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7 ways to improve your focus on the golf course

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Focus is a big buzzword today… in everything. Because of the infinite number of distractions around us, including advancements in technology, our attention spans seem to be shrinking to the point where it is difficult for people to keep their minds on a task for more than a few seconds.

I really became interested in the idea of focus while reflecting on my golf career and realizing that I struggled with focus and keeping my mind and energy centered on my plan to win tournaments. I found that my emotions would knock me off my focus (emotions gone wild) and hurt my chances of being a consistent player. Negative emotions like anger wreaked havoc and often kept my focus on the past, exactly where I didn’t want it. The real competition was always inside of me. You might know the feeling — hit a bad shot or miss a putt and you can find it difficult to get your mind back in the game and create the right internal environment to play the next one. Some call it being “frazzled.”

Dan Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence explains that we’re also prone to emotions driving focus when our minds are wandering, when we are distracted or when we have information overload — or all three. Think about how this might apply to you in a typical round.

Jordan Spieth

Consider a player like Jordan Spieth. A focused mind is a secret of his consistent play. He has the drill down perfectly. If he hits a shot he doesn’t like, he expresses the emotion and moves forward. We all hear Jordan talking to himself and scolding himself, purging all of the bad energy. He then quickly moves forward to the next shot, considering what it will take to create the lowest score possible. And it appears there is very little information overload for Jordan. A natural player, he really seems to keep things very simple for himself technically.

Emotions off the course impacts performance on it

Something that’s interesting when I work with high-level athlete clients, including professional golfers: their focus is often muddled by events that have happened off the course, not on it. Something may have happened at home, or they are worried about something else in their lives that creates anxiety and hinders them from bringing full focus to their game. For this reason, attention must be given to what’s going on off the course. Those emotions must be acknowledged and expressed, helping to create a clear mind to focus on the task at hand — hitting golf shots to the best of their ability.

What causes you to lose your focus?

Focus is certainly one of the keys to performance excellence. Many performance problems, including a lack of self-confidence, can be traced to problems in the area of focus. The more you lose your focus, the more difficult the game will be.

What causes you to lose focus on the course? Could it be playing partners, off-the-course distractions, too much emphasis on the outcome (your score), unacceptable shots, looking ahead to holes that you will soon play, three putts, unforced errors? Everyone is different — you might have other factors that impact your focus. As an exercise, make a list of things that distract you.

Steps to improve your focus

We all know that functional practice is critical to great performance on the course. Part of your practice should be working on your mental/emotional game. Like hitting balls and working on your swing motion, or working on your putting stroke, effort in practice is required to build your mental and emotional “muscles.”

Here are a seven steps to help you build those muscles and improve your focus on the course:

1. Similar to PGA Tour players, you must be aware of what’s going on off of the course emotionally so the negative energy doesn’t disrupt your focus on it. Express emotions created off of the course before you arrive at the first tee.

2. Construct a routine that works for you — simple, comfortable, reliable actions that put your mind on the task on each shot in practice and when it counts. This creates consistency and predictability in your behavior and begins your process of shotmaking.

3. If you find yourself drifting, bring yourself back to the center by asking yourself “where’s my focus.” This will create awareness and help you keep your mind on the task.

4. Accept that there are things in a round you can and can’t control. Identify what they are and only put focus on those things within your control.

5. Consider a very short, quiet session each day focusing on your breath. In this mental fitness session, the more you catch your mind wandering off and bringing it back to concentrating on the breath, the more your concentration muscles strengthen.

6. Eat high-protein, low-carb meals before playing. Carbs cause quick crashes while proteins become brain fuel more slowly, providing a steady energy level helping to sustain focus.

7. Focus declines quickly when you are tired, and there’s an epidemic of sleep deprivation. Enough sleep can make a difference and help keep your mind on the game.

