One of the most common questions I get from students, golfing buddies and players alike is: how can I focus and block out all distracting thoughts when I play?
Obviously, if there was a surefire method to do this, then we’d all be contending for the FedEx Cup year after year. But, alas, such is the game of golf wherein numerous driving range sessions, instructional videos, pro sessions and casual swing advice don’t guarantee a low score.
Here’s 2-time major champion, Ernie Els, demonstrating what I mean:
If someone as accomplished as The Big Easy has difficulty maintaining 100% focus for an entire round, then what more for us, mere mortals?
Don’t panic! There are a lot of strategies to attain focus, and in this article, I will be explaining how PRE-SHOT ROUTINES can help you focus during your round.
My underlying principle about FOCUS is that it is not about the absence of thoughts, but rather, the absence of distracting thoughts. In a round of golf, for example, players never say they were out of focus when they played a good shot or hole. But for those who played terribly, they will tell you outright that they were distracted and that there were so many things going on in their heads.
This is where pre-shot routines – both mental and physical – come in. When done automatically, pre-shot routines help you rule out all thoughts and actions that typically lead to terrible shots. If the only thing occupying your mind is your pre-shot routine, then focus is more easily attained.
No more stray thoughts like “will I shank this?” or “what if I hit this shot out-of-bounds?” to disrupt your rhythm. The same goes with your physical pre-shot routine. By following your “step-by-step” routine (ex. stand behind the ball, line up the target, take 3 full swings, etc.), your actions become a picture of efficiency without any unnecessary movement.
In short, pre-shot routines allow you to attain golf’s zenith of goals, which is, to stay in the moment.
The key is in establishing your own personal mental and physical routine, and then, meshing both. Most of the time, you already have your own pre-shot physical routine (even if you don’t do it in every shot) so the challenge is in developing the mental routine.
Here’s an example which you can practice:
- Assess the shot conditions (ex. Wind? Hazard to the left? OB to the right?)
- Find your target.
- Visualize the perfect shot – imagine the exact flight path that you want your ball to follow when you hit it, and where exactly you want it to land
- (before swinging) Tell yourself, “Go for it (or any positive word/s that helps you zero in on the ball before you hit the ball).”
- (Then take the club back and hit the ball).
Keep the routine you choose to develop simple, keep it natural, and keep it within the context of golf and your current playing conditions. The above example will naturally blend with whatever current physical pre-shot routine you already have. In case you don’t have one, here’s an example of a simple physical pre-shot routine:
- Stand behind the ball with your chosen club.
- Make 2 full practice swings.
- Take 2 deep breaths
- Walk to the ball and address.
- Take 1 deep breath.
- Take the club back and hit the ball.
- Follow through on your shot and keep your position until the ball lands and rolls to a stop.
As I said, the key here is in meshing both mental and physical routines. Below is a table to show how you can mesh both of the given examples:
Golf is a game of consistency and focus. Establishing a pre-shot routine is one of the best ways that allows you to consistently focus. By “training” your mind to focus consistently on a routine, you make the communication between mind and body a lot clearer and easier to attain.
A lot of sport psychology techniques all seem so “common sense,” but as we all know from playing this crooked game whether as a professional or a weekend hacker, “common sense” doesn’t always mean “common practice.”
So practice! And practice. And practice.
In a number of weeks, you would have gained laser-like focus while striping those fairways and throwing darts at that hole like clockwork.