Greg Norman, 53, credited his imagination for his success at last week’s British Open: “It's like seeing shots I hit today from 120 yards with a 5-iron. I didn't even -- the yardage was mentioned to me, but I didn't even pay attention to the yardage. I already saw the shot, I knew that was the shot I had to play to get the ball close to the hole, and I did that probably three or four, maybe five times today.” It's great for Norman and other Tour pros to talk about imagination, but what if you've never hit a low running five iron from 120 yards? How does the average player use imagery?
The central nervous system can’t tell the difference between a perfectly imagined experienced and a real one. If your brain waves were measured at the point of perfect imaging they would show that you are having a multi-sensorial, flawlessly imagined illusion. This has been documented many times in the laboratory, so if you perfectly imagine the drive you want to hit or the soft pitch to a tight pin, it will “fool” your brain into thinking that you’d actually done it –- “been there done that” without ever being there or doing that.
Eastern European coaches pioneered the technique of training their athletes to imagine their performance before their competitions just as Norman does. For example, a slalom skier using creative imaging would ski the course in his mind. Using electrodes attached to the surface of his skin, muscular contractions were recorded. The results showed that the athlete was using 90 percent of the muscles in his perfectly imagined ski run that he would have used if he had been skiing for real. In effect, the central nervous system could not tell the difference between the real and the perfectly imagined.
How do you perfectly imagine something you’ve never done? You must do two things: 1) Create a multi-sensorial image of the event, one where you see it, feel it and hear it; and 2) You must do this in a mental state of relaxation which you can practice about 20 minutes each day until it becomes a skill.
Becoming a better golfer using just your mind? Imagine that.