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8 ways to sharpen your focus on the golf course



Becoming complacent in the sport of golf can often be at the detriment of your game.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. Say you’re playing your home course from the same tees you always do, and you come to a par-3 you’ve played countless times. Without thinking you grab the same club you always hit and walk to the tee, possibly giving a quick glance at the pin position or the wind. Then you make a swing and the ball lands on the green. Nice shot.

But what just happened here? You’ve barely placed one ounce of thought as to why or what you’ve just done, and simply put your body and mind on autopilot. This is a dangerous way to play golf, because when there’s a shot on the line that really matters and you try to concentrate “harder” your body and mind will be out of their element.

In this article, I list 8 of my favorite situational drills or ways of thinking that will train you to sharpen your focus on the course. They might just save you strokes when it really matters.

Switch it up 

Do you always play the same tees at your home course? And if so, are they are usually never more than a few yards apart from day to day? Take the time to play each hole from different tees every time you play. This will force you to think about club selection, and you’ll most likely notice things about each hole’s design that can help you score better.

Be strategic on the tee

Do you always tee up the ball on the side of the tee closest to the cart path? It’s convenient, but generally ineffective. Instead, do what the pros do. If you play a draw, tee off from the left side of the tee box and aim down the right side of the fairway. If you play a fade, tee off on the right side of the tee box and aim down the left side of the fairway.

Read your chips, too

Is your goal to get the ball as close to the hole as possible when pitching? Would you accept 3 feet most of the time? “Sure,” you say. But what if I gave you a full 18 holes of downhill, left-to-right 3-foot sliders on super fast greens? That wouldn’t make you so happy.

Statistically, right-handed golfers make more uphill, right-to-left putts (lefties make more uphill, left-to-right putts), so try to leave yourself an uphill putt that breaks toward you. Before you take your next chip shot, give some thought to the slope around the hole and think about the putt you want to leave yourself.

Lie analysis

Do you really look at your lie closely when hitting a longer club from the fairway? Even balls in the fairway can sit more up or more down than usual, and if you’re hitting a hybrid or fairway wood the lie can make a huge difference in the carry, height, and landing angle of your shot. Check out the lie, and choose your club accordingly.

Sand in the bunker

Do you ever pay attention to what you feel under your feet when walking into a bunker? Most people don’t. You cannot test the surface of a hazard when playing golf, but you can pay attention to what you feel with your feet. If you walk around in the bunker, you will be able to feel where the bunker has more and less sand, which will control how you play the shot at hand.


Have you ever hit a putt on your intended line only to see it break away from the hole, or drastically misjudged the speed of a putt? I’m guessing you have. Before reading your putt, take a look the topography of the green complex itself. You might just find yourself on the side of a hill running one way or the other, affecting your read.

Laying up

When you lay up on a par-5, do you always hit your shot as close to the green as you can? Most people do, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, you should ask yourself a few questions before simply wailing away.

  • What does the fairway do?
  • Where is the best yardage?
  • What is the best angle to the green from the fairway?
  • What is your best yardage?

Related: A strategy to score lower on par-5s

Last Look

When you’re aiming away from trouble or trying to avoid it, what is the last thing you look at before you hit your shot? It better be your target and not what you’re trying to avoid. Your body and the golf ball usually gravitate toward what you look at last before pulling the trigger, so make it the right thought

Remember, take the time to mix up the game, and don’t forget to use your brain! Your handicap index will thank you.

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Tom F. Stickney II, is a specialist in Biomechanics for Golf, Physiology, and 3d Motion Analysis. He has a degree in Exercise and Fitness and has been a Director of Instruction for almost 30 years at resorts and clubs such as- The Four Seasons Punta Mita, BIGHORN Golf Club, The Club at Cordillera, The Promontory Club, and the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. His past and present instructional awards include the following: Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, Golf Digest Top 50 International Instructor, Golf Tips Top 25 Instructor, Best in State (Florida, Colorado, and California,) Top 20 Teachers Under 40, Best Young Teachers and many more. Tom is a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 25 people in the world. Tom is TPI Certified- Level 1, Golf Level 2, Level 2- Power, and Level 2- Fitness and believes that you cannot reach your maximum potential as a player with out some focus on your physiology. You can reach him at [email protected] and he welcomes any questions you may have.



  1. Brando

    Sep 23, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    A good time to hijack this thread given Tigers face to this article…..any of you heard Tiger being part of a Chinese consortium to buy TalorMade Golf where he’ll be the face of TM? I’m surprised Wrx hasn’t published an article on it yet…maybe they’re writing it as we speak? Can’t see it happening…what do you think guys?

  2. tom stickney

    Sep 23, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    I will do an article on “Lie Analysis” for everyone as well! 🙂

  3. devilsadvocate

    Sep 23, 2016 at 6:42 am

    Funny to read all the “what you should have done” and “what you forgot” comments … Great Jon Tom keep up the good work

  4. devilsadvocate

    Sep 23, 2016 at 6:39 am

    Wow good one! What a zinger!

  5. Oooh

    Sep 23, 2016 at 3:21 am

    What’s wrong with a nice sip of coca-cola every hole just to keep it up? No guzzling, just a sip after every green.

  6. Emilia

    Sep 23, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Agreed about articles on lie analysis. It’s something I’ve learned to focus on from the rough, sand and around the greens but much less in the fairway.

