What’s the right focus: internal or external?


Sean Casey works with Brad Kinvig, a fellow ClubLink Academy coach at Glen Abbey GC, on positioning at the teaching facility in Oakville, Ontario.

Golfers are constantly receiving contradictory messages about how to play great golf.

Taken to an extreme, the mental gurus say the target is everything, and that your focus should be completely external. Trust your swing and focus only on the target—where you want the ball to go.

Golf instructors tend to say that you’ve got to constantly monitor your swing mechanics and how your body is moving.  Therefore, your focus is internal.

You can play some great golf by monitoring your mechanics, positioning and sequence so that you make a technically correct swing, but most golfers eventually suffer paralysis by analysis. You become so fixated with technique that it becomes nearly impossible to make an uninhibited, free swing.

You can also play brilliant golf swinging with abandon to targets without any regard for technique. For the golfer who used to be bound up by mechanics, this can be liberating. But in completely freeing it up, your fundamentals eventually start to deteriorate and your game goes south again.

This question of external vs. internal focus confuses a lot of golfers so I asked Sean Casey about it last week while we were hanging out at the ClubLink Academy at Glen Abbey in Oakville.

“Having an external focus is ideal,” said Casey, the academy’s Director of Instruction. “Sending the ball to the target is ultimate objective.”

However, Sean said that it’s also crucial to maintain a degree of body awareness. “I believe you’ve got to be aware of what your body is doing and when you’re playing poorly, be able to feel what movement is causing the bad shots,” said Casey, the Ontario and Canadian PGA Teacher of the Year (2009

In making his case, Sean said that if he’s not vigilant in monitoring his swing, poor mechanics that he developed as a junior golfer creep back into his game even 20 years later. If he’s not constantly on top of his swing, he can focus all he wants on flagsticks and external targets and he’s still going to struggle with his ball-striking.

“You can play with some body awareness of how you are swinging and be focused on a target as well,” he said. “Some days and for periods of time, your focus might be more internal than external, and at other times, it’s the other way around.”

Ultimately, Sean said that playing great requires a balance of internal and external focus, and that skilled golfers are constantly monitoring their awareness—where they placing their attention—and making adjustments to maintain the optimal balance to play their best.

Balance. Now there’s an ideal focus.


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!