In the 1940s Glenda Colette was known as one of the greatest players of her day. She had a beautiful, effortless swing, almost perfect in its execution. She was longer off the tee than most women professionals and could finesse the ball better than anyone. She won numerous tournaments in her career on the professional women’s tour.

In her book Golf for Young Players, written in 1926, Glenda credits her swing to her instructor, a man named Alex Smith. Alex was a great player in his own right—a man who had won numerous tournaments—but he was known mostly for his near-perfect swing and his penchant for teaching others.

At an early age Glenda would follow Alex around the course as he uniquely demonstrated the many shots she might need during a round. Instead of trying to break down her swing and analyze the flaws, Alex would simply make the shot a few times and then have her imitate his swing. She watched him make shots from every imaginable lie and distance, and then she would make the same shot, keeping the image of his shot in her mind as she swung. She carried those images in her mind and used them throughout her outstanding career. Today her swing is still considered one of the best in the history of the game.

During the same years Glenda played on the women’s circuit, there was another player on the men’s tour getting a lot of press for his game. His name was McDonald Smith, and he was being discussed and written about as having the most perfect and complete swing the tour had ever seen. In fact, the great Harvey Penick once said, “The prettiest swing I ever saw belonged to McDonald Smith.”

It’s no surprise to learn that McDonald was Alex Smith’s younger brother. Alex taught his younger brother the same way he taught Colette—through example. It’s a good assumption that he did.

Imitation is not only the highest form of flattery; it is the best road to improvement.

 

Visualize the Swing You Want

As a child in Indianapolis, I never missed a chance to see the Indianapolis 500 Golf Tournament when it came to town each year. Several of the holes on the course were in the infield of the racetrack, and often during practice rounds the players could watch and hear the cars screaming around the track in preparation for a race. It was a strange experience, and an interesting place for a tournament.

During the tournament I’d scurry through the crowds to follow Gary Player or Arnold Palmer or one of my other heroes. I’d find a place along the ropes, as close as I could get, then watch their effortless swings and study their smooth and natural rhythm. I was amazed at how simple they made it seem. I imagined myself making the same flowing motion. Watching these professionals was always the highlight of my year. I never tired of crouching in the grass and peering across the fairway as the best players in the world went head-to-head with each other. It was during these times that I developed a passion and desire to make a career in golf.

 

“Gentlemen, we all know that you can’t build up a golf swing step by step. We play by feel.”

Bobby Jones

 

Usually I’d be so pumped up after the tournament that I would rush over to my home course and play a quick eighteen holes before dark. Without fail, I noticed that my game was suddenly better, my swing more fluent and confident. By watching and studying these near-perfect swings, I was able to visualize and imitate them, integrating them into my own game.

I took that same principle with me years later as I played on the tour alongside many of the same people I’d been watching as a young man. Whenever I had a particularly unusual shot to make, I would role-play, trying to imagine a tour star who could easily pull it off. Then I would visualize myself doing the same thing and emulate their swing.

If I needed to make a long cut shot into the pin, I’d imagine watching Lee Trevino making the shot. I had played with him so many times that in my mind’s eye I could easily see him cutting across the ball, almost in a slice pattern. Then I would visualize myself doing the same thing as I played the shot.

 

“The simpler I keep things, the better I play.”

Nancy Lopez

 

If I needed to carry one a long way down the fairway, I would imagine Freddie Couples as he brought the club way back past parallel, putting himself in a powerful wrist-set position to gain the greatest momentum and power. He was a master at this technique, and by imitating his rhythm and flow, I was usually able to pull it off, putting me in great position down the fairway.

The reason visualization works is that it helps us get past the technicalities of the swing and into the feel of it, the picture of it. Through visualizing the swing we want, we are better equipped to reproduce it.

Remember: If the mind can’t conceive it, the body can’t achieve it.

 

A Putting Insight

When I caddied for Gary Player as a college student, I was amazed by his accuracy with a putter. I used to stand back and watch him putt, and I noticed that he always kept his head perfectly still during his stroke. He once told me that on the short putts—anything inside of six feet—he made a habit of keeping his eyes fixed on the ground where the ball was sitting, even after he stroked it. Many players, he explained, let their eyes follow the ball to the hole, wanting to see the result. This often creates a tendency to mis-hit, as it causes the head to move slightly before impact. Our focus should be on watching the ball, not the line or the squaring of the clubface. Gary would keep his eyes straight down during the stroke and then listen for the ball to go into the cup. This allowed him not only to keep his head straight but also to see the line and angle of his clubface throughout the putting stroke.

I implemented Gary’s approach into my game, and more than anything I had ever tried, it helped me lower my shots on the green. Try it the next time you’re on the practice green. Start by putting from about two feet, then work your way out to the six- and seven-foot range, keeping your eyes downward and listening for the ball to hit the cup. It’s not as easy as you might think—at least in the beginning. It’s hard to trust your line and keep your eyes fixed. But if you stay at it, you’ll soon see the difference in your scores.

Imitators of Christ

Imagine what your golf game would look like if Gary Player or Arnold Palmer or Alex Smith or the legendary Ben Hogan could step inside of your body and play through you. What if they could flow their spirit through yours, pouring their skill and strength into your arms, legs, and mind, reproducing their perfect swing through your body? Your game would be taken to heights that you never dreamed or imagined!

Now imagine what your life would be like if Jesus stepped into your body and mind, flowing his perfect love and compassion and goodness into you—from his Spirit to yours. Would it make a difference in the way you treated people, the way you responded to situations, the order and direction of your day? Would it affect the daily flow of your walk in Christ?

 

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

Ephesians 3:16–17

As believers, we don’t have to imagine that possibility. Jesus made that offer to anyone willing to trust and believe in him. Before going to the cross he promised to send his Holy Spirit to direct and empower his followers toward faith.

In John 16:13–14, Jesus says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

Jesus promised to impart a small piece of himself, a measure of his majesty and strength, into the hearts and lives of all who put their faith in him. Through his Spirit, we have access to the full measure of his wisdom and strength. The apostle Paul explained that through Jesus we are “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

Christ offers us salvation, but more than that, he offers an empowering and personal relationship. When we give ourselves over to him, trusting him as our Lord and Savior, he comes to dwell within us—to impart his perfect strength and will into our lives.

Like Paul, you and I can come to the course of life and say with full confidence, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

How’s that for a way to drop your handicap?

 

From Imitator to Example

In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul said, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16). He had developed enough confidence in his faith to implore other followers to watch and learn from him, to allow him to be their example of a Christlike character.

St. Francis of Assisi understood this principle clearly when he said, “Share Christ at all times; when necessary, use words.” That’s a good attitude for each of us to develop—in both golf and life. When you see someone struggling with their game, show them a better swing. When you see someone struggling in their faith, step in and mentor by example.