The Inner Game of Golf by Timothy Gallwey: Summary & Notes

Rating: 8/10

Available at: Amazon

Related: The Inner Game of Tennis


The Inner Game of Tennis is the best book I've read on improving physical skills through mental performance.

I was a bit apprehensive that The Inner Game of Golf would be a rehash of those principles with little extra work, but was pleasantly surprised that the author took it upon himself to spend a year improving his own golf performance in order to write the book.

Not only does the book provide exercises that are immediately applicable (and I have personally found to help), but it explores why we place so much importance on golf and why we play.


  • Telling our bodies how to do something is not the most effective way to improve performance.
  • Use the time in between shots to relax your mind and prepare for the next shot.
  • The primary focus of attention in golf should not be the ball, but the club head.
  • Back-hit-stop: To keep attention on the club head, say the word "back" when the club head is back at it's furthest point, say "hit" when it strikes the ball, and "stop" when it comes to rest at the end of the follow-through.
  • An alternative is just to say "da" at all points of the swing, and you can add one at takeaway if you like.
  • If your voice is out of sync, you're losing focus.
  • Overtightness is the most common cause of error in golf, and probably all sports. You can hear it if you hum through your swing. The places you get caught up are where you're tight. Move your awareness there.
  • Fear increases as our sense of competence decreases. If we lessen our self-doubt, our fear naturally decreases.
  • Self-doubt increases when the challenge increases or presents more risk.
  • "Trying harder" is compensation for mistrust in ourselves and leads to poor performance.
  • Sam Snead quote: "The only thing wrong with your swing is what’s wrong with most amateurs’ you don’t hit the ball with your practice swing.”
  • The less a golfer tries, the most fluid his swing will be, and the easier it will be to produce a good golf swing.
  • "Awareness mode" is the optimal mode for performance. You're focused and alert, but not "trying" hard. You're attentive but detached.
  • Doctrine of the easy: acts done well are done easily and that which seems hard is usually not being done well.
  • To make something easier: associate a difficult act with a much easier one (ideally that never fails). For example, associate a putt with lifting the ball out of the hole.
  • Another example: associate hitting a ball to a pin with tossing a tennis ball near it. Or throwing a baseball.
  • Another: associate a putt with threading a needle.
  • Institutional education has overemphasized conceptual learning to such a degree that the value of, and trust in, the natural process of learning directly from experience has been seriously undermined.
  • In the teaching of physical skills, learning through direct experience should take priority over learning through formal instruction in concepts.
  • Law of awareness: if you want to change something, first increase your awareness of the way it is.
  • Where you focus your awareness determines what you learn.
  • As a coach, you should give instructions not on what to do, but where to focus awareness and attention.
  • The ideal instruction: tell me where you're feeling it, what you're feeling, when, and to what degree.
  • Example: focus on your club head. "I'm feeling it open slightly, at the back of my backswing, probably a +3 out of 5.
  • Most golfers think too long, and look too hard when making a putt.
  • Use "soft eyes" when looking at the hole, and don't mentally calculate anything. Learn greens by putting a lot and watching closely how the ball travels over various contours.
  • Jack Nicklaus, in Golf My Way, writes, “Such is putting! 2% technique, 98% inspiration or confidence or touch…the only thing great putters have in common is touch, and that’s the critical ingredient…none of them found it through mechanizing a stroke, nor do I believe they could maintain it in that way.”
  • To develop putting feel, play the "touch game": the goal is to putt the ball without looking where it's going, and then predict it. Success is predicting correctly, not getting the ball in or near the hole.
  • You can play the touch game with your eyes shut for maximum feel.
  • Then, take another step by asking, "How did I know?"
  • Once you're more advanced, you can stop looking at the ball, and instead look at the hole while you're putting. Find something of interest to focus on with "soft eyes" and allow yourself to putt naturally.
  • The touch game works just as well for chipping as it does for putting.
  • Everyone loses feel at some point. The greatest cause of loss of feel is self-doubt, often brought on by missed chips or putts. The basic strategy to get it back is to switch from focusing on results to focusing on awareness.
  • The best way to combat the yips in chipping is to use the back-hit-stop exercise.
  • A good structure for practice sessions: 5 minutes of pure play, 20 minutes of focused swinging, 5 minutes of play, remaining time on performance—playing as if you're on the course.
  • Slumps don't exist; they're something you create in your mind. Stay in the present, and let each shot, good or bad, stay in the past.
  • Sometimes you can create a mind shift simply by saying "But if I could..." and doing that thing. For example: "If I could putt well, it would look like this..."
  • The underlying skill behind all of this work: relaxed concentration. Master this and you can master anything else you wish.
  • There are no real pressures to golf. All the pressure exists because of the meaning and beliefs we bring to the game. We can choose to release that pressure too.
  • "But how many better ways are there to engage in the universal and ageless contest against oneself? If the game is played as Bobby Jones claimed to play it—as a conquest of oneself—it becomes truly recreational. It is a break from the routine and patterns of daily life that can truly enrich our existence. What players learn about themselves on the course can be transferred to every aspect of their lives and thus benefit the culture of which golf is only a small part."

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