Trust Your Golfing Instincts; Win the Inner Golfing Battle

Part One: Instruction to destruction: Why too much information may not be a good thing for your golf swing

Any golfer that has struggled with their swing and sought advice, from the pages of a book, from friends and fellow golfers or even in the form of tuition from golf professionals is all too aware that the simple act of swinging a golf club, suddenly becomes inordinately complex.

We move from taking our first natural swing of a club into being guided as to what is right by a succession of well-intended instructions. There is so much to concentrate upon, where should your hands be at the start of the downswing, have your hips rotated enough, are you shifting your centre of gravity too much or too little, is your head moving, is your clubface too open, too closed?

Golf instinct

When a swing is broken down in this way and a myriad of different instructions are given to the golfer, it is little wonder that what seemed an entirely naturalistic swing to them, suddenly transmogrifies into something that looks not only cumbersome and unwieldy, but produces results that are perhaps not what we were hoping.

It is this constant battle between what our brain is telling us we should be doing, and the natural processes that allow us to swing the golf club as our body instinctively feels it should be; that is the hidden inner battle that rages for every golfer.

The question is, what path should you follow to win the battle and bring your scores down?


This series of articles will examine the different ways in which golfers try to establish a mental game, or an inner game of golf, that allows the physical manifestation of their play produce the results that they desire.

The Inner Voice – Self 1 v Self 2: Why what you think you know, may not be what you know

When you play a round of golf, are you the type of player who has an incessant commentary as their inner mental backdrop. Are you aware that your thought patterns can often be highly critical and focus on the negative? “I hope I don’t slice this”, “Don’t hit this putt too hard”, “You made a mistake on the last swing by opening the club face, don’t do that this time”, “Bend your knees more or less”, “Swing the club faster/slower” our round is punctuate with a never ending mental assault of criticism masking as guidance.

In his book, “The Inner Game of Golf”, W. Timothy Gallwey elegantly explains the problems faced by so many golfers when he discusses the impact of “Self 1 and Self 2”. Self 1 is the embodiment of that voice. This voice is the bête noir of many a golfer, trying to be “constructive” in the criticism and advice it dishes out, but doing so in a complex and highly critical way that not only leads to confusion and frustration, but often a breakdown in the mechanics of the golf swing itself.

Self 2 is very much the “unconscious” self. There are many ways to describe what Gallwey means by this, but in essence it is how you would swing a golf club if you could switch your brain off, and allow your body to swing without any instruction, based on the feel of the swing, rather than what your brain is telling you how it should feel. The important thing to think about here is who do you think is right, what your body tells you feels right, or what your brain is telling you? It is this key difference that is the core of the battle of the inner game.

Mental-gameDrawing the battle lines

On one side of the golfers psyche, we have ‘Self 1’, this is the critical voice you hear in a round. It is an accumulation of your years of experience playing and learning about the game. It is the mental representation of all the “knowledge” that has been passed on to you to enable you to become a better player. Unfortunately, Self 1 is also highly critical and because of our awareness of it and our innate belief that a golf swing is necessarily technically difficult, we tend to listen to this voice 99% of the time when playing.

Yet, something strange happens when golfers can switch off “Self 1” and play by natural instinct instead. How often have you seen a frustrated golfer trying hard to remember all that great advice they were given while trying to hit several shots and make a mess of the vast majority?


Yet when they finally give in to frustration and, perhaps in the midst of a frustrated sulk, decide to just “hit the damn thing”, they can do so, more often than not, with far more satisfying results? A second obvious occurrence is when we hit either a mulligan or a second “practice” shot after a miss-hit. Doesn’t it usually go better? That is because we are relaxed and the shot is less important.

It is this ability to “turn down” the chattering voice of Self 1 and to allow your natural physical aptitude to swing a club which is the key to developing a strong mental approach to golf.  This doesn’t mean that all golf tuition is valueless, far from it. There are key skills that golfers need to learn to play the game and a professional is without doubt the best person to learn from. That said, there is a key lesson to be learned in how these skills are taught to the golfer and more importantly, how the golfer can utilise them mentally to allow them to become a better golfer, rather than a highly self-critical, frustrated golfer because of them.

In the next article in this series we will look at how golfers are start to win this inner battle, how to understand the different mental aspects of the swing and how they can influence your physical game; not just of importance to the amateur golfer, but how touring professional golfers at the highest levels benefit as well.


Images by Creative Tools, Gorilla Golf Blog©

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