Don’t Be the Ball, See the Ball

The Eyes Aren’t Enough

“Keep your eye on the ball” is some of the most oft-repeated advice in golf.  Go to any driving range and you’ll hear parents telling it to children, wives telling it to husbands, friends telling it to each other.

But what if the eyes aren’t the issue?

I’m writing this very short lesson based on an experience I had at the range recently, and I hope you find it helpful.

This Lesson Is For You If

You find yourself distracted over the ball

You want to start striking and putting the ball better immediately

A Quick Experiment

Rather than spilling a lot of ink trying to explain my point, let me give you a simple demonstration you can do right now.  Read the whole paragraph, then give it a try.

Look at something stationary in your immediate vicinity.  It could be a photo on your desk, your computer mouse, etc.  Don’t move your head or your eyes.  Now, without moving, think about all the things you have to accomplish throughout the rest of your day.

Don’t Look, See

What happened?  Even though your eyes never moved – they were always “on” the object – you stopped seeing it because your mind was somewhere else.  This is what happens to many golfers over the ball.  Their head is down but their mind is thinking swing mechanics, grocery lists, work to-dos, or phone calls to return.

If your focus is not on the ball, it doesn’t really matter where you aim your head and eyes.  When I realized this, I started making a concerted effort to put my eyes and my brain on the golf ball.  I silently said, “Golf ball” to myself as I looked down at the ball before the swing.  My results improved immediately.

Like anything in golf, this isn’t a lesson to be learned once.  Maintaining focus is something that every golfer struggles with, and some days will be better than others.  But if you can make a conscious effort to put your eyes and your mind on the ball, you’ll give yourself the best chance to hit great shots.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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28 Comments

  1. I can’t subscribe to this theory. The golf swing (and putting) is largely dependent on mechanics and muscle memory.

    A good ball striker or a good putter can find the sweet spot with their eyes closed. Why? Because they have created an effective motion that can be repeated over and over again.

    • Matt Saternus

      Andrew,

      I don’t see a lot of guys on the PGA Tour – the best ball strikers on the planet – playing with their eyes closed.

      -Matt

      • Well yeah, it wouldn’t make sense for those guys to actively create a disadvantage for themselves during competition. But that doesn’t mean they can’t do it.

        I think you missed my point, but maybe try this exercise to test your theory. Grab a club and hit some balls while you mentally focus on the ball like you described, but while aiming your head and eyes straight up into the sky. Then take some swings in your normal head/eye position but intentionally focus your mind on something other than the ball.

        • Matt Saternus

          Andrew,

          I don’t have a strong desire to argue with you, but I think you gave away the case in your first statement: not looking at the ball is a disadvantage.

          I never said in the lesson that a good player can’t hit the ball without looking, that’s a strawman argument. I’m suggesting that golfers will hit better shots if they’re focused on the ball.

          -Matt

          • Matt,

            I’m not trying to argue with you either. Just simply pointing out I disagree with your premise that, “if your focus is not on the ball, it doesn’t really matter where you aim your head and eyes.”

            I believe swing mechanics, muscle memory, and repetition are more important than “focus” or “swing thoughts”. The point of my original “eyes closed” statement was to point out that one doesn’t necessarily need to see the ball with their eyes or stare it down to make good contact if their swing is properly honed. But they do need to have their head and eyes in a consistent location (normally aimed at the ball) because that’s part of their swing mechanics and ability to repeat a good swing.

            I recently watched an instructional video with a pro golfer who talked about how he doesn’t look at the ball while putting and instead looks at a blade of grass next to it. I think it was Ricky Fowler but I could be wrong.

            As you likely know, every golf swing is different and what works for some golfers doesn’t work for others. What you said might work wonders for you and many others, but as I said I can’t subscribe to it for myself.

            Cheers,

  2. This is something that I have become aware of recently as well and have found that focusing on the ball allows me to rely on good muscle memory and hit good shots. The intent of “focusing” on the ball has really helped me not focus on any swing thoughts.

  3. Focus is a problem with me. The better I focus, the better I play. On days I’m not focusing well I don’t expect much.

  4. Key word …FOCUS…’nuf’ said.

  5. I havevto agree with Andrew. Focus is imperative and necessary to seeing the golf ball.

  6. Matt – good point on focus. I have found myself all too often preparing to swing with a million thoughts. Lately I have used the phrase “smooth and steady through the ball”. The key for me is to realize the ball is just in the way of the swing path. See it, feel it, trust it!

