Mental Skills Training (MST) Will Help Your Golf Game

by TJ Tomasi, Keiser University College of Golf Senior Faculty and Director of Research

TJ Tomasi

Maya Hohmann and Terry Orlick, University of Ottawa, interviewed fifteen elite Canadian pilots at a Royal Canadian Air Force base in Canada.

‘All 15 participants described the use of mental imagery, or ‘chair flying,’ as part of their preparation for flight’ report the authors.

As the name implies, the technique involved a pilot sitting undisturbed in a chair in a relaxed circumstance while mentally rehearsing the impending mission.

Using mental imagery in training for high-value skills is not limited to flying war planes, and research has repeatedly demonstrated that psychological or Mental Skills Training (MST) can increase sport performance.

For example, Shaq O’Neill described his teammate Kobe Bryant’s use of Dynamic Imagery (DI) where he practiced using his mind’s eye coupled with actual movements: ‘You’d walk in there and he’d be cutting and grunting and motioning like he was dribbling and shooting — except there was no ball.’

Kobe also watched film of himself at halftime, and then in the locker room, he used DI to correct any errors.

Other champions like Ben Hogan and Bobby Orr used DI as well. In firearms training, it’s called dry-fire, where you mock the entire process of firing a weapon, including aiming and pulling the trigger.

This kind of imagery will not surprise those who remember Ben Hogan who played every shot in his mind both before and after the actual round.

Legend has it that when a reporter asked Hogan if he was making any special adjustments for the 1950 US Open at Merion Golf Club, Hogan said he was taking his seven-iron out of his bag.

When the reporter asked why, Hogan replied, ‘because there are no seven iron shots at Merion.’ On mangled legs courtesy of a Greyhound bus accident, Hogan limped through an 18 hole 3-way playoff to grind out the win.

Now a group of neuroscientists from two universities, the University of Rome Tor Vergata, and La Sapienza in Italy, have shown that by using DI, the brain is able to invent creative solutions in order to perform novel responses to a changing playing field.

Perhaps this is why true champions under challenging circumstances, rise to the occasion – they have trained themselves to incorporate information coming in from the new situation into already stored profiles by using imagery as they play.

For example, Jack Nicklaus made a mental movie of every shot before he hit it – a sort of mental pre-play.

And what of using imagery for your golf exercise? You’ve probably already bought into the idea that a fit swing is based on a fit body.

But what can you do if you are one of those golfers who hate exercising so much – you ask ‘isn’t there an easier way, like a pill or something?’

Well, there are rumors of an exercise pill on the scientific horizon, but there’s something even better – if you do it correctly, all you have to do is think about exercising to become more fit!

Researcher Dr. Michael Mosley and his team put to the test some research from the field of neuroscience that suggests that just imagining yourself doing exercise could actually make your muscles stronger. ‘It’s an extraordinary result,’ says Dr. Mosley.

‘The measurements showed that muscles didn’t grow bigger; our volunteers had simply gone from using 50 percent of their muscle fibers to using 70 percent.

They didn’t grow more muscle, but they were much better at using the muscle they had.’

It’s been known for a long time that you can teach a muscle to respond to a movement by rehearsing it in your mind – I’ve explained it to my students as follows: The Central Nervous System (your brain and spinal cord) can’t tell the difference between a perfectly imagined experience and a real one.

The golf swing you want has a sequence and a time requirement that can be duplicated in your mind. Sitting in a chair you can pantomime your action, simulating the firing patterns of the muscles you want to train.

Here is how I recommend you develop your motor imagery activation program:

1) Find a quiet, low light place and use ear plugs

2) Sit comfortably.

3) Close your eyes and breathe deeply until you’re relaxed.

4) Begin your workout program in your mind, flexing for a few seconds then relaxing the muscles you want to train.

5) Do three sets of 10 reps of the exercises you have chosen to increase your golf skill.

6) The more you perform your Motor Imagery Activation (MIA), the better.

If you enjoyed this golf tip, here’s how you can get even more. Contact Keiser University College of Golf about a golf management degree.