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As I see it, golf has a lot to do with touch and feel. The two talents are closely related, but let’s not confuse the two.
Feel is about using all your senses and knowing what your body and the club are doing, along with being able to correctly perform what you’re attempting to do. Feel is translating what you have perceived, imagined and planned into something that is almost perfect in its correctness.
Touch, on the other hand, is more in the interpretation and execution. With touch, think of playing the piano or violin. You can be a skilled reader of music, knowing each note, bar and innuendo; but if your fingers don’t accomplish the polished striking of the keys, frets and strings (touch) the music will lose something.
With putting you can be sharp reading the green speed, slope, grain and break of the putt, but if you don’t have a deft touch with the putter stroke few putts will go in. Interestingly the world’s most acclaimed violinist, Joshua Bell, who was a nationally ranked tennis player at age 10, and is now a recreational golfer, stated flatly, “golf is simply similar to playing the violin.”
Bell is blessed with extraordinary touch, feel and awareness. Golf skills involving touch and feel seem to be rooted in awareness. The very first thing we need to do for raising the bar with touch and feel is to create some enhanced internal awareness whereby our senses are intimately involved with playing the game.
It’s not a matter of whether you are a “feel player” or a “non-feel player.” It’s a matter of incorporating a sense of feel into your ability to execute shots.
It would be very hard to categorize men and women tour players as to feel or no-feel. Ben Hogan was a cerebral as they came when he was studying his swing, crafting his equipment to the precise measurements he thought he needed and being almost OCD with his discipline for practice.
Yet he was the consummate feel player. He didn’t want to be told yardages on the course – he sensed the yards. He insisted on using unconventional strategies on holes where only he knew what he was doing. He manufactured the swing with roboticlike mechanics, but he hit the ball purely out of feel.
When he looked at the target, he mentally processed what he saw and then translated that into a swing and a shot which he pictured and felt with his hands.
High-handicappers who struggle to understand their own swing, don’t usually have a feel for what they are supposed to be doing with the golf swing, and don’t internalize the information from good or bad shots they end up hitting. It isn’t that hard but, it does take a willingness to be aware of certain swing techniques, as well as a certain amount of discipline and mindfulness and attention during practice.
Given the right practice, some lessons and a certain amount of patience, you will be able to have a mitt-full of shots with one single club if you understand how to grip the club up and down the handle, and how to use half, three-quarter and full swings. Each club has multiple shots and uses. It’s about touch and feel. However, when it’s time to swing the club like you mean it on the golf course, you should rely on your feel and not your thinking. Once you’ve selected a shot, take your brain out of it, while simply trusting your feel.
As for practice itself, try getting a sense of how the ball reacts when struck with different types of shots, from different clubs, different lies and different target areas. While at the “PGA Show” in Orlando a couple of years ago, I had a chance to chat with acclaimed golf writer and commentator Jaime Diaz who had this to say: “Feel might sound complicated, but it’s amazing how much your brain can process if you let your imagination do its job. If you lay the groundwork by ingraining good technique with lots of repetition you can develop the comfort and confidence to focus on the target and let your athletic instinct take over. That’s when your touch will be most sensitive and when you will truly be playing with the greatest feel.”
Charlie Blanchard is a licensed sports psychologist specializing in sports and leadership. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.