You’ve probably heard many times that you should focus on a very specific target for each shot, but most golfers don’t fully appreciate just how important this is, or why it will help to significantly lower their scores.
Perhaps this lack of understanding is why golfers don’t learn to focus properly, or perhaps it’s because the game of golf is full of nebulous terms that promote weak, “fluffy” aims.
For most golfers, the aim of a shot might be to “hit the fairway“, to hit a “green in regulation” with their “approach shot“, to “escape a bunker”, to “chip it close“, or to “lag a putt up to the hole“. These are the things that pundits talk about on TV, the things that magazines teach you.
The problem with all of these aims is that they are unspecific, weak, unfocused. A golfer who thinks in these terms will never shoot as low as they could do if they had better thinking.
Even those golfers who know that a clearer, more precise aim will help them to play better and shoot lower don’t really understand why, and so they don’t give this aspect of the game the importance (and the effort) that it deserves.
Obviously, if you achieve your precise aim for a shot it will be a good result. In golf, this isn’t always clear-cut because, unless your aim is “in the hole”, then you don’t actually score with that shot by hitting your aim.
Most golfers will understand how if your aim is narrowly focused and you miss, the result will probably be better than with a wide target. If you aim for “the fairway” and miss, it might hurt your score. But if you aim for “the second mower stripe from the centre of the fairway” and miss, then you have a good chance of still being in the fairway.
But what most golfers don’t understand is that the real benefit of a precise aim is what it does to your consciousness.
Aiming with very precise focus takes up all of your concentration. It absorbs all of your conscious attention, and leaves no room for negative thoughts that may hinder your performance.
There is no room to worry about that putt you missed on the last hole, or about the lead you have in the match. There is only the shot. You are forced to stay in the present and target focused, in “the zone”.
That’s why we titled this article “Thread the Needle”. Try to dwell on a negative aspect of your day while threading a needle, you can’t! Anxiety, anger, apprehension… all these destructive thoughts and feelings just evaporate.
And because all of your conscious attention is taken by your precise focus, this frees up mental energy for your inner athlete. The Learner is too busy to get in your way, and The Player is free to play the shot, free from interference. Your movements are more fluid, more precise, more natural – you’re a better athlete, a better golfer!
Aiming precisely doesn’t mean that you have to fire at the pin all of the time. You may still choose to aim for the middle of the green, to play smart, but you should aim at a precise point in the middle of the green. Laying up may be the best option, but aim to lay up to an exact spot on the fairway.
And a narrow target won’t introduce tension, quite the opposite. The process outlined below is all about focusing on what you want, and not, after the initial shot choice, thinking about what to avoid. It’s positive and aggressive, not fearful and tentative.
How to Thread the Needle
Choose the best play, based on all of the data available, and then pick the shot which offers the best result based on the correct risk/reward ratio at that point in time. Now pick a precise target and play the shot, with total focus, aggressively towards that target.
For example, you may have an approach shot to an accessible pin. You decide that the best play is to try and hit it close.
All fears of water hazards, bunkers, the wind etc. are gone. You took all of these potential problems into account in your choice of shot, they no longer exist. Worrying about them, even being strongly aware of them, can’t improve your stroke.
Now narrow your focus, you will aim to hole the shot! There’s no thought of “a good leave” if you miss at this point, you took all of that into account in your choice of shot.
Where, exactly, does the ball need to pitch in order to roll into the hole? What’s the right club to play that shot? What trajectory does the shot need? Fade or draw, high or low, how much? Decide!
Pick a target in the distance to align your body with in order to flight the ball as desired – maybe a tree on the horizon, now pick a branch on that tree. Pick an intermediate target, a few feet after the ball, that the shot will start over – perhaps a specific blade of grass.
Now think of the best shot of this type that you ever played, and use that as the basis of your visualisation. See the flight of the shot in your mind’s eye, see it curve through the air, pitch on the green and roll into the hole. Feel the stroke, your body moving fluidly through to a balanced finish, the golf club accelerating into impact, the ball compressing against the club face, the club head cutting through the turf. Hear the sound of that buttery strike, the ball hissing through the air. See it, feel it, hear it.
Take a practice swing or two, rehearsing the feelings that you visualise as you continue to replay the shot in your mind. No mechanical thoughts, just feelings.
Now, with your precise target absorbing all of your focus, step up to the ball and let it go.
This level of focus is a learned skill, it takes practice, but it’s well worth the effort! Within a short while you’ll be playing your best shots time after time, and your scores will tumble.
Coming soon, we’ll publish the full Golf Loopy Think like a Champion series, the sensational new mental game improvement system that will help you to improve every aspect of your performance on the golf course. The improvements will be dramatic, and they will be permanent.