Where your attention and focus is on the golf course may seem like a minor issue compared to some of the more technical issues that can come up, however in reality it is quite the opposite. All too often we hear that “My game is improving on the range, but I cannot seem to bring that swing to the course”. You will also often hear most professionals state that “you just need more practice”, however is this really the case? After all do you really practice like you play, or even play like you practice? This may sound like an odd question, but when you think about it if you are on the range with a bucket of balls, your attention tends to be on what you are doing rather than the result. For example you may be thinking about where your arm is going (internal focus) or where your club should strike the ground (external focus). This type of practice can be extremely useful when it comes to making a swing change and changing your old patterns and habits.
When it comes to the course…..
When it comes to transferring your technique to the golf course everything changes in your mind. The golf course represents a different environment, an environment filled with trouble and danger, a world apart from the safe and stable practice area where you have honed your technique for hours on end. With this in mind you may find your focus begins to shift away from what you are doing and towards target or the dangers that may surround it (external result focus). Immediately your body will resort to what it knows best, “The old swing”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying for a second that having an external result focus is a bad thing, however if your practice has only involved thinking about what your body or what the club is doing, how could you expect those skills to transfer to the golf course when your focus has completely changed?
Internal, external or target? – What should I focus on?
The simple answer is focus on the same thing on the golf course as you do in practice. There is no right and wrong answer in this situation however from my experience there are certain areas which apply more to certain players depending on their ability. definitely certain areas which are better to focus on than others for certain levels of players.
For example if you are a mid to high handicap golfer who has a technical characteristic which is really affecting their outcome on the golf course, I would most certainly say that your focus should be on either what your body is doing or what the club is doing, based on how you are practicing at that given time.
For example if you are a player who struggles with slicing the ball, and your main focus in practice has been to close the club face more as the club approaches impact, this should also be your train of thought on the golf course.
Try to be consistent about what you are focused on and try not to react to every bad shot you may or may not hit. This type of thought process is ideal for mid to high handicap golfers who are trying to improve the technical side of their swing. If you can be consistent about what you focus on, you will find the swing changes will settle in far easier than if you were to jump from thought to thought, and you will also begin to see some consistency in your ball flight . If you change your thoughts and feelings over every shot, you have no right to expect a consistent result.
What should lower handicap golfers focus on?
Lower handicap golfers can tackle this subject slightly differently. Generally speaking most lower handicap golfers have a reasonably trustworthy technique which will allow them to play a variety of different shots on command, thus reducing the necessity to focus on changing something specifically in their swing during the round, so what do they focus on? In my experience good players will tend to become more obsessed with the ball flight and the target (external result) or in some cases enter a state that many players will refer to as “the zone” (transcendental). This type of focus is extremely rare and will only tend to happen with exceptionally good players. Simply put this is where a player will get so used to the rhythm and process of each shot, that they will be almost unaware of what they are doing. The most difficult thing about creating this type of awareness is that the more you think about it, the less likely it is to happen. Instead better players should get deeply involved in the process and rhythm of each shot. The more you repeat the same process at same rhythm, the more it will become second nature and you will need less thought to complete the actions.
For beginners my advice is simple, try to stick to one thought for 18 holes, no matter how good, bad or ugly the shots get. For every shot you should simply line up to the target, have one clear thought in your head, and commit to the shot. Once you have hit the shot simply accept the result, walk on and repeat the process. Try your best not to react to the result on each shot, and most certainly to not be tempted to throw the parachute out and try something completely different.
For better players I would suggest changing your practice habits as opposed to what you do on the course. Skill wise you are more than capable of producing a swing that can give you the desired outcome, if you were not you would not have reached this point in your golfing journey. Try to reduce how much technical practice you do and begin to integrate more random shots and competitive games into your practice sessions. When you are doing this you must begin to focus on the process of what you are doing rather than a technical element of the swing. This will then allow you to bring that same focus to the golf course and feel comfortable in a very different environment, safe in the knowledge that you are simply repeating what you have done in practice.