ ever manage to tame something so complex?
The swing thoughts that do work are the ones that address your mental state, not golf mechanics. Focus on bringing the right energy to the game. A valuable swing thought is to ‘relax’ – as in focus on your body, identify tension and then work on letting it slip away.
Pretty simple, but it does work wonders. The key to success in most sports is removing tension. Physical prowess is more often determined by the ability to relax a muscle than contract it. The world’s fastest 100 meter sprinters have the fastest muscle relaxation times. Remove tension* and you’ll play better golf. Period.
Perhaps the most useful swing thought is learning to be in the moment, never forgetting how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to play this game. If you can do that, who’s better than you? After all, isn’t enjoying a round of golf what we all really want?
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* I realize that’s somewhat of a loaded question and we’ll be exploring it in depth in future posts.