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John Haime is the President of New Edge Performance. He's a Human Performance Coach who prepares performers to be the their best by helping them tap into the elusive 10 percent of their abilities that will get them to the top. This is something that anyone with a goal craves, and John Haime knows how to get performers there. John closes the gap for performers in sports and business by taking them from where they currently are to where they want to go.  The best in the world trust John. They choose him because he doesn’t just talk about the world of high performance – he has lived it and lives in it everyday. He is a former Tournament Professional Golfer with professional wins. He has a best-selling book, “You are a Contender,” which is widely read by world-class athletes, coaches and business performers.  He has worked around the globe for some of the world’s leading companies. Athlete clients include performers who regularly rank in the Top-50 in their respective sports. John has the rare ability to work as seamlessly in the world of professional sports as he does in the world of corporate performance. His primary ambition writing for GolfWRX is to help you become the golfer you'd like to be. See www.johnhaime.com for more. Email: john@newedgeperformance.org

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Instruction

Tip of the week: Let the left heel lift for a bigger turn to the top

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In this week’s tip, Tom Stickney gives a suggestion that would make Brandel Chamblee proud: lift the left heel on the backswing for a bigger turn.

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How I train tour players

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There is a lot of speculation about how tour pros train, and with tantalizing snippets of gym sessions being shared on social media, it’s tempting to draw large conclusions from small amounts of insight. One thing I can tell you from my time on tour is that there isn’t just one way that golfers should train, far from it. I’ve seen many different approaches work for many different pros, a strong indicator is the wide variety of body shapes we see at the top level of the game. Take for example Brooks Koepka, Mark Leishman, Ricker Fowler, and Patrick Reed. Put these four players through a physical testing protocol and the results would be extremely varied, and yet, over 18 holes of golf there is just 0.79 shots difference between first and last.

This example serves to highlight the importance of a customized approach to training. Sometimes common sense training programs backed by scientific evidence simply don’t work for an individual. One of the athletes I work with, Cameron Smith, over the course of a season recorded his slowest club-head speed when he was strongest and heaviest (muscle mass) and fastest club-head speed when he was lightest and weakest. That lead me to seriously question the widely accepted concept of stronger = more powerful and instead search for a smarter and more customized methodology. I’ll continue to use Cam and his training as an example throughout this article.

Cam working on his rotational speed (push band on his arm)

What I’m going to outline below is my current method of training tour pros, it’s a fluid process that has changed a lot over the years and will hopefully continue to morph into something more efficient and customized as time goes on.

Assessment

I have poached and adapted aspects from various different testing methods including TPI, GravityFit, Ramsay McMaster, Scott Williams and Train With Push. The result is a 5-stage process that aims to identify areas for improvement that can be easily compared to measure progress.

Subjective – This is a simple set of questions that sets the parameters for the upcoming training program. Information on training and injury history, time available for training, access to facilities and goal setting all help to inform the structure of the training program design that will fit in with the individual’s life.

Postural – I take photos in standing and golf set up from in-front, behind and both sides. I’m simply trying to establish postural tendencies that can be identified by alignment of major joints. For example a straight line between the ear, shoulder, hip and ankle is considered ideal.

Muskulo Skeletal – This is a series of very simple range of motion and localized stability tests for the major joints and spinal segments. These tests help explain movement patterns demonstrated in the gym and the golf swing. For example ankle restrictions make it very difficult to squat effectively, whilst scapula (shoulder blade) instability can help explain poor shoulder and arm control in the golf swing.

Stability and Balance – I use a protocol developed by GravityFit called the Core Body Benchmark. It measures the player’s ability to hold good posture, balance and stability through a series of increasingly complex movements.

Basic Strength and Power – I measure strength relative to bodyweight in a squat, push, pull and core brace/hold. I also measure power in a vertical leap and rotation movement.

At the age of 16, Cam Smith initially tested poorly in many of these areas; he was a skinny weak kid with posture and mobility issues that needed addressing to help him to continue playing amateur golf around the world without increasing his risk of injury.

An example scoring profile

Report

From these 5 areas of assessment I write a report detailing the areas for improvement and set specific and measurable short terms goals. I generally share this report with the player’s other team members (coach, manager, caddie etc).

