What Were You Thinking Before THAT Golf Shot?

As a golf coach, do you often wonder what your client is thinking about when struggling with a golf lesson? As a player, how often have you asked yourself the same question after playing another poor shot! Your conscious thought processes in the SECONDS before, during and after execution frequently undermines your ability to perform both in practice and on course. So who’s driving the bus here? You or someone else? Is there nothing you can do to take control? What IS the focus of your attention whilst you are executing a golf shot and HOW do you control it consistently? Where should it be? Swing, body, club head, ball, out of bounds, water, trees, bunker, birdie, outcome or heaven forbid……the Target!


Attentional Focus examines the relationship between your thinking, vision, auditory and other senses. Whilst awake we are always attending to something in our conscious mind and our attentional focus is analogous to the lens of a film projector. The film running through it, usually at an extremely high speed, comprises of information from your external senses and internal thoughts, both conscious and unconscious. Many can spend their lives feeling like ‘observers’ of this film being projected rather than understanding how to take active control over what is being projected and become, instead, the director of their movie and their reality, both on and off the golf course.

Whether playing a musical instrument, driving a car, riding a bike or making a sandwich physical flow exists when we allow our sub-conscious mind to manage our physical actions. Flow exists in ALL life tasks when we remove the conscious mind from any attempt to control our physical actions. So what is the conscious mind doing whilst we perform those tasks? It can be anywhere in time and place. We don’t need to control our attention to carry out those tasks as we rely on procedural memories which were practiced, mastered and put safely into storage for recall when needed.

Just imagine if you could build similar procedural memories you could call upon for your golf swing and putting stroke without doubting your ability to carry out the task? This is just one benefit of  learning Target Oriented Golf. The primary psychological difference when playing golf, or any other target oriented activity where we need to acquire a Single Pointed Concentration, is we also need to control that which we consciously attend to for it critically influences our ability to perform the task consistently and accurately. If you are not thinking about Target as you execute a shot for example, what are you CHOOSING to think about and why? If you could look at the Target where would you focus your mind?

What makes golf such a challenge psychologically is we have to look away from our intended target just prior to execution. This is where the problems begin for the vast majority of golfers for they remove their eyes AND attention from Target. Clearly, at the MOMENT of execution we wish to experience physical Flow with no conscious control of our actions but how can this be achieved if the golfer is now looking at the ball and thinking about HOW to control the club? It clearly can not. Yet many Professional golfers still strive for elusive performance whilst insisting on having a swing thought! So what chance the amateur? The elite do attempt to overcome this lack of attentional focus awareness and will do the best with the skills they have. They have a LOT of time. ‘Grinding’ salves the conscience but it can also kill performance.

In golf, just as in any sport where an athlete has time to ‘think’ before they execute, what happens at execution is significantly influenced by what an athlete CHOOSES to think about PRIOR to this moment. This is often where a golfer is told to stop ‘strategizing’ (think box/play box) but it does not also mean that significant tasks such as state management, physical alignment and attentional focus do not require deliberate conscious attention during this period of preparation time. Some coaches and psychologists advocate ‘thinking less’. This is impossible and simply creates a void in which erroneous thought floods. You will then be ‘out of control’ at that moment in time rather than ‘in control’ of your process. It’s not enough to advocate just a think box/play box strategy. You need a think box/focus box.

Unfortunately, for many golfers, performance does not manifest itself regularly due to erroneous ‘thinking’ about how to control their physical actions at execution with a conscious ‘swing thought’, due to the endemic nature of the way the game is taught and practiced. When will you ever trust in competition that which you constantly strive to control in practice? If the swing is not the focus of the golfers’ conscious mind when playing on course, it will often be replaced with some outcome oriented event like score, water, don’t hit it left etc hence the “advice” being offered to “not think” as you prepare to execute may sound like a better alternative for some than thinking. Too much thinking is not the problem however. It is simply erroneous thinking which lies at the heart of poor golf performances.

If you struggle with the game of golf, irrespective of how much you ‘grind’, it may be time for you to switch focus from your technique and begin to understand HOW to trust it. When you begin to understand the relationship between vision, thought and action you begin to give up control of your body and gain real control of your mind. Target Oriented Golf is a comprehensive alternative remote GOLF COACHING program brought to you with the help of GSOM. When you are ready to receive, we are ready to help with remote video coaching services wherever you may be in the world. Please visit for details.

Until next time, enjoy your golf!



Photo by ghz

  • Troy Vayanos

    Nice post Colin,

    Most golfers I know focus too much on the technique and often forget to zero in on the target. Their brain gets confused and as a result they rarely make any progress.

    Simple advice but very powerful.


  • Colin Cromack

    Thanks for your feedback Troy. I will suggest that there is nothing simple about this advice.

    What I describe is the biggest psychological challenge any golfer faces, amateur and professional.
    Understanding how to get your attentional focus in the right place at the right time, consistently.

    You can’t just go and play Target Oriented Golf, you have to practice it deliberately independent of any technical practice. Until the golfer makes it their dominant behavior in practice, it will never become the dominant behavior in competition. When things go belly up, most will jump back into technical analysis.


  • mike d

    awesome information..a seldom discussed yet perhaps the most important part of playing golf.

    well written my friend.

  • Colin Cromack

    Thank you Mike, glad it resonated with you.

    It’s a seldom discussed subject by golf coaches because the coaching industry is not being provided with appropriate/accurate information from academia, who are themselves permanently ‘hamstrung’ due to limitations in their psychological research methods. Most authors on this site recognise this.

    Researchers attempt to analyse brain activity and draw conclusions whilst the golfer is already standing over the ball, in order to minimize “noise” interference caused by physical movement and to control the independent variables. Unfortunately, it is what the golfer thinks about as they step in to and prepare to execute which determines the success of the shot. As you will know your physical flow will always be destroyed by erroneous thought as you prepare or during your swing execution.

    The reason why David created this site is because many already recognise this but little changes in the world of golf instruction and the average handicap still does not come down, regardless of improvements in teaching aids and technology. I wonder who is responsible for this?

    Until the golf coaching industry moves from ‘below the neck’ mentality little will change. You can choose many flavors of golf ‘swing’ methods. Why don’t any of them take into account the golfers brain?

    Speak to Dr Anthony Piparo if you wish to learn HOW to develop your technical golf skills efficiently.


    • Tony Piparo

      Thanks Colin,

      As you know, “Success comes to those who first conquer the powers of the mind.” This is true for every activity in life. If we don’t know how our mind operates, what things affect it, how will we ever learn to control it or the important activities in our life? Understanding some simple things which science and golf seem to dismiss has created a situation where very little improvement in the game exists. A very few overcome these obstacles, but even they are susceptible to “unexplained” sudden performance deterioration, and extended slumps. You hit the nail on the head as to why this situation exists. Thanks for the recommendation.