When recruiting for our team at Texas A&M, I considered focus to be one of the talents most important in a prospect. You may think that you can't see focus, but over the years, I learned it was as easy to evaluate as distance off the tee. Here are some signs that a player has good focus and puts it on the right things to help her score. See how many of these things you do when you play.
The first is the bounce back score. Mistakes will happen, especially to young players. The question isn't whether or not a golfer will make a mistake, but will she recover? The bounce back score tracks recovery. Any time a golfer makes anything other than a par, the score they make on the next hole is tracked. A birdie or par gives a +1 score, but a bogey or more gives a -1 score. The odds for an overall positive bounce back score are very high, so in recruiting, I looked for an almost perfect bounce back and saw it quite often in a round of golf. One of our players at Texas A&M, Ashley Knoll, had a perfect bounce back score for an entire semester of play and almost made it through the entire year. Either way, players who have a game plan, focus on the shot at hand and learn from mistakes on the course instead of dwelling on them, will have high bounce backs.
That leads me off of the subject momentarily to talk about mistakes. One difference between pros and amateur golfers is that when pros make mistakes, they learn something they can apply to their games. When amateurs make mistakes on the golf course, they get scared that the mistake will repeat itself. Think of the mental power you would have on the course if a mistake caused you no anger, no fear or no doubt. Imagine if you could separate each shot you hit to be a totally unique experience. Great players learn from their mistakes and their mistakes make them better players.
Another way focus can be evaluated is through body language. A great player looks like a great player on good days and bad days. There is no slumping, no head hanging, no tantrums, no excuses, no finger pointing and no crying. When you can see a player's attitude change by how she holds herself, that is a lack of focus on what is important. Young players often learn this through modeling their idols. That is one of the reasons I hated to watch Tiger throw his tantrums on the course, because whether he knows it or not, he is being modeled by hundreds of young golfers. Some young players just get it. They understand that every bad shot is followed by an opportunity to hit a good shot. Instead of wondering "how did I get here" when standing in the woods, they immediately jump to, "how do I get out of here?" Whether or not it comes naturally, body language and focus can be trained.
Here is a great youtube video by Suzanne Woo outlining what body language can show.
The third way I evaluated focus was by watching a player's post-shot routine. If you run a 30 footer past the cup, are you yelling "sit, sit", snapping your fingers and walking quickly after it? That post-shot behavior will make your next putt seem longer and add unneeded emotion to a short putt. Instead, watch your putt roll calmly and take in what it does as it rolls. Learn about the slope. Continue to act on the green instead of reacting. A great player has a calm post shot routine that keeps reactions to a minimum.
Focus on the golf course is a simple concept that is tough to master. It is the ability to be completely into what you are doing at the moment. That does sound simple, doesn't it? Instead of saying what it is, I will state it in negative action terms and you will soon see the challenges.
Positive Action: Stay in the moment and focused on what you want to do with the shot at hand.
Negative Actions: Don't dwell about the past. Don't worry about the future. Don't lose your confidence. Don't get angry. Don't get sad. Don't get bored. Don't lose your patience. Don't feel rushed. Don't lose track of your options. Don't worry what people will think of you. Don't compare yourself to others. Don't be afraid. Don't take unnecessary risks. Don't be resentful. Don't be stubborn.
The positive action is the "zone" and the negative actions are clearly not the zone. If you want to train yourself to be in the zone, the first step is that the shot at hand or even more specifically, the ball's flight or roll, is the thing that matters most to you. If you are worried about what people think of your game, you will think about results or show temper so they understand you are better than that last shot. If you feel entitled due to the long hours on the practice tee, your patience will wane and your game plan will fly out the window. If you think you should be perfect, you will hold onto mistakes and fail to be in the shot at hand. Being in the zone is choosing to place all of your focus on nothing but the shot you face.
If we go one step farther and talk about what it means to be totally into the shot, here is how that would look and sound. I will be the caddy and you will be the player. You have 155 to the pin, the wind will help a little. You want to land the ball in the middle at 150 and make sure to keep it under the pin. You pull your 145 club, check your lie, go through your routine to get your mind attached to your target and clear on what the shot will look like. Then you execute.
Here is a clip from the master herself, Annika, talking about her pre shot routine. Notice its simplicity. See it, feel it, execute it. Here is what happens when you master the simplicity. Annika talks about her 59.
Notice, there was little or no thought about what you would do and a lot of thought about what the ball would do. Whatever your level of play, this mindset and approach to the game will help you. Narrowing your focus to what you want the ball to do, visualizing it and keeping all the other unneeded thoughts out of your mind will make your golf quieter, simpler, easier and more fun. You will no longer need to worry about what you think on each shot, because it will be now be an easy blueprint to follow. Good luck and I will be watching for that great player body language.