In Sport Psychology with Dr. Teri Aguiar, we were discussing the 6th and final weapon we can use to improve our golf games: imagery, also known as visualization. Visualization is defined as creating or re-creating an experience in the mind, and there’s plenty of scientific research in the psych world that suggests visualization enhances athletes’ thoughts and emotions because it orders them.
While it doesn’t work for everyone, the greater an athlete’s skill, the more effective visualization will be. It’s certainly worked for golfer Jason Day. The 28-year-old Australian recently won back-to-back PGA Tour events and has been victorious in six of his last 13 tournaments dating back to the PGA Championship in August.
Day didn’t reclaim his No. 1 world ranking on skill alone. As you’ve probably seen in pictures or on the television coverage, he utilizes visualization before almost each and every shot.
The Mental Game Techniques That Helped Jason Day Win the PGA Championship
By David MacKenzie
The Making of a Major Champion
“A lot of peole would be saying that I couldn’t finish. You get to a breaking point in your golf game where it can go either way. You go, ‘OK, I’ve had enough, and I just need to sit down and chill out.’ Or you go, ‘No, stuff that, I’m going to push through it and I’m not going to quit until I win.'” – Jason Day, 2015 PGA Champion
For anyone who’s been following professional golf for the past few years, Sunday’s major championship win for Jason Day feels like a huge relief. During most of the final round, I heard my inner voice saying “Surely it’s not going to be another top 5 in a major without a win?!”
Before sinking that final putt on the 18th green at Whistling Straits, Jason had the second highest number of top-10s in a major without a win (9 to be exact).
So after being in so many final pairings on a major championship Sunday, the question of whether he had the mental game to handle the pressure and get the job done, was being asked. Jason was even beginning to doubt himself, and if he hadn’t sealed the win, he wasn’t sure he would have recovered:
“Not being able to finish, it would have been tough for me mentally to come back from that. Even though I feel like I’m a positive person, I think that in the back of my mind something would have triggered and I would have gone, `Maybe I can’t really finish it off.’”
But Jason Day is a fighter. Throughout his life he’s overcome many adversities – from losing his dad at the age of 12 and being a poor, teenage tearaway, to more recently, suffering several injuries and illnesses.
Undeterred by these various setbacks, he said before the PGA at Whistling Straits: “Look, if I keep doing what I’m doing, I’m going to win one of these.”
And he was right.
Working On His Mental Game
Since joining the PGA Tour in 2006 he’s developed one of the best all round technical games out there, but, as anyone who’s played the game of golf knows, it’s only half the equation of success. Jason knew it was his mental game that needed just as much work to get him to “major-winner” status.
“The game of golf is so mental and if you don’t have everything in the right order it’s very difficult to win golf tournaments.”
So how does Jason Day prepare and manage his mental game?
Visualization for Golf
You probably saw Jason closing his eyes during his pre-shot routine. What he was doing there was visualizing himself hitting the perfect shot. It’s like seeing a color movie of what he desires, right before it actually happens for real. It only takes a couple of seconds, but it can have a big effect on how well you play a shot. If you need some help with this, check out my post, The Power of Visualization in Golf.
Not only does he visualize individual golf shots, but he also visualizes the future attainment of his goals. As a 14 year old, he wrote his goals down on a sheet of paper and read them aloud before he went to bed every night. These included becoming the World No. 1 and winning major championships. Most of those who listened thought he was kidding himself.
More recently, after his PGA Tour win at the Farmers Insurance this year, he said:
“I visualized myself winning and holding the trophy before the week. I tried to visualize it over and over…That’s what I did in the (world) match play and that is what I did this week so obviously that tells me that I need to do that a lot more.”
Goal setting and visualizing future success might not mean that you will achieve it, but it’s proven to increase your self-image which is a big factor in whether you do or not. In fact, the great Jack Nicklaus said that he attributes 50% of his success in golf to imagining it happening before it actually did.
Get your future goals written down and imagine them happening as a daily ritual.
Playing With the Subconscious Mind
For an elite athlete, it’s the subconscious mind that drives the performance. All your physical skill for a task is acquired through conscious repetition. But when you’re swinging the club during a round, the conscious mind has to be kept quiet. It’s the subconscious mind that allows one to act instinctively. Therefore, the subconscious is better at controlling movements that require direction and distance control.
Jason’s worked with enough mental coaches to know that when you try too hard, your conscious mind overrides the subconscious and performance suffers.This is a common issue in professional golf. All the players at the top level are capable of playing the shots required to win, but it’s how successful they are in accessing their subconscious mind during each shot that determines whether or not that win happens.
But there are techniques to help with this…
Jason uses a system involving a wireless EEG (electroencephalogram), which is able to detect left and right brain activity. The right brain (the holistic, visual and creative side) is the side you want to be 100% engaged in a golf shot. The left (analytical) side, needs to be completely quiet, which is what Jason has trained himself to do.
A Winner’s Attitude
Jason Day has never given up on his goals to become a major champion (his next one is to become The World No. 1). His attitude and self-belief are big drivers in his success:
“It’s all about the attitude. You have to have a good attitude… If you make a mistake, you have to just keep pushing forward and pushing forward and can’t give up.”
Dealing With Pressure
Clearly Jason thrives in competition and stressful situations. So much of being successful in competitive golf is about learning how to deal with pressure and nerves, and you don’t get that without the experience and learning from it. During this year’s Masters he realized his stress management techniques were not as good as they should be. He said, “I was trying to calm myself down but my heart was going 100 miles and hour”.
Dealing with pressure situations gets easier the more you can learn how to control your stress response and stay relaxed. My advice to you is to put yourself under pressure as much as possible (in practice too) and learn from your mistakes!