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Mental Golf Lessons - The Impact of Distractions on Golfers

Distractions are part of playing the game of golf.?Distractions disrupt concentration, can increase anxiety, and can also impact the flow of a round of golf.?The consistency of a golfer to shoot lower scores depends upon his or her ability to lesson the impact of distractions. This article explores several tools the golfer can use to reduce the impact of distractions.

During the last Presidents Cup we saw the impact distractions can have on even the best players in the game. Distractions disrupt the flow and efficiency of the routine used to play golf shots.

Distractions that occur during the final stages of the routine are particularly harmful unless the player knows how to react. This article discusses two examples seen during the Presidents Cup and what we can learn about handling distractions properly

Distractions Are An Integral Part Of The Game Of Golf

Distractions are an integral part of golf so players have to learn techniques for handling distractions as they occur. Without handling distractions properly prior to striking the ball, the player can expect unpredictable and in many cases, bad results.

"The First Example"

During the Foursome matches on Thursday, the European Team of Retief Goosen and Y. E. Yang were playing the US Team of Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard. On the tee of the Par 5 18th hole, the US team was 1 up. All the US team had to do was tie the 18th hole and they would have won a full point over the European team.

While Y.E. Yang and Jim Furyk played the hole along with their partners, as the drama played out, the two players that could impact the final results were Justin and Retief. Both players played good tee shots and had second shots that were within range of hitting the green in two. Retief's second shot missed the green right while Justin's hit the green in two.

At this point, all Justin had to do was two-putt unless Retief hit his third shot into the hole. Justin hit a first putt that was a little short of the hole but certainly setup a very make-able second putt for birdie. Retief played his shot within range of having his next shot conceded, which left the door open for Justin to tie the hole and win the match.

Retief lost track of where the match stood and took off his hat in a gesture of sportsmanship as Justin was finalizing his putting routine for his makeable 3 foot putt. Retief thought the US team had won the match if he did not sink his chip shot. When Retief took off his hat it was a puzzling thing for Justin and caused a serious distraction. Justin seemed to back off momentarily and then proceeded with his putt which missed and gave the European team a tie and 1/2 point.

"The Second Example"

The Friday Four Ball matches featured a pairing of Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson playing Robert Allenby and Camilo Villegas. This was a match the US team was ahead in most of the day.

On the Par 4 17th tee box, the US team was two up and dormie. Robert Allenby and Zach Johnson both had make-able birdie putts. If Robert made his putt and Zach missed the match would be extended to the 18th hole.

Robert made his putt which put pressure on Zach to make his putt. Zach went thru his routine and as he made his last practice swing with the putter prior to stepping into the ball, a highly spirited and intoxicated observer in the gallery, yelled "go in the hole". I wish people like that would stay home. They are an embarrassment to themselves and have no place in the game of golf or as spectators in a golf tournament.

Zach was clearly distracted and annoyed. He backed off, reset, and went back thru his whole routine. The enormity of that putt was significant. Zach made the putt and the US team won the match.

My Observation

I do not believe we will ever know for sure whether Justin had completely cleared the distraction with Retief from his mind prior to striking his putt. It is not the kind of thing Tour players discuss. From my vantage point it did not seem like he did. The announcers also asked him about the incident so they also were also curious.

On the other hand it was obvious that Zach handled his distraction, completely reset his routine, and hit his putt with more authority than Justin.

Justin is a great golfer and one of the games really good putters. The example shows that distractions can have a negative impact even on the best players.

Distractions and The Average Golfer

The type of distractions faced by Tour players, and the average Joe playing with his buddies on the weekend, are different but no less harmful. The truth is that most of us could not handle the pressures and distractions that Tour players face.

Contrast the Tour player with the average golfer who faces golfers yelling from the next fairway over, players in your group talking as you are trying to hit your shot, or someone in the group behind you slamming on the brakes of the cart as you are ready to hit. We can induce distraction on ourselves by engaging in a conversation while trying to hit a golf ball.

How many times have you been distracted, hit the shot anyway, and after the bad result, said..."I should have backed off?" If it has not happened to you yet, it will because distractions are everywhere in golf.

Lessons Learned

So what can the average golfer learn from these examples? There are two things to consider when dealing with distractions.

The first thing to consider is awareness. Start to think about how many times distractions, whether external or internally induced, result in a bad outcome. It is also important to see how the distraction causes a break in your concentration and pre-shot routine. Some golfers are affected more by distractions than others. I have friends who can hear someone talking 100 yards away and others who will try to hit golf balls talking to someone 100 yards away. In case you are curious, the golfer trying to hit golf balls and talking at the same time generally does not fair well.

If the distraction happens as you are gathering yardages, picking targets, or formalizing your strategy, it will be easier to deal with than if it happens during the last 10 seconds of your routine. Remember from past articles, the last 10 seconds of your routine is about seeing the target, feeling the desired swing, and then triggering your back swing by saying trust it....your mantra is see it, feel it, trust it. Distractions during this 10 second count down can be disastrous to your outcomes so learn when to back off and start over.

Please be careful not to make your rounds a 6 hour adventure because of backing off of every little thing that causes some amount of distraction. This point leads us to the second consideration.

Train yourself to handle distractions better. In many cases this means learning how to make the distraction less meaningful. As your pre-shot routine becomes better and you become more focused, your concentration levels will become more intense making distractions less noticeable.

You have probably had times after hitting a great shot one of your playing partners remarked about a distraction that took place as you played the shot. You were aware of the distraction as a back ground noise but because your concentration levels were high, the distraction for the most part went un-noticed and had no impact upon the success of your shot.

Learning how to deal with distractions is critical to your success as a player. Not only do you have to increase your awareness, train yourself to be less effected by distractions, but you will also have to refine your pre-shot routine so that your maximum concentration efforts are focused to brief 10 second intervals. If you try to concentrate for extended periods between shots you will exhaust yourself and your efforts will have marginal success.

The ability to handle distractions and remain focused is part of your mental toughness. As you become mentally tougher your scores will drop and you will become a better player.

Article Tags: Handling Distractions, Tour Players, Pre-shot Routine

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