I was out at Montauk Downs Golf Course recently hitting a few balls in bitter cold conditions, mostly for chuckles. A friend snapped this picture of me, swinging in a parka where the jacket kept blocking my vision, and it reminded me of how valuable it is for me to occasionally practice with my eyes closed.
Like everyone, I can tend to get too “ball-focused” and forget to be “swing-focused,” so it helps me to hit golf balls with my eyes closed.
In my teaching, one of the most common tendencies I see in students is a desire to be perfect, a desire to be technically correct. As a golf instructor, I can get sucked into that vortex as well: “move your hands here, put your weight here, change this one inch, move this .72 inches.” When I find myself talking that way, I kick myself because it doesn’t serve me or my student very well. At the end of the day, we’re trying to hit a ball at a target. Duh. Let’s not overthink this…
One clue that students are getting stuck in technique is that they take swing after swing (or, in their mind, hit ball after golf ball) without looking at a target. That tells me the focus is way too internal, way too cerebral, if you will. Most of us are visually oriented because the world is visually oriented. Think how much time you spend starting at your computer, at your phone, at your television — and how you can lose any kind of awareness of the world around you.
My suggestion to my students? First, focus on a target before every golf shot. Ideally, set up to a target before every shot, but if you are standing on a range, and have settled on a target, at least re-focus on that target before you begin your takeaway. Once the target is in your mind, look at the ball BRIEFLY then close your eyes and swing. Immediately. Don’t go through a bunch of swing thoughts like, “stick my butt out, lean right, get my shoulder down, take the club back slowly, accelerate, then finish…” Just look at the target, focus on the ball, close your eyes and swing.
When I ask students to do this, I invariably get one comment and one question. The comment: “I’m going to miss the ball.” The question: “if I hit the ball, how will I know where it went?”
To the point about missing the ball: you won’t miss. Very few people miss when they do this. They may not make perfect contact on the first swing, but rarely does a person swing and miss.
As to the point about knowing where the golf ball went, you will learn to depend on your other senses to tell you where the ball went. You will know from the sound if the contact is solid. You will learn from the sound and feel if the ball was off the toe or off the heel of the club. And you will learn how those sensations translate into a good shot.
Disengage your eyes, and you will disengage your brain. Most of us would do well to do that more often, in golf and in life.