In the last few months Jason Day has soared to the top of the world rankings, and for anyone who has watched Jason, either up close or on TV you may have noticed one very distinct element of his pre shot routine that stands out from many other players. Just before Jason hits a shot, he will stand behind the ball, look at the hole, and close his eyes for a couple of seconds. To most golfers this may seem insignificant, however this is one of the most important aspects of Jason’s routine. As he closes his eyes he is picturing the shot he is about to play, almost as if he is looking into the future and visualizing a positive outcome.
This is something that stands out from the other players, not because they are not visualizing the shot, but simply because he makes it so obvious that he is visualizing it. As Jason closes his eyes he begins to remove himself from the situation and the people around him, he develops a clear focus about what he is about to do, and almost like putting your destination into a satellite navigation system in your car, he is deciding where he wants the ball to go, and how he wants it to get there. By visualizing the shot he is about to play, Jason is giving his brain a very clear image of the action he wants to perform and the desired outcome of that action.
This is most certainly not a new phenomenon by any means, and I could almost guarantee that almost every player on the PGA tour visualizes their shot to some extent before they hit it. There are many different ways to “see the shot” before you hit the shot. In Jason’s case when he closes his eyes he describes it almost as if he is looking at himself on TV, he will see his swing, the flight of the ball as it leaves the club, and he will follow it until the ball has landed. I have also heard other players describe it as looking at a ball flight on a launch monitor or a pro tracer, where they will see the ball flight like a line in the sky. None the less they are most certainly visualizing both the shot and the outcome they want to achieve. By visualizing the shot they are giving themselves confidence through positive reinforcement.
Jack Nicklaus said “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head.” Nicklaus has mentioned several times in interviews that visualization was one of the most important aspects to his success, “First I see the ball where I want it to finish, nice and white and sitting up high on the bright green grass. Then the scene quickly changes, and I see the ball going there: its path, trajectory, and shape, even its behavior on landing. Then there is a sort of fade-out, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality”
One of the most interesting things about how Jack describes his visualization is the detail and positivity that is associated with it. Notice how he describes the ball and the lie “nice and white and sitting up high on the green grass”, you can instantly see that the positive outlook on everything leading up to the shot id giving him confidence as he approaches the ball, while many others around him may see the negatives associated with the lie or the shot they might be faced with.
Although visualization is an exceptionally important part of the pre shot routine, its merits do not need to be limited solely to that. After Jordan Spieth won the Masters this year at Augusta, his coach and mentor Cameron McCormick spoke about an “image reel” they had created showing some of Jordan’s best shots that he could recall during play. Visualizing past experiences will not necessarily help his body move in the same way as those shots, however by thinking of those moments at certain times it will fill him with the confidence that he has the ability to play that given shot, and clear any doubts he may have over the shot.
Visualization is something that any player can work on and improve to help their golf game. A great starting point is trying to do it during practice. Hitting less golf balls with more focus on what you want to do with each one will help you incorporate visualization into your routine. Working on this in practice will help you transfer those skills to the golf course and give you the best opportunity to produce lower scores