This past weekend, I gave a very interesting, impromptu lesson to a golfer who was struggling mightily. He was shanking the ball and topping it. He was a bit frustrated to say the least. As I was leaving for the evening, he asked me to have a look. It was awful. He told me what his observations were concerning what was going wrong. He felt like his anxiety over the shot—it was a ½ wedge shot he was practicing—was causing him to tighten up at impact causing the poor results. He mentioned that whenever he overthought his mechanics, this sort of thing happened. Even if he was pitching baseballs to his son, when he thought about his release, he would have horrible results. I found it very interesting that he as just a curious about the problem he was having as he was frustrated. That’s a good sign, folks!
The mini-lesson took a very different approach than what Dan thought was coming. “Sometimes the answer is not in the swing, but in the approach to hitting the shot, specifically where you Focus of Attention is placed during your swing,” was how I began. Then we started exploring the subject of in-swing focus.
The graph shows the continuum between internal and external focus, and how too much focus on either end of the continuum can negatively affect your performance. On the far left side, we have complete internal focus. Particularly after taking a lesson, we can become excessively focused on the new swing key (or worse, several keys) to the point of totally ignoring that the name of the game is to hit the ball to the target. On the far right side of the continuum, we have complete target focus. Oh, I did leave out a whole different focus — none. I call that going blank during the swing, and that’s no good at all. If you ask for nothing, nothing is what you will get! Some of us place our focus on hazards, and that’s great if you’re trying to hit the ball into them, but…you can see where that’s going to lead. Some focus on the results in a very different way: we try to avoid mistakes. That’s also a disaster. You will do best to realize that all we can do is try to hit a good shot to a sensible target and realize that we will hit 50 percent of our shots within our average shot range, 25 percent above average, and 25 percent below average. You can’t predict which one you will get, but you certainly will get one of them! Then let go of the poor result, knowing that you’ll likely hit the next one better.
Back to our lesson.
I had Dan explore the whole continuum from 100 percent internal focus to 100 percent external focus until he found his “sweetspot.” To see the transformation in his performance go from dismal to more than good enough with NO INSTRUCTION was quite a lot of fun for both of us. It turns out that, at least on the partial wedge shots that he was struggling with, Dan needs to be nearly 100 percent focused on the target while he swings. Further, the more he focuses internally on how to swing — his mechanics — the worse he performs. Interesting…It turns out that Dan had about far too many internal swing thoughts while trying to hit shots. He was way too far on the internal end of the continuum—hello, paralysis by analysis! Does that sound familiar?
Now, the sweetspot will vary for everyone, in Dan’s case, when he moved his focus totally external and onto the target he felt liberated and swung more freely. Some of us will have to have more of a blend between internal feel for the shot and the target. And that gives us your homework assignment: Find your sweet spot. Then practice getting your attention focused properly for every shot. Yep, it’s that simple!
Hit ‘em Great!
John Dunigan is a PGA Master Professional and Director of Instruction at White Manor Country Club in Malvern where he runs the John Dunigan Golf Academy. An expert in Junior Golf, John received the prestigious PGA Philadelphia Section Junior Golf Leader Award for 2012, and was named Philadelphia Section Teacher of the Year in 2008. He lives in Kennett Square.