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On & Off the Course

August 10, 2010

On and Off the Course: Successful golfers know ... focus is the key

TERRE HAUTE — I have a good friend who coached his daughter’s basketball team for a number of years, and told me that his theme with the girls was always “focus”, until it was ingrained in their brains. Now when they play high school ball, if they hear “focus” yelled from the stands, they know the source.

The point was to keep their minds in the game so they wouldn’t get lazy and could play to their potential. We’ve also discussed how “focus” can be applied to golf. It seems like such an easy concept, and in golf, there is so much time between shots that you’d think focusing on each shot wouldn’t be a problem, but it is. Your mind can wander, you can get distracted, you can totally lose your focus in a game of golf, especially if the conditions are not ideal, or the round is particularly long.

I have another friend, Tom Sappington, who coaches high school football players, and gives speeches to football camps and clinics. He teaches “focus” as one of the 14 principles to make you a better player and a better person. He has it at No. 3 on his list, right behind passion and initiative. He also adds that “focus” (and all of his 14 principles) take no talent or athletic ability to do. If the principles are applied, anyone can improve, no matter what the sport or challenge is.

At The British Open this summer, previously unheralded Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa won the championship by being focused. He used a technique explained to him by sports psychologist Dr. Carl Morris, in which he placed a red dot on his golf glove and used it as a trigger to help him focus. During the Open Championship, he would look down at that dot and remember what he and Dr. Morris had discussed, how it helped to keep him in the zone.

“It’s a good thing to just think about golf on the golf course,” he said, referring to the way he was able to play in-the-moment all four days, and how the red dot helped him to accomplish that objective. We’ve all heard about playing in “the zone,” that elusive place in our minds and on the course where everything is working.

 PGA Tour consultant, Doctor of Optometry and Sports Vision Specialist, Dr. Larry Lampert, explains the zone as it pertains to our senses in this way: “At any time, one of our senses will be dominant. Auditory dominates when golfers attend to listening to music and olfactory dominates when golfers are concentrating on smelling the coffee in the morning. When in the ‘zone’ in most sports, and with most modern golfers, vision is a dominant sense. One performance key is that with visualization, golfers automatically stop all self talk. It appears that the red dot … is an access trigger to the zone through visualization.” (Source: Pro’s Edge; visual training for golf, Dr. Larry Lampert)

The red dot was not used to block out distractions. Attempting to block out distracting and destructive thoughts, emotions, and actions is ineffective at best and can be destructive. If you tell yourself to NOT think about something, you can’t help but think about it When golfers say to themselves, “whatever you do, DON’T hit it into the water”, they’ve created a negative thought that makes their brains think about the water. Therefore, they either go ahead and hit right at the water, or over-compensate, and pull or push the ball so tremendously the opposite way that they find other ways to get into trouble.

So instead of using negative keys, use these positive ones: learn to refocus on the precise sense of the swing you actually want; visualizing the ball flight; learning to play in-the-moment and using a trigger to help focusing on that.

Oosthuizen didn’t just draw a red dot on his glove. He was trained in the technique of using the red dot as a trigger. He explained, “… I’d always wander off badly and struggle to get back into the moment. [The red dot] helped me quite a lot, just looking down at it and just remembering what we sat down and what we’re saying and things like that. Just getting me to focus. You know, I’m very happy the way I did it the last nine holes. Normally when I’ve got that lead, or a lead like that, … I’ll hit it and get it over with. But I took my time, focused on the shot, didn’t try anything funny, and it just helped me quite a bit. I did it beautifully.”

I’ll bet Jean Claude Van De Velde wishes he had used a red dot or some other kind of focusing technique, back at the Open Championship in 1999.

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Quote of the Day: “ Golf is a game played on a five-inch course between the ears.” Bobby Jones

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Upcoming Events:

• The THWGA will have their Partner Scramble on Aug. 21 at Hulman Links. Entry fee is $20 per person, plus cart. Tee times begin at 10 a.m. Lunch is provided at the turn. There will be flight prizes and skill prizes. Contact Hulman Links or Kelly Gosnell at to sign up.

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