If you’re struggling, you may be mistaking the ball for the target

When I start working with a new client, I will almost always play a game of catch.

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While I walk around, the student stands in one place and throws a golf ball to my out-stretched hand, which is sometimes high and low, but always moving.

Without fail, the person will throw the ball accurately to my hand every time. I’ll then ask them how they did it. The answer is almost always: “I have no idea.”

Well, here’s why: My hand is their target. Their intention is to throw the ball to the target. It’s simple. The body just acts on their intention.

The point is that golf is a target game. In golf, we use a club to hit a ball to a target. The objective of golf is to send the ball to the target, whether it’s an area of the fairway, a green, or the hole.

One of the key reasons that people struggle with golf is that they mistakenly perceive that the ball is the target. You may stand over a shot with hopes to hit the ball at a flag 100 yards away, but at the top of the backswing, suddenly the mind focuses on the ball, as if to say, ‘hit that!’

For many novice golfers, or golfers who’ve lost confidence, it’s more like, ‘Dear God, please let me hit the ball!’

Once they get to the top of the backswing, instead of swinging through the ball to send it to the target, the body does everything possible to ensure it hits the ball—the perceived target. Their weight moves back instead of forward, the body stalls, and the club is thrown from the top.

The shot is usually what we call fat or thin, topped or chunked, there’s little power, and it feels terribly unsatisfying.

The ironic thing is that you met your objective to hit the target, which was the ball. As Fred Shoemaker says, “The body never does a stupid thing.”

If you are struggling with your game, start by looking at fundamentals such as posture, alignment, and ball position. If you’re still struggling, consider if you’re swinging to a target. Yes, the ball is, of course, involved, but the game changes when you feel that you are swinging to a target. It’s like the ball just gets caught up as the club swings to the target.

You can experiment with this by experimenting with putting or chipping while looking at the hole. Then with longer clubs, try to keep an image of the target in your mind’s eye as you swing.

The same goes for indoor golf. Swing to a target—even if it’s a simulated target.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!