We often hear and read that the key to peak performances—and the skill that the greatest golfers invariably possess among all others— is effective concentration. Ben Hogan, Jack
Nicklaus and Tiger Woods each had different swings, different
competitive personalities, different strengths and weaknesses.
But the look on their faces in the heat of battle suggests all
three were basically identical in their ability to concentrate.
What does effective concentration on the course really
entail? The most common assumption is that it’s all about
“focus,” and the narrower that focus (perhaps on technique,
certainly on a target) the better. It’s the view that supports
making a lot of practice swings, aiming at a very specific part
of a distant tree or looking at a putt from every angle.
But in another one of my counterintuitive insights, the
truth is that diligent focus is actually an impediment to
Many golfers at every level place so much conscious
attention on their task that they damage their ability to
perform to their potential. Studies from several research
centers, including Harvard, have discovered that acts of
intense focus make learning and performing more difficult
than nature intended.
“People assume that increased focus is always better,” says
University of Pennsylvania neuroscientist Martha Farah, “but
they do not realize that it comes with some
Here’s why. Everything we do is based
on prior knowledge and experiences. All
creativity and successful performance
comes from unconscious associations
with the past. But narrow focus actually
shuts down the part of our brain that
accesses memory, thus impeding creativ-
ity and our ability to perform.
It’s why what I call “wide attention” is
useful when playing golf. Wide attention is
the unconscious state of mind that gathers
dissimilar information from many different
experiences to support what we are doing in
the present. When we have wide attention,
we naturally recall old ideas or past
solutions and apply them to new situations
when training or playing golf.
Our unconscious mind works deductively in an efficient “if this, then that”
process. Allowing it to do its work gets us
out of our own way. And that’s when we
have the best chance to perform to our
Says Jordan Peterson, a University of
Toronto professor, “Without focusing,
If the brain could bypass what we think we need and
simply send the message that worked best, it would tell us to
“just putt, just swing” rather than “try to putt or try to swing.”
It would say, “let it happen,” not “try to get it right.” If the
brain was caddieing it would not talk to any golfer the way
many golfers talk to themselves when trying to play.
The suggestion I make to golfers at every skill level is this:
“Use wide attention and not deep focus.” If you are not
diligently focused and keep your attention wide when looking
at a putt or shot you are about to play, every putt and swing
you ever experienced can help you with that putt or shot.
One of the reasons we recall an answer after the test is over
is because we stop focusing on remembering it. Can you
imagine how many accidents there would be if people were
diligently focusing on how to drive their car? We should find
a message from these examples and bring it to our golf games.
In short, even though Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods all
looked like they were narrowly focused—and may have even
said they were—I have no doubt that at their best they used
wide attention. All the best concentrators do. N
BY MICHAEL HEBRONSPORT PSYCHOLOGY
BEING ‘FOCUSED’ DOESN’T ALWAYS YIELD THE BEST SCORES