  7. KoreanSlumLord

    Sep 22, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Boy have times changed. Whatever happened to just sparking up a j when the beer was making your swing sloppy? I sure missed living and playing in Hawaii in the 70s and 80s.

  8. Double Mocha Man

    Sep 22, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    “If you walk around in the bunker, you will be able to feel where the bunker has more and less sand…” Yes, but who is going to rake the entire trap for me? I usually get a feel for the density of the sand near my ball when I scrunch my feet down into the sand. If I hit rock bottom pretty quick I know what to expect. If it’s dry sand like at the beach and my feet just keep drilling down, I know what to expect.

  9. mctrees02

    Sep 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    What goodwill do you earn by posting negative comments on an article? I struggle to understand why some feel the need to trash simple, helpful information just because they are all-knowing.

    While some/most of these things may seem obvious to many of the avid golfers that read this website, it’s never a bad idea to get a refresher on the mental game.

    • ooffa

      Sep 22, 2016 at 3:52 pm

      Calm down dude. geeeez,

    • Bert

      Sep 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

      Agree! Tom’s article is constructive. We can all, as I did, worry about slow play. Good constructive comments Tom.

  10. emb

    Sep 22, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Nothing group breaking here, I can’t believe people don’t already do all these things anyways, if you’re not then you’re not allowing yourself to play to your potential. These should already be second nature if you’re truly trying to score your best and not just go out there and swing away aimlessly.

  11. Nomnom

    Sep 22, 2016 at 2:24 pm

    OMG I can’t believe this article forgot to mention the most obvious one:

    Hit a different club for a change. In that Par 3 scenario, so you change tee position and you also change from which side of tee.
    Why not hit a different club? So you hit a 9 iron all the time, take an 8 or a 7 and see if you can hit the target.
    Same with every other hole. May be this one day you just don’t play the driver.

    Etc etc.
    I don’t think the writer of the article knows how to play golf

    • Patricknorm

      Sep 23, 2016 at 8:21 am

      I think you just outed yourself. Tom’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know. Maybe take a moment and peruse his past 150 articles. And how often have you broken 70? Not all of us are scratch.

      • Bert

        Sep 23, 2016 at 9:06 am

        I knew Tom when he was teaching at Sandestin Golf Resort many years ago. He was a great teacher then and obviously better now and yes, he can play!

    • tom stickney

      Sep 23, 2016 at 12:32 pm


      We’ll all be waiting for your article on how you’d teach and play golf…

  12. GregC

    Sep 22, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Maybe you could do an article on Lie Analysis. What to look for, what to expect, etc., from certain lies. Seeing output from Trackman might lend additional context to the discussion. What causes a flier, how things change when it’s wet, does it differ with 4 irons vs 9 irons. I always hear “read your lie” but no one ever seems to say “here is how you do it”.

    • mctrees02

      Sep 22, 2016 at 3:30 pm

      Agreed about an article on lie analysis. It’s something I’ve learned to pay attention to from the rough, sand and around the greens but not as much in the fairway.

  13. JayG

    Sep 22, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    simple, great stuff here!

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Clement: Why your practice swing never sucks



You hear that one all the time; I wish I could put my practice swing on the ball! We explain the huge importance of what to focus on to allow the ball to be perfectly in the way of your practice swing. Enjoy!


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Clement: This is when you should release the driver



The golf teaching industry is slowly coming around to understand how the human machine is a reaction and adaptation machine that responds to weight and momentum and gravity; so this video will help you understand why we say that the club does the work; i.e. the weight of the club releases your anatomy into the direction of the ball flight.

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Kelley: Focus on what you can control



(Part One) Changing The Swing

The address position is the easiest part to change in the golf swing. If an adjustment can be made that will influence the rest of the swing, it should be made here. The set-up is a static position, so you have full control over it. If concepts are understood with feedback given (a mirror or video) it can easily be corrected and monitored. Once the club is in motion, a change becomes much more difficult.

Most faults in the swing originate in the set-up. All to often players go directly to the part they want to change in the middle of their swing, not understating their is an origin to what they do. When the origin isn’t fixed, trying to directly change the part in the middle is difficult and will often leave the player frustrated. Even worse, the part they are looking to fix may actually be a “match-up” move by the brain and body. These match-up moves actually counter -balance a previous move to try and make the swing work.

An example of not fixing the origin and understanding the importance of the set-up is when players are trying to shallow the club on the downswing (a common theme on social media). They see the steep shaft from down-the-line and directly try and fix this with different shallowing motions. More times then not, the origin to this is actually in the set-up and/or direction the body turns back in the backswing. If the body is out of position to start and turns back “tilty”, a more difficult match-up is required to shallow the shaft.

Another simple simple set-up position that is often over-looked is the angle of the feet. For efficiency, the lead foot should be slightly flared and the trail foot flared out as well (the trail more flared then the lead). When the trail foot is straight or even worse pointed inwards, a player will often shift their lower in the backswing rather then coil around in the groin and glutes. Trying to get a better lower half coil is almost impossible with poor foot work.

The golf swing is hard to change, so work on the things that are simple and what you have control over. You may not be able to swing it like a world class player, but with proper training you can at least the address the ball like one. When making a swing change, look to fix the origin first to facilitate the change.

*Part two of this article will be focusing on what you can control on the golf course, a key to better performance

Twitter: KKelley_golf

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