Tom Watson, Ryder Cup player, captain and eight-time golf Major winner, explained that before hitting the golf ball: “I narrow my focus to one dimple at the back-centre of the ball. That’s where I want to hit it … It gives you a better chance of staying down through the shot and making solid contact.” (cited in Watson, 2012). What’s so intriguing about this quote is that we now know that expert golfers do exactly as Tom Watson did. While we often assume we pay attention to what we feel we are paying attention to, we now know through eye-tracking technology what expert golfers look at when they are putting or hitting a golf ball.
What does this research mean for golfers? Aidan Moran and his colleagues provided much guidance to translate this research into practice for golfers. The research on eye-tracking and quiet eye suggests we can train golfers to concentrate. We can help golfers to focus their gaze on specific and relevant targets. In putting, for example, a golfer can practise attentional focus by placing a dot on the top, back portion of her ball that is visible from a standing position over the ball. With different colour markers, for example, with different dots on the ball, a golfer can focus with a soft gaze in their pre-putt routine, on the top, back portion of the ball. To maintain one’s focus on stroking the putt and not raising one’s head to follow it, a golfer can place different coloured markers or stickers under the ball and focus on the sticker after executing the putt. As a practice strategy, one could practise saying “down the line” to maintain a focus on the sticker and allow the ball to roll to its destination without disturbing one’s putting stroke to see the outcome of where the ball finishes.
What matters most about practice? Golfers seek different practice plans for their golf games, especially putting. Many of these games, however, are not teaching the golfer how to concentrate or cope under pressure. Although these practice drills might be appropriate for technical improvement, we need to move to more competitive practice to benefit players who play under high competitive stress. Under competitive stress, golfers can benefit from an external focus for their attention. We often refer to one’s attention as a mental spotlight, one that resembles a beam of light from a torch, for example. In golf, we want this beam of attention to be on the target and finally, the ball. The logic here is to direct one’s attentional focus on what the golfer can control. To help the golfer in this circumstance, golfers can ask themselves one simple question: Am I looking at my target?
Many of the golf putting mats on the market are designed for stroke mechanics, which is sensible; however, we can also make golf mats that allow golfers to focus psychologically on the task at hand. For greater freedom in golf and to relieve golfers of the technical instructions that might lead to a poorer performance, we can teach golfers to focus on targets like the top, back portion of the ball. And we can also train golfers to begin a good attentional process by asking one simple question: Am I looking at my target?
Moran, A. P., Campbell, M., & Ranieri, D. (2018). Implications of eye tracking technology for applied sport psychology, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 9:4, 249-259, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2018.1511660
Watson, T. (2012, 16 January). How to play the high the high lob: Addressing one of the hardest greenside shots in all of golf. Retrieved from https://www.golfdigest.com/story/ tom-watson-high-lob