Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Routine and Flow

I started golf aged 15, relatively late on for a professional. I was always very analytical (still am) and so would research for hours every day into technique from books, videos and internet articles in the hope of finding the secret. Whilst it led me down the path I am currently on with my career, it certainly caused problems on the golf course. I wouldn’t be able to put bad shots behind me, constantly tinkering with my swing trying to fix it on the course. This is, however, not the ideal way to go about creating consistency or a good golf game. I still fall back into this habit every now and again, if I am not playing often – but I have found that through a solid pre-shot routine, you can alleviate many of the symptoms associated with poor shots and inconsistencies.

Whilst there are many facets to a good routine (and I will write more articles on it in the future), one of the most important parts is to have a good flow to the routine. Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try saying that without swallowing your tongue) is one of the leading researchers on flow and optimal performance states; during my time in University, I learned a lot about his work. Then is clicked with me, one of my best ever rounds of golf previously had parallels with his research.

From the first tee I had a song stuck in my head, and as I walked from my position behind the ball, I started singing it, hitting the ball on a certain lyric. At first it was just something that was purely happening, but then I tried to consciously repeat this. it seemed to have both a calming effect, and got rid of my over analysis of my movement and also had the benefit of making me feel like I was in the 'Zone'. I'm not the only person to hae experienced this - read this article about a golfer shooting 16 under par with the same type of experience I had (I wish I had shot THAT low).

I finished that round with one of my best ever scores, but then quickly forgot about it; for some reason I didn’t make the link between this song and my exceptional performance that day. It wasn’t until I was researching more into flow states that this came back to me, and then I started experimenting more with this idea. I now feel it is one of the most important ideas contributing to the consistency of a player, and like to develop a solid routine based around flow and minimal conscious thought.

So how do we go about doing this? You could do exactly what I did – try and sing a song as you are walking towards the ball and hit on a certain lyric, then keep repeating it. Try to pick a song that has a similar tempo to your own swing – no dubstep please. Or you could just feel as if you are flowing towards the ball – perhaps imagining you’re floating towards it down a stream at a nice rhythm. Then continue this rhythm in your head, waiting long enough to get comfortable, but not so long that you start over-thinking. One of the biggest problems I see in golf if people spending way too long over the ball. I would rather most people just go as soon as they are balanced and set, as long as they are not rushing. There are certain exceptions to this.  

Another idea I like to see with players is constant movement during the routine. Good players never stop moving. They are constantly waggling back and forth, either with their club flowing back and forth or their weight shifting a little. We see this in many other sports too. Does a triple jumper just stand motionless before setting off to run down the lane? What does a high jumper do before they start running towards the bar? They arc their back and waggle back and forth as if they are visualizing and preparing for the task in hand. Watch a baseball player move the bat around in their hands and make subtle turning and swaying motions before the ball is fired at them. How about tennis? Ever see a player motionless before a serve, or are they bouncing the ball whilst shifting their weight to their front foot and back again? We understand and see this in many sports, yet how many weekend golfers do you see motionless over the golf ball, sometimes for 10’s of seconds at a time. How is it possible to make a flowing swing from a completely static position? There surely must be a correlation between a player’s movement pre shot and their handicap. 

Hogan demonstrating a waggle

One of the best drills to feel this flow state is to line up 10 balls in a line, and hit them one after the other. Try to create a rhythm going from one ball to the next, focusing on making it soother and smoother with every ball. This doesn’t only include the swing rhythm, but the movement from one ball to the next. When you hit ‘the zone’ it will feel as if you are not thinking – more that it is just happening and you are more of a passive viewer. This is in stark contrast to the usual person who stands over the ball trying to remember every single position and point in the golf swing they have ever learned.

So, in summary,
Always keep moving throughout the routine; never stay static at any point
Have a rhythm to the movement, including the walk into the ball
Spend less time over the ball than usual, just enough time to get comfortable
Try having a tune or song in your head that is close to your swing rhythm.
Try the 10 ball drill to get the feeling of flowing into the ball and hitting with minimal thought

Whilst I am sure there are certain exceptions to this rule, as there always is, there is definitely something about flow and rhythmical movement that helps calm the conscious mind and lets us enter 'the zone' more often. 


  1. Ha ha brilliant timing Adam. I literally just published my recent post, scrolled down to my blogroll and saw you just added this. The whole article is another great helpful reminder to me about not focusing on swing mechanics. If you read my post you'll see that I am currently comitting to ingraining my new swing patterns, this kind of focusing could really help with my process, Thanks.

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  3. really good stuff adam. i picked up the idea of singing or humming during a shot or putt when i read "choke" by sian beilock. great book with applications for golf instruction, imo. she mentioned some interesting studies that showed that when performing simple motor tasks, subjects benefitted by using techniques (singing, humming, counting down from 10) that helped occupy working memory.

    what's funny is when i do this on the course, people think i'm not concentrating. but the research is there.

    also she mentioned a study that showed the age at which training commences in golf plays a role in how the brain supports putting. skilled golfers who started playing after age 10 rely more on working memory during the execution of a simple putt than those who started earlier. this might apply to late starters such as yourself.

    keep up the great work.

    bryan bazilauskas