Like it or not, golf is a long game. There are very few sports that can take almost 5 hours to complete. Hence it’s no surprise that a common question I get is: “how do I improve my focus for golf and hold it for all 18 holes?” At some point during the back nine, most weekend golfers lose focus and make careless mental mistakes which cost them several strokes on their scorecard. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to improve focus for golf and here are my top 7 ways to do it.
How To Improve Focus For Golf
So how does a Tour player keep their focus sharp until the final putt drops on the 18th green?
Tour players are professional sportsmen and women playing at the very highest level. With everything that’s at stake every time they play, they have to make sure they do everything possible to give their best effort to every shot. Being mentally fresh over every shot it key.
Switching your “golf brain” on and off
No one can concentrate for 4-5 hours. This is why we need to relax the mind in between shots, so it’s ready to concentrate during the only time it needs to in a round of golf: THE SHOT ROUTINE.
We need to separate the round into the “shot” and the “in between shot” time. The focus of your attention needs to move from broad (your external environment) in between shots, to narrow (your pre-shot routine) during shots.
The “In-between Shot Time”
For the average player, golf is about 90% “in between” shots. What you do during this time has a big effect on how well you do during the other 10% that you are playing.
In between shots, your golf brain needs to be switched off. This means:
Not Thinking about past shots (unless they are good ones!)
Not Thinking about the next shot
Not Thinking about your swing
Not Thinking about what score you want to shoot
Not Thinking about anything that frustrates you
All these thoughts are either speculation about things that are uncertain, or things that will cause performance anxiety. Either way, they consume valuable mental energy and take away from your focus during your shots.
To improve focus for golf, during the in between shot time you need to quieten your mind and get rid of mental clutter ahead of your next shot. The ideal state of mind in between shots is when you are “in the present”.
You’ve probably heard this before, but what does it mean and how do you achieve it?
Being present is when you’re simply noticing your external environment without commentary or judgement. You’re in “the now”. “Nowness” is a valuable skill (that you can improve), which can really help you in your daily life. With all the distractions that modern day technology provide, really being in the present moment is becoming harder and harder and so is our ability to focus.
1. Be “more present”
So how to you become more present? The easiest way is to be more aware of your senses.
When you’re doing this, you’re in the present. Next time you’re on the course walking between shots, try to notice the following:
The sounds: birdsong, the wind in the trees, lawn-mowers i.e. anything you can hear
The sights: the clouds moving, the colors of the trees, the green grass i.e. notice what you see without thinking about it
Touch: the feel of the ground beneath your feet, the feel of your breaths.
Chat with your playing partners. One of the many joys of golf is the people you meet. Take your mind off your game by learning something about the people you are playing with.
Turn your phone off. Technology is arguably the biggest challenge to staying present. Most of us are now permanently attached to our phones. I like to think of the golf course as my sanctuary where I’m free of emails and social media updates.
2. Learn how to control your emotions
To really stay present and switch off your golf brain, you may need techniques to control your thoughts and emotions. If you’re playing under pressure with a lot at stake, you can easily get carried away with your thoughts and find yourself regretting, speculating and getting stressed out, which will affect your thinking and your movement during the shot. I’ve got plenty of ways to put negatives behind you in my Ultimate Mental Game Training System (2016 edition).
3. Focus on your Breathing
Focusing on your breathing does a few good things. It keeps your brain oxygenated (which is very important for focus), it lowers your heart rate and controls your stress response, and it helps keep you present. Focusing on your breathing is like a meditative practice in between shots. Maintaining a good “powerful” posture as you walk will also help with the quality of your breathing.
4. Get a good night’s sleep
If you’re not getting a good night’s sleep before your round, it’s obviously going to be hard to stay fresh for the duration of the round.
5. Eat and drink right
Eating and drinking right, on and off the course is key to keeping your energy levels steady and staying mentally sharp.
6. Use a Trigger
Something that my students find useful is to have a clear separation of the “shot time” from the “in between shot” time. A “switch” or a “trigger” is helpful here. There are several different types of trigger you could use, but it could be an action like taking a sip of water or sports drink, taking the yardage book out of your pocket or your laser range finder. It could also be verbal like saying “switch on” or “let’s go” in your head. Whatever it is, try to reinforce it with every shot, so it has more and more meaning. At the end of the shot you can use another trigger to go back into the “in between shot” time.
7. Have a clear plan for the shot routine.
If you don’t know exactly what the steps are that you’ll be taking during the 1-2 mins of the shot routine, it’s easy to lose focus and get distracted. To improve focus for golf during every shot, you need a clear shot routine. If you don’t yet have a good shot routine that fits your style, be sure to check out The Ultimate Mental Game Training System.
How do you keep track of whether you’re getting better at focusing? Use a Mental game scorecard
All my students use a Mental Game Scorecard to measure how well they are doing at their “process” which is all you have control over on the course and will give you the best chance of a good score.
Photo courtesy of Principal Charity Classic