  7. Matt, your observation matches the critical putting guidance shared by Gary Player. His story of the premier South African putters and their focused attention to the specific contact point – the dot if you will – is key to great contact. Great reminder. Thanks.

  8. I’m not sure this is great advice for a beginner. If they start to focus on just the ball they will forget about the target.

    • Jonathan Compton

      Hey Greg, an interesting thought. I recall when I was beginning, Any shot focused on the target rarely produced an accurate shot. In fact, it took me several years to learn how to get my ball anywhere within 50 yards of the target, LOL. But for a player who is a mid to low handicapper, I think your point is well taken.

  9. Robbie Anderson

    Matt
    Those few seconds of total focus are so important and yet sometimes so hard to achieve. Excellent article.

  10. Matt, I agree with your assessment that when its time to pull the tiger your concentration should solely be on the ball. If you are concentrating on swing change you are more apt to hit a poor shot.
    Think about the swing change on the practice swing and then focus on the ball when is “go” time.

  11. Muscles don’t have memories…….!!

    • Matt Saternus

      PREACH!

      • Jonathan Compton

        Hi, I get your point and think it’s valid and worth trying!. Like all ideas about the golf swing, everybody has a different approach. But I think for many golfers this has value (maybe not for Andrew, LOL). Thanks for the tip Matt.

  12. Great lesson! This can’t be overstated enough. Similar to watching the ball while playing tennis. The most important thing to do and also the hardest. Focus on the ball and the target rather than the mechanics of the swing or the result.

  13. Neil Rombardo

    Hey Matt,

    It’s a great lesson. Your lesson goes to a lot of what Adam Young teaches too, i.e., external focus. That’s a great book you introduced to me. Thanks for the lesson and keep up the good work on PIG.

    Neil

  14. I have had good success with “ball first “ contact by looking at a spot 1 to 2 inches in front of the ball during my swing. Do you recommend this?
    Rick

    • Matt Saternus

      Rick,

      If it’s working for you, who am I to say it’s a bad idea? :)
      I think it makes a lot of sense, if looking at the ball is leading to fat shots, to move your focus in front of the ball.

      Best,

      Matt

  15. This is a great lesson Matt. I will be trying this during my indoor putting practice later today. I have often noticed, while “watching TV”, that my wife will ask my opinion on some physical attribute of a person or thing in the program and I will have no clue what she is pointing out even though I am completely aware of the program’s content. (If that makes sense. )

  16. Totally agree Matt, might offer a semantic suggestion that conveys the same concept but might be helpful to those of us who need a very short, easy to remember swing thought. Recently, as happens to most of us, my game left me. The pro I took a lesson from to hopefully get me back on track immediately diagnosed my issue as being overly “ball focused”. His recommendation was to become “Target Focused”. Focus on the target from behind the ball, move into address and focus again on the target, back to the ball to adjust alignment if necessary, focus on the target, back to the ball with a slight waggle to reduce tension, one last focus on the target, then back to the ball and start the swing. Results were nothing short of amazing, especially with Driver, Fairway metals, and short irons. Still working on the long irons but aren’t most of us? Interestingly I’ve always been a reasonably good putter and that was my basic approach, just didn’t realize it until he pointed it out. “Target Focused” has become a great, simple swing thought for me, passing it on for whatever it may be worth to someone.

  17. Hey Matt-
    Great lesson and I completely agree with what you said. Having said that, as I address the ball I focus on the center most dimple that I can see on the ball. I then pull the infamous quote from Caddy Shack, “see the ball be the ball” helps me focus, smirk a little bit and relax. It works- so I’m not gonna mess with it.
    Thanks for this your many other insights and reviews

  18. Mark Dophied

    I agree focus. You can say see the ball or whatever. Be in the moment or as in Caddyshack, Be the ball

  19. One of the best articles you have put out. i have gone from a 7 hdcp to an 11 because of FOCUS. This is the missing piece of the puzzle. thanks for pointing out something so obvious. Cheers

  20. Totally agree. Along with Focus, I try to take it a step further, especially on shorter putts. To maintain ball focus and to help keep my head still I pick a spot under the ball and don’t look up until I hear the ball drop.
    Great Site!

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