Training Program

Next step is putting together the training program. For this I actually designed and built (with the help of a developer) my own app. I use ‘Golf Fit Pro’ to write programs that are generally split into 3 or 4 strength sessions per week with additional mobility and posture work. The actual distribution of exercises, sets, reps and load (weights) can vary a lot, but generally follows this structure:

Warm Up – foam roll / spiky ball, short cardio, 5 or 6 movements that help warm up the major joints and muscles

Stability / Function – 2 or 3 exercises that activate key stability/postural muscles around the hips and shoulders.

Strength / Power – 4 or 5 exercises designed to elicit a strength or power adaptation whilst challenging the ability to hold posture and balance.

Core – 1 or 2 exercises that specifically strengthen the core

Mobility – 5-10 stretches, often a mixture of static and dynamic

An example of the Golf Fit Pro app

Cam Smith has followed this structure for the entire time we have been working together. His choice would be to skip the warm-up and stability sections, instead jumping straight into the power and strength work, which he considers to be “the fun part.” However, Cam also recognizes the importance of warming up properly and doing to his stability drills to reduce the risk of injury and make sure his spine, hips and shoulders are in good posture and moving well under the load-bearing strength work.

Training Sessions

My approach to supervising training sessions is to stick to the prescribed program and focus attention firstly on perfecting technique and secondly driving intent. What I mean by this is making sure that every rep is done with great focus and determination. I often use an accelerometer that tracks velocity (speed) to measure the quality and intent of a rep and provide immediate feedback and accountability to the individual.

Cam especially enjoys using the accelerometer to get real-time feedback on how high he is jumping or fast he is squatting. He thrives on competing with both himself and others in his gym work, pretty typical of an elite athlete!

Maintenance

The physical, mental and emotional demands of a tournament week make it tricky to continue to train with the same volume and intensity as usual. I will often prescribe a watered down version of the usual program, reducing reps and sets whilst still focusing on great technique. Soreness and fatigue are the last thing players want to deal with whilst trying to perform at their best. It’s quite the balancing act to try and maintain fitness levels whilst not getting in the way of performance. My experience is that each player is quite different and the process has to be fluid and adaptable in order to get the balance right from week to week.

Equipment

Aside from the usual gym equipment, resistance bands, and self massage tools, the following are my favourite bits of kit:

GravityFit – Absolutely the best equipment available for training posture, stability and movement quality. The immediate feedback system means I can say less, watch more and see players improve their technique and posture faster.

Push Band – This wearable accelerometer has really transformed the way I write programs, set loads and measure progression. It’s allowed the whole process to become more fluid and reactive, improved quality of training sessions and made it more fun for the players. It also allows me to remotely view what has happened in a training session, down to the exact speed of each rep, as demonstrated in the image below.

Details from one of Cam’s recent training sessions

Examples

Below are some of the PGA Tour players that I have worked with and the key areas identified for each individual, based of the process outlined above:

Cam Smith – Improving posture in head/neck/shoulders, maintenance of mobility throughout the body, increasing power output into the floor (vertical force) and rotational speed.

Jonas Blixt – Core stability, hip mobility and postural endurance in order to keep lower back healthy (site of previous injury). Overall strength and muscle growth.

Harris English – Improving posture in spine, including head/neck. Scapula control and stability, improving hip and ankle mobility. Overall strength and muscle growth.

Recommendations

My advice if you want to get your fitness regime right, is to see a professional for an assessment and personalized program, then work hard at it whilst listening to your body and measuring results. I’m sure this advice won’t rock your world, but from all that I’ve seen and done on tour, it’s by far the best recommendation I can give you.

If you are a golfer interested in using a structured approach to your golf fitness, then you can check out my online services here.

If you are a fitness professional working with golfers, and would like to ask questions about my methods, please send an email to nick@golffitpro.net

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Instruction

Me and My Golf: Top 5 putting grips

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In this week’s Impact Show, we take a look at our top 5 putting grips. We discuss which grips we prefer, and which putting grips can suit you and why.

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