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The Art of Focus

Silent Mind Golf brings a refreshingly simple yet original approach to mental aspects of golf. It is written by a business professional and lifelong golfer, Robin Sieger, who directly relates to "the average golfer's love-hate relationship with the game". The book guides golfers of all skill levels to "get out of their own way" and learn to play intuitively and instinctively. This is also the first golf book to be accompanied by a mental conditioning audio CD that teaches the learner the 'how to'.

"Improving mental excellence takes practice, just like improving your swing to be more consistent," says Sieger. "It came to me several years ago that I could apply the theories of best performance, those I'd traditionally used in a business context, to my golf. Almost immediately I reduced my handicap from 16 to 8."

We cannot guarantee that this exclusive series of extracts from the book will halve your handicap, but we are certain it will help to give you valuable direction in what is the most over-looked aspect of the game.

Part 1 - Silent Mind Golf
Part 2 - The Art of Focus

Part 3 - Presence - Being in the Moment
Part 4 - The Faith Factor
Part 5 - Ovecoming the Fear Factor
Part 6 - What makes a Winner?
Part 7 - The Fear Factor
Part 8 - The Four Foot Putt

Golf, even at the dizzying heights of a dramatic climax on the closing holes of a major, is not life or death. But, don't try telling that to those in the thick of it. We hear the commentators almost attempt to soothe the leading players, with kind comments about keeping their head, playing one shot at a time, two more pars and the tournament is theirs. Then if things go wrong, if they go OB, in the lake, or three stab from eight feet, the comments are about not handling the pressure and the like.

Usually the main culprit is considered to be a lack of mental toughness. Much is written about mental strength, and how important it is under pressure, yet when you ask people to explain what they understand by mental toughness, there is usually a pause, before they say "you know, they're strong-minded and don't fold under pressure". I know former international sports stars who when under pressure on the golf course will hit their choke shot to order. Yet they are mentally tough as they come, according to the popular definitions.

What they lack, and what I believe the best golfers in golf have, is the capacity to focus. Mental strength and focus are not the same thing. Rather than think you need to be mentally tough, you need to be mentally 'in control'.

Many people assume because they have mental strength that it automatically follows that they have good powers of focus. Though appearing similar in many ways, they are not the same thing. Mental strength is the capacity to keep a higher level of concentration without being distracted. Focus, on the other hand, is the ability to actually "see" or visualise exactly what the target (the final resting place of the ball) is.

So when I speak about focus I am not talking about your powers of concentration, but rather your powers of visualisation. You need to look at a target in the distance and actually visualise your ball in the place where you want it to finally come to rest. However, once you have focus enabled in your pre-shot routine, your mental strength will only add to the efficacy of this process.

In many sports there are competitors who are known as being "tough". They are hard to beat even when their backs are against the wall; you just know they have it within themselves to lift their game and produce miracles. Many of these players have been accused of 'mind games', and of trying to 'psyche out' their opponents. This may be by ignoring their opponent on the first tee after the initial handshake, being cold and aloof or some other action, which is interpreted as being unsportsmanlike.

While I accept there are players who do such things to gain a tactical advantage over the mind-set of the opposition, I believe the majority are simply totally focused on the match at hand. They want to win, and are as mentally prepared for the battle ahead as possible.

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are two players who exude confidence on the first tee. Nicklaus even used to say he felt 1-up even before the match had begun. Both men are courteous to their opponents, but, make no mistake, their focus is absolutely on winning the match. To that end, they give all their full concentration to every shot they hit. Even their practice swings are a part of their pre-shot routine.

The average person can focus, and clearly visualise the outcome of the shot they're about to hit. Yet many are easily distracted or prone to negative thoughts. When that happens, focus alone will be of no help.

You can see this on the professional tour. There are players who, when they get ready to hit a shot, seem to go into a trance; a low-flying helicopter, a car backfiring, or a person shouting out from the crowd will have absolutely no impact on them at all. The chances are that they probably will not even register it, and, in some cases, if asked about it later will not have been aware that it had happened. Yet there are other players who stand over the ball listening for the distraction, and can hear a butterfly break wind a hundred yards away. You see these players step away from the shot once, then twice, look into the crowd glower at the imaginary butterfly, glare at an overhead helicopter or over-enthusiastic fan, beating themselves up about something over which they have no control. When I think of these players, I honestly cannot think of one who has ever won a major.

