Mental and Physical Aspects of Golf Explained

By: Jimmy Cox

Every intelligent person who has played golf must have speculated on the relation between the mental and the physical aspects of the game.

I remember spending one of the most stimulating evenings of my life listening to - and occasionally chipping in on - a debate on the light ball, between some Americans and members of the Committee of the R. & A. Walter Hagen was there and members of the Ryder Cup team.

For myself, though I enjoyed the argument immensely, I felt even at that time that it was inconclusive; something was lacking again. I think I had got so far as to realize that the arguments advanced lacked conclusiveness because they were either too purely mental or too purely physical.

I had in fact reached the conclusion that any separation of the mental and physical functions in the playing or teaching of golf must be artificial - because in the practical job of playing or teaching no such separation is possible.

But though I had reached this conclusion and was increasingly basing my teaching on it, I found it most difficult to express the idea explicitly - even to myself. Then by one of those happy chances which do occur when you are ripe for them, I read a remarkable little book, The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander.

It was the confirmation and exposition I had wanted. For here was a man with profound knowledge of psychology and physiology surveying the whole field of human activity and expressing scientifically the very truth which I had sensed, but found so difficult to express, in the sphere of golf.

Professor Alexander's conclusion is that we never act purely psychologically or purely physically, but that every act is carried out in psychophysical unison. And further, that when this unison is functioning properly it provides a form of conscious control which is precisely what a golfer needs.

I realized at once that this conscious control was exactly what I was already trying to teach because I recognized it as a form of control that would replace thinking. And thinking had to be replaced because I knew by experience that if your golf was dependent upon thinking it was at the mercy of your mental state. Excitement, depression, elation - any emotion could destroy you.

I had always been considered a good teacher, but I had never been satisfied because I could not teach a pupil to play exactly and consistently - independent of his mental and physical feelings and of the state of the game. And I felt that I ought to be able to teach this. And now I am able to do so, provided that the pupil is willing to work at the game on a "long term" policy.

With my broadening view of the relation between physical and mental, and the possibilities of conscious control I have definitely gained a new capacity in teaching, enabling me to build up in my pupils one control upon another, by building up feel. I build up a feel of what is right in his golf.

So when he gets to the first tee in front of a gallery or is faced by a tricky shot at a critical moment in the game, mental excitement can no longer tie his swing up and he can make his shots normally even if his brain is befogged.

But when I had developed the idea of control through remembered feeling, I was able to take the words "think" and "thoughts" out of my teaching vocabulary. The results were literally astounding.

And why? Not because I taught a better swing, but because my pupils learned to use their swings irrespective of conditions and states of mind! Many of my pupils now say, "I am no longer afraid of the ball. I do not even think of it; I just swing through it".

That, of course, means confidence and consistency.

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