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The Tour Report

February 25 2013

2:24 PM

Mental Game: Mahan keeps it simple

Hunter Mahan uses one swing thought to increase his distance and lower his scores. (Getty Images)

By Gregg Steinberg, Special to PGATOUR.COM

Hunter Mahan (runner-up at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship) continually pounded 300-plus-yard drives this past weekend at Marana, Ariz.

On the 13th hole during the championship match on Sunday, Mahan blasted one prodigious drive a length of 340 yards. What is the secret to his great success and his amazing length with the driver? Mahan keeps it simple.

He said he focuses on one swing thought and then wears out that one thought during the entire round. Having fewer swing thoughts can actually make you hit the golf ball farther. This notion is based on Hick’s Law, a psychological principle that postulates that you will respond slower as your decisions (swing thoughts) increase.

If you have one thought, your reaction time will be approximately 190 milliseconds. If you have two swing thoughts, you will respond slower at about 340 milliseconds. With four swing thoughts, your response time slows to 490 milliseconds. According to Hick’s Law, your response time slows by 150 milliseconds as you double your swing thoughts.

These numbers imply that the more swing thoughts you have (particularly in the downswing), the slower the brain will send the signal to your muscles. This is exemplified by the golf psychological term, “paralysis by analysis.” The signal to your muscles goes so slow that it can literally get frozen when you have too many thoughts.

However, if you have one swing thought and wear it out like Mahan, the signal will be sent very fast to your muscles. Faster signals to the muscles will help you to swing the club faster. Faster club head speed equates to greater driving distance.

Einstein’s philosophy about science was, “Keep it simple, but do not make it simpler.”  We all know that golf can be a complex game, but we should not think about all these complexities while swinging.

Keep it simple like Mahan and you will hit it farther.

Dr. Gregg Steinberg is the author of the best selling golf psychology book, MentalRules for Golf. He is a regular guest every Tuesday on “Talk of the Tour” heard on the Sirius/XM PGA TOUR radio. Dr. Gregg is a tenured professor of sports psychology and has worked with many PGA tour players.  You can see more about him at www.drgreggsteinberg.com, and you can e-mail him at mentalrules24@msn.com.