THE ART OF FOCUS

Silent Mind is about being able to see the target area in your mind's eye. This becomes a point in the distance that your brain will compute as its objective. By allowing the brain to control the muscle memory required in a relaxed and unemotional state you give yourself the best opportunity to hit a perfect shot.

There are a number of ways you can improve your mind set and sense of calm on the golf course. Between shots it is important to walk at a pace that is relaxed, unhurried, and to breathe deeply if you feel yourself tightening up. When you feel yourself getting nervous or tense, think back to a great shot you have hit earlier in the round or in previous rounds and remember the emotion it created, recall that state and feel it again. Do not get ahead of yourself by anticipating all the problems you may face in the next shot; your brain has all the computing power to make that calculation very quickly for you when you get to the ball. And, when you do arrive at the ball, stand behind it and look at the target area where you want the ball to end up. Look at this spot for a few seconds only, then select your club and go through your pre-shot routine. My own routine is quite simple. Once I have selected the club I approach the ball from the right-hand side, make a good grip and then look exactly at the focus point I have selected and 'see' the ball landing and coming to rest there. I take a full practice swing, give the club a short waggle to take away any unconscious tension in my arms and body. I am now ready to go. I look one more time at my focus point to make sure it is clear in my mind's eye. The target has now been 'locked in'. I am now physically and mentally prepared for perfect execution.

I often find people are confused by the simplicity of what I have just described. Some people want it to be complex and semi-mystical and others just don't get it because they think they are already doing this. Though they think they are doing it I doubt that they really are. So, the $64,000 question is, where is your focus before every shot? Are you thinking about the negatives - e.g. the hazards, the trees, the poor shot you hit on the last hole, the fearsome tee-shot coming up at the next hole etc. Or even something entirely unrelated - what you're having for dinner that night!. Because if you are, you are playing random 'hit-and-hope' golf. To overcome this you absolutely need a pre-shot routine (and very few golfers genuinely have one). If you do not have one then make it a priority to go and see your local professional discuss with them the habits that make up a good, effective pre-shot routine - one tailored to suit you.

THE HURDLES TO FOCUS

Though I am not a qualified golf teacher and (other than a few trusted friends who have asked me to comment on their swing) would never give advice to anyone on technique, I have, I believe, uncovered the number one fault with most average club golfers, a few high-ranking amateurs and even a number of professionals as well.

Too many golfers are in too much of a hurry to hit the ball. By that I mean they concentrate their efforts on hitting the ball, and not swinging the club. We see high ranking professionals, after a disastrous hole, stepping onto the next tee and attempting to murder the ball out of pure rage; there's no thought of a balanced swing and relaxed tempo.

It was about three years ago that I stopped trying to hit 'at' the ball. I figured the golf club was designed to hit the ball and nature designed me to swing that club. So long as I kept my part of the bargain I could trust the golf club to keep its part of the bargain.

It is important to understand the other hurdles that inhibit our ability to focus, time and time again, over a four-hour round of golf. Here, in my experience, are the three major offenders:

1. NEGATIVE MINDSET

We approach the shot with a negative mind set We don't mean to, we just do it out of habit or mood. This may take the form of telling ourselves exactly the shot we don't want to hit, or arriving at the shot with an absolute belief we will hit a bad shot. I don't need to remind you of the number of times after you have played a bad shot you have said, "I just knew I was going to do that!" So stop it!

2. MENTAL DISTRACTION

To often we are not thinking about the shot in hand, and are allowing our minds to wander. Over the shot you are thinking about everything but the shot in hand, and this results in 'hit-and-hope' golf. We think about hitting the ball hard, rather than swinging with purpose.

3. LACK OF CONFIDENCE

Many players do not believe they have the ability to hit the shot required. No matter how wide a fairway may look, it's not wide enough. No matter how short the putt, they cannot see the ball going in the hole, because in the back of their mind lurks the nagging doubt they're not up to the challenge. Confidence is a muscle that we can build. If we stand over a difficult shot and tell ourselves we can make the shot and believe that we can, we will build our confidence. Even if we do not execute the shot as we wished, we can take the fact that we felt confident as something positive to take away from it and recall in the future. We must always seek the positive in every situation and use it to build and not destroy our confidence.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine





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