If you tend to hit the ball great on the range, but awful when it counts, this article is a must read.
This is number 9 in our countdown of Top 10 Golf Practice Tips.
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A little Story
Bob is practicing his mini-pitch on the practice green. He is working solely on his ability to strike the ball as crisply as possible, with an increased awareness of where the club is brushing the grass. As he practices, it fills him with confidence as he sees ball after ball pop up in the air and land on the green with a little bit of bite.
He walks off the practice area and heads to the next tee – this is going to be a great round.
The first chip
After a decent start to his round, he hasn’t missed a green and is level par after 3. Then, on the fourth hole, his ball lands just short of a bunker – 20 yards away from the pin.
No problem, I had this mastered on the practice area
He stands over the pitch shot and visualizes the ball flying over the bunker and landing onto the green with the same spin control he had in practice. He makes his practice swing and hits an imaginary ball, and watches it in his mind as it nestles up to the flagstick.
Then he proceeds to knife it 40 yards over the green.
Wait, I don’t understand. His practice went well. He had positive psychology over the shot in hand. He did his visualisation.
How could this possibly fail?
Locus of Attention
Replay that scenario again. What was Bob thinking of during practice? He was focused on brushing the grass and the strike quality – this is called an external PROCESS focus.
What was Bob thinking of during the shot on the course? The Target – we call this an external RESULT focus.
See the difference?
Bob’s attention was in a different place during his practice compared to during his all-important shot on the course.
This is less to do with where you are looking, and more to do with where your attention is. You could be looking the ball but be thinking about the target/result
Imagine that the movements you learn are like files stored in a computer. Let’s call them “Motor Programs”.
There are two things we are trying to do in order to play our best golf –
- Create better and better programs (movement patterns)
- Improve our ability to access those programs or movements
Bob’s problem was not in his movement pattern – he had built a great one which was working on the practice area just fine. But his ability to find/access that file/movement on the course diminished.
He was looking in the wrong folder.
The ability to access a stored movement involves many factors – but where you place your attention is a huge one.
Having your attention on the PROCESS during the learning/practice stages, and then changing this to the RESULT on the course is analogous to creating a document in one folder, then trying to find it by looking in a completely different folder.
You saved it here
Then you look in here – go figure
In my book “The Practice Manual”, I discuss locus of attention in detail, and the powerful effects it can have on both learning and performance. I also discuss when to use certain focuses to improve the speed of learning, and also when to change your focus to maximize your performance on the course.
Different for everyone
Some may read the above story and think that a target focus is bad – this is not true.
The message here is that changing your focus can have a profound effect on whether you perform well or not. And it is different for different players. For example, elite players are usually better off with a target oriented focus, whereas most amateurs seem to perform better with a process focus. However, not everyone falls into those two categories.
These are only 2 out of 5 different foci I identify in my book – all of which can be tested to see which one you play and perform better with. This is a process I explain in the book, which you can learn more about by clicking the image below.
Actions to take
- Start to notice how you are thinking on the range versus the course
- Try to vary where you place your attention, and notice how it affects your results
- Try to maintain your desired focus of attention when it counts – on the course
- If you struggle to maintain your attention on the course (for example, your mind always wanders to the target when you play), you may have to also practice and learn new skills with that same focus. I also discuss this in “The Practice Manual”