Golfers – Aim Small, Miss Small?

Golfers – Aim Small, Miss Small?

Imagine you could improve each area of your game (chipping/putting/driving/irons) by 10%. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can stack up to a big improvement in your game as a whole. This article looks at how this could be achieved with a simple mental tweak.

A recent question in a forum was discussing the idea behind the “aim small, miss small” philosophy.

This philosophy states that, if you mentally aim at a target which is small (like an individual patch of grass on the fairway, or a part of a tree in the distance), your misses will be closer to the target.

Early in my teaching career, I collected data on this exact topic – and in this article, I will share my findings.


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The Test

When I first started coaching, I had to go out and walk the driving range to get new customers. This was a very uncomfortable experience for me, being introverted.

To increase this discomfort, my attempts to acquire a new customer was often met with the response of “go away, I don’t want lessons”. Looking very young/fresh-faced and inexperienced probably didn’t help the cause.

I needed a different tactic.

So decided to change approaches. Instead of trying to acquire a customer directly, I would ask people if they would partake in a small study I was conducting.

I was not only met with a lot more open responses, but I acquired more customers AND managed to learn something of value.


Data Collection

The test looked at whether players responded better (accuracy-wise) to having a smaller mental target, or a wider mental target.

In order to test this, I asked golfers to;

  • Hit 10 drives aiming at a single pole (pink) at the back of the driving range. Then
  • Hit 10 drives aiming between an area 3 poles apart (green)

While the mental target was different for the two tests, I actually collected data as to how many times they hit the 3-pole target. In other words, even when they were going towards the single pole (smaller mental target), I still noted down if they had hit the bigger target. However, they were not aware of this until AFTER the test was over.


The Results

I expected the results to show that a smaller mental aim would produce the most targets hit. After all, this tended to be the predominant idea in pop psychology.

However, my results showed no effect – at least on a group level (50 golfers’ data collected).

But wait – there was something VERY interesting.


The Interesting Bit

While the data as a whole showed no significant differences between the two types of focus, on an INDIVIDUAL level, there were some very noticeable changes in performance.

  • Some people performed significantly better when they had a wider aim
  • Some people performed significantly better when they had a narrower aim


But Why?

The main thing we need to know is that X golfer performs better with X focus. The reasons why could will be so multi-factorial that it may be impossible to truly tease out the exact reason.

With that in mind, in my opinion, personality type plays a large role.

Speaking from personal experience, I perform better with a wider focus. When my focus gets too narrow/small, I get very controlling with my swing motion (steery). However, with a wider area, I feel much freer and am able to make a more positive, relaxed and free-flowing swing motion.

I think that different personality types may experience different results – it would be fun to re-do the test and see if there is any correlation between personality factors and the results.


Locus Of Attention

Lots of research has been done on where (the locus) you place your attention and the effects on performance and learning.

Thinking of brushing/cutting the grass in the right place (process focus) vs thinking of getting over the bunker (results focus) is a good example of something which can yield significantly different performance results.

This test would be classed as looking at an external locus of attention (as the target is outside of our body), with either a wide or narrow focus.

However, there are many other types of attentional focus we could have. For example,

  • an internal focus (thinking of your body movement), or
  • external process (thinking of how you want the clubhead to move through impact).

In my 15K hours of teaching, I have seen some significant performance effects of changing player’s locus of attention.


But What About ME?

Alright, calm down, I’m getting there.

When I first started coaching, I wanted definite answers that would apply to everyone. I wanted certain interventions to make ALL golfers better.

But, what I quickly found was that everyone is individual and responds differently to the same intervention.

There was only one way around that – individual testing.

You need to do your own personal scientific study and see how YOU respond to certain focus changes. In some cases, it may have no effect – but in others, it can be significant enough to transform your game.

I have countless examples of golfers who come for a lesson and I change their focus of attention and they go on to shoot their lowest scores ever. And this is without changing their swing mechanics directly – simply a change in their attention.

In Next Level Golf, I have a system that allows you to quantify your results to see which type of attentional focus is right for you.

If you want to learn more about the different types of locus of attention, how to test/quantify, as well as diving deep into the topics of technique, strategy, training and more, click the link below and learn more about Next Level Golf.


Test Limitations

A couple of notes I would like to mention in honor of being transparent;

  • I didn’t keep the data of the test, as it was not of interest to me at the time due to the fact it didn’t show anything as a whole. However, I remembered the message from the data – everyone responds differently and needs their own test.
  • 10 balls with each type of focus is not enough to draw definitive conclusions. However, do your own tests with bigger sample sizes. In my experience, I still see significant effects of changing LOA on performance.
  • In the testing, I asked golfers to perform their drives always in the same order (10 with a narrow focus first, then a wide focus second). A better test would have been to mix this up, although I felt the order I conducted the test in helped me to control the player’s attention better.
  • While the task focus was different for each 10-ball set, there is no guarantee that the player actually changed their focus of attention. For example, if the player was hitting to the wider target, they may still have had a narrow focus.


  • dave

    brilliant! I work in a business that uses a lot of pallets. I imagine “visualize” 1 to 4 pallet targets for landing area depending on shot required. i.e. 4 pallets left edge of fairway at 220 yards for driver (I play a cutty fade). 4 pallet square left of pin on a 150 approach 8i shot. 1 pallet behind and right of pin for a 25 yard chip/pitch shot that breaks left. Have to develop your own aim system.

  • Iain Carthew

    I will be heading down the golf range and taking what I have learnt from you excellent post and putting it into practice, I will let you know how I go. Thanks

  • Simon (AKA Golf blogger)

    What a fantastic article and something a lot of us can use. Love the science behind this and it’s really got me thinking. Will be trying out some of the suggestions on here when I’m on the course tomorrow.

  • Doc

    …this is the first time I’ve heard a teaching pro suggest a wide focus as an option, an approach which brings out the best in me…it relaxes and frees me up, both mentally and physically (I hate that dichotomy, by the way)…I’ve even imagined the fairway slanted to the middle on both sides, suggesting that any shot in that vicinity will be good…similarly, I’ve had success imagining that all I have to do is start the putt rolling smoothly and the hole will pull it in…good stuff!… : )

  • Ross E Duff

    Interesting! Before I hurt my shoulder, I was working on something like this! I was testing my shot grouping and alignment in relation to each other. I may hit a ball a bit longer than the rest but it is directly in line with a previous shot. My shots were getting closer together the more I worked on a smaller target range. Then I blew out my shoulder and it all went to pot!!

    I think you are right. I also think external “forces” can dictate your field of the target. Is it windy? How windy? Is the air humid and full of moisture or dry? How do I “feel”? Do I “feel confident or am I apprehensive of a shot? Is the temperature quite cool or nice and warm or even hot? Is the fairway narrow or wide? Where is the rough the fairway bunkers, etc? So many things we subconsciously consider before picking a target. Most amateurs don’t think like this, I know.

    Your Aim small, Hit small ideas have a lot of merits!! This is very well thought out and written, Adam!

    • admin

      I wish you well in your recovery

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