How to Imagine Good Shots

How to Imagine Good Shots

by Bradley Turner Keiser University College of Golf and Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA

I was in my sophomore year at Bowling Green State University and was struggling a bit with my game. Back in 1981, we never knew exactly what was happening in the golf swing and depended on feedback from teammates and coaches for any help. I had never even seen my golf swing on video, neither had my coach since we didn’t have that technology available to us. The golf swing was a true mystery for all involved, so most golf coaches were focused on performance improvement instead of correcting any swing flaws.

As I continued to struggle, my college golf coach was the first person to ask me if I imagined a good golf shot before I hit the ball. My answer was simple, “I don’t think so. I never think about that.” My coach then explained the concept of visualization to me, and I remember vividly trying to visualize every shot for the first time. We were playing at Eastern Kentucky, and for some reason, I can still see myself on the second hole trying to visualize a good shot. That day was another learning experience; imagining a good golf shot was a bit harder than it sounded.


The ability to visualize is a skill that needs to be practiced and developed over time. Learning to shoot a basketball takes time and effort. Learning to understand and apply math problems takes time and effort. For some reason, many golfers believe that the skill of visualization should be relatively easy compared to Calculus or making a free throw under pressure.

The ability to concentrate and imagine a good golf shot is a mental skill that can take many years to hone to the point of competence under pressure. After my discussion with my golf coach, I began studying this idea of visualization. Jack Nicklaus was my golfing idol, and I began to read his books while studying in the college library. Studying golf was much more fun than Statistics. The following is a quote from Jack Nicklaus that is still difficult for me to understand.

“I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp, in-focus picture of it in my head. It’s like a color movie. First, I ‘see’ 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 this sort of fadeout, and the next scene shows me making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images to reality.”
Jack Nicklaus

Really? Is that possible? I have been working on this visualization thing for 40 years, and I still cannot visualize it like Jack Nicklaus. Ultimately the ability to imagine a good golf shot prepares the mind for performance. In Dr. T.J. Tomasi’s excellent book, “The 30-Second Golf Swing,” he writes, “you may not be comfortable trying to visualize the shot if your primary processing system is kinesthetic (feel) or auditory (hearing, rhythm, cadence). In this case, don’t force yourself to visualize. Instead, preview the shot with the sense that is most natural to you.”

Tiger Woods is a good example of someone that struggled with visualization and preferred to feel the shot in his body and hands. The great ones always seem to figure out the best way to mentally process an upcoming golf shot. Arnold Palmer summarized this individual approach when he said, “the secret of concentration is the secret of self-discovery. You reach inside yourself to discover your personal resources and what it takes to match them to the challenge.”

Commitment and Trust

Whether you clearly imagine a desired ball flight like Jack, or if you feel the desired ball flight like Tiger, the goal is for you to be committed to the shot at hand. The professional players we see every week on the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour have a mental assistant carrying their clubs around.

A caddy is a tremendous ally in building consensus and ultimately a commitment to the desired golf shot. The interaction between player and caddy is not just about the yardage to the hole. Some players may rely more on the caddy to help them see and feel the upcoming golf shot than other players. Most of us are flying solo on the links battling the course, the weather, our competition, and our own mental imagery challenges. It must be nice to have an assistant to keep you on track through the course of a round.

With clear commitment, the player increases the probability of executing a good golf swing. The ability to trust the execution through the impact zone is a barrier all players face at one point or another. Failure to clearly commit to a shot will create mixed brain signals to the golfer, resulting in poor execution. If you want to trust your golf swing, you must commit 100% to the shot you are about to hit.
Hoping to hit a good shot is not the same as believing you are going to hit a good shot.

Imagining – Where to Begin

Most amateur golfers are similar to me when I was in college, unaware of the imagery process of hitting a golf shot. As the golf skill of the golfer improves, so does the need to become more proficient in this process. For a beginner or higher handicap golfer, the idea of visualizing the desired golf shot does not make much sense.

Just as if I imagine dunking a basketball, it doesn’t matter how vivid the image, I do not have the ability to dunk the ball. Believing it is possible is a must, so I do not want less skilled players imagining a golf shot they are unable to hit. However, even a higher handicap golfer can begin to learn about this process, and we start with putting. This is the first mental imagery golf skill to develop, whether you are a beginner or an avid golf veteran.

The easier the actual physical skill, the more likely commitment can be established, and then the ability to execute with confidence. Begin with a short putt and use a chalk line or putting laser to illustrate the line the ball should be moving on a putt. The ideal putt to begin with is a short 5-foot putt with no break at all. It is easy to “imagine” a line when there is one right there on the putting green. This will give you the visual image prior to executing a putt. It is amazing how effective a chalk line can be in helping you to make more putts.

Trusting the image helps a player to trust their own putting stroke.

Next, extend the putt to about 20 feet with about a two- or three-foot break. Once again, use a chalk line and drop a line of only 5 feet in length, with the last 15 feet free of any chalk or laser beam. You will now have a good start to the image of the breaking putt, but you must fill in the missing pieces.

As the coach, I will sometimes help students with their imagery by placing a few tees on the inside of the break or ball line. The chalk line and tees create the image of the desired putt. With time and a bit of practice, even a beginner will start to “see” a breaking putt go in the hole!

The simple chip shot is the next step in building the imagery skill. Chipping requires additional steps in the imagery process and expands the mental choreography that golfers must embrace to perform to their potential. You must now add the short flight of the ball and the ideal landing spot to the mental process. Once you can see the trajectory of ball flight, determine an appropriate landing spot, the subsequent bounce and roll of the ball, you have the essence of the imagery process.

That is a lot to think about for a new golfer. It can be a lot to think about for an experienced golfer too! This process is the backbone of preparing a golfer to hit a golf shot and can then be incorporated into more complex golf shots, including the full swing. You now know how to imagine good golf shots.

In next week’s follow-up article, I will explain the Process Game that will help you to deliberately focus on the mental process of executing a golf shot.

If you’d like to study with Bradley Turner and other PGA Master Professionals, contact the College of Golf today.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Comments are moderated. If you don't see your comment, please be patient. Required fields are marked with *.