To Think or Not to Think
The 41st Secret
We have emphasized the need for conscious thinking, but a great deal of golf is played subconsciously. The upper
levels of thought do not have a great deal to do with the actual execution of the shot. The chief functions of
upper-level thought should be used prior to hitting. Brains make themselves felt more in learning the most
effective methods of practice than in guiding an infinity of muscles through a detailed conscious maneuver of final
To use an illustration from music, the greatness of pianist Vladimir Horowitz is not a brilliant interpretation
rendered before thousands in Carnegie Hall. Horowitz achieved greatness by first intelligently riding herd on
muscles and tendons hour after hour. When performance night came, the muscles and tendons did the work. Of course,
Horowitz' conscious mind focused on what he was doing. His thoughts were ahead of the music his fingers were
playing for him. Yet even this thinking was not as conscious as one would suppose, for it had been practiced and,
having been practiced, it took care of itself.You cannot do too much thinking prior to the shot but you can do too
much during its execution. Thinking that hasn't been practiced out can very well introduce a variable and thus
spoil the shot. What we have here is really "experimental" thinking, which has the same type of "bugs" as the
Ralph Guldahl's decline as a golfer has been attributed to too much thinking. When he was at the peak of his
golfing powers, he was asked to write a book about the technique of the game. In his hotel room, he would write
awhile, then pick up a club, check his grip, stance, and elbow position, and write some more. By the time he
finished his book, he confessed that he had developed such an acute consciousness of the process of hitting the
ball that he had lost his touch. We are reminded of the old story as to how Santa Claus developed insomnia. Someone
asked him if he slept with his beard under or over the blanket.
Snead has advocated avoiding thinking. Betsy Rawls, who has a degree in physics, states that she leaves tournament
shots to be taken care of by the subconscious. Bob Jones seems to have summed it up best, years ago, when he said
that he limited his concentration to the very last improvement he had incorpo¬rated into his swing.
The question of thinking or not thinking has intrigued me for some years, and when I was trying to solve the
problem, I tried an experiment worth reporting. I had concluded that I was not leaving enough of the execution of
the shot to the subconscious. I thought, "Well, I'll crowd out golf thinking with extraneous thinking." I finally
hit on the idea of singing during the execution of the shot. Late one afternoon, I went to the Northside course in
Austin, Texas, and during each shot I sang "Home on the Range." My caddy laughed, until I started to play! I came
in with 32—my best nine-hole score to that time!
I could not wait to get back to the course the following afternoon after work. Score—42. The trouble, I decided,
was that I had learned the song so well I could sing it and worry about the execution of the shot at the same
time!To sum up: thinking that involves the actual execution of the shot should be done in practice. The actual golf
management and thinking that goes on in the planning of shots cannot be overdone during play.