How To Use The Power of Focus For Better Putting
Article Written by Performance Coach, David MacKenzie of Golf State of Mind
Putting is more of a mental game than a physical one, compared to other parts of the game. The golf swing requires more athleticism than the putting stroke, and hence there’s no reason why a 16 handicapper can’t putt as well as a scratch, provided they can focus on the right things. With putting accounting for around 40% of your strokes in a round, there’s a great opportunity for improvement. In this upcoming series of putting lessons, I’m going to show you how a more “holistic” approach to putting will help you lower your putts per round and your scores.
One of the fundamentals of good putting is focus. But what are you supposed to focus on? It’s important to establish your “putting process”, which will engage you with what’s most important before, during and after every putt. Setting “process goals” is a key part of my mental game scorecard, which is designed to keep you focused on and accountable to your routines. This serves two purposes - it distracts you from the outcome i.e. what the putt will mean for you in the future if you make or miss it, and it keeps you focus on the steps to maximise your chances of success.
From the years that I’ve been coaching the mental game of golf, I’ve learned that there’s no “best approach” to a putting process - it’s whatever connects you best to a putt. Is it visualising a movie of the ball tracking the line to the hole and going in? Is it seeing a straight line to a point and the ball breaking off that line? Perhaps you feel the putt in your hands before you stroke it? Finding a “spot” for the ball to roll over in the first six inches of the putt? There are many possible process goals - the key is to experiment during your practice and notice what’s happening during your best putting rounds.
Every Putt Is Worth One Stroke
Every putt is worth one stroke, whether it’s a putt for a birdie or for a double bogey. A putt to win a tournament needs the same treatment and level of focus as a putt on the first hole.
Pressure occurs when there is a perceived success of failure of an event that hasn’t happened yet. In the case of putting, this is thinking too much about what the outcome of that putt will mean for you in the future and allowing pressure to build which affects your focus and your stroke. I.e. If I make/miss this putt, then I’ll…(be happier/annoyed, closer to/further from my desired score, birdie the hole, win the match, impress or be embarrassed, etc.). Any of these speculative thoughts about the future outcome will do two things:
- Distract you from what you need to do to maximise your chances of making the putt (your routine, or “process”)
- Cause “Performance Anxiety” (increased heart rate, less focus, more tension in the hands, arms and shoulders)
Both these things will decrease your chances of making a putt and accessing your best skills.
The best thing you can do is treat every putt the same and make process your goal for each putt, instead of labelling your putts by what they will mean for you in the future.
Stay Present On The Greens
A great way to avoid speculating about the outcome of the putt and what it will mean for you in the future, is just to stay present. Staying present is one of the most important mental skills for golf. Whenever my students tell me about their best rounds, they describe being in the present - not thinking about what might happen as a result of the next shot or how the round might turn out.
When you get to the green and step onto the fringe, start focusing on your breathing and your senses (what you see, feel and hear). By doing this you’ll get “out of your head” and more externally focused, which will distract you from any speculation about the future which could interfere with your process and your stroke.
Focus more on being present and “in your process” and I’m confident you’ll see more putts go in.
Written by David MacKenzie