Why trying to make a good stroke is useless. Set your intentions on sinking the darn thing instead

I’m giving a presentation on Moe Norman on Thursday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, Ontario. Featuring footage from the upcoming documentary about his life, the talk is called, “What We Can Learn From the Eccentric Genius of Golf.” Admission is free, there will be a cash bar and I’ll sign copies of my book, The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. Come on out!

Feb. 2, 2018—I received only one unsubscribe from my blog linking intention with jumping into a hot tub and rolling around in the snow. I expected a few more.

I know the fellow who unsubscribed. I have this vision of him blustering, ‘What the hell does this have to do with golf?’

Well, I believe intention has enormous influence over our approach to golf and in whatever we do.

My intention, if you will, was to make the point that you have choices about what you do, in golf, and even in your life. Setting an intention sets a context. When I’m intentional, I’m dedicated to a course of action, and often to a greater plan that I have for myself.

As a coach, my experience is that setting an intention allows a player to set an objective that is anchored into something that is more about a state of being than a result. For example, feeling gratitude, feeling free, being resilient, enjoying your partners, experiencing beauty—whatever you wish.

Here’s my intention as a golfer: After a lifetime of trying to control my life and consciously do everything right, my intention is to experience freedom. When that’s my intention for a round of golf, the game is far more fun. And odds are, I play pretty well. Certainly better than when I used to grind.

Intention also works on a micro level. Let’s say you face a four-foot putt. Your mind might start running lines such as, ‘Keep your head still, make a smooth stroke and accelerate through the ball’—the usual stuff, right?

Therefore, the intention is to make a good stroke.

But isn’t the ultimate objective to get the ball in the hole?

It’s my experience that focusing on making a good stroke is useless. The focus is misplaced.

For most of my golf life, I thought I had to focus on my swing or stroke to get it right. That’s the way most people play golf when they first come to see me as a coach.

However, focusing on the stroke itself is just self-interference.* The conscious mind is, in essence, saying: ‘I don’t trust you, so I better control this.’

But if your intent is solely on getting the ball in the hole, your body will figure out a way to do that. Consider how you easily you can backhand a putt into the hole while talking to a friend when you’ve given it to yourself. You’re just whacking it in the hole.

When your intention is on holing a putt, it’s a far freer and ultimately more effective. In interviewing tour players through the years, I learned they do the same.

I had another insight recently into the power of intention with my friend Howard Glassman, with whom I record the Swing Thoughts podcast. He told me how he improved his putting by practicing with a long steel ruler. The objective is to keep the ball rolling the entire length of the approximately inch-wide ruler.

The logic is that if you can putt balls along the length of the ruler, you’ll develop an accurate putting stroke and start your putts on line.

Curious, I bought a ruler. I set the ruler in front of the little speaker that I use as a target in my upstairs hallway during the winter. (In winter, I routinely hit about a dozen putts daily along the carpet to the speaker about four feet away. I rarely miss.)

But when I started using the ruler, I couldn’t keep the balls from rolling off the ruler, and I couldn’t hit my target.

That’s when it dawned on me: Rather than intending to hit my target, I was focused on my stroke. I was consciously trying to move the putter ‘correctly’ to keep the balls on the ruler. I was self interfering.

As soon as I switched my intention to ‘hit the speaker,’ the balls stayed on the ruler and I resumed hitting the target almost every time.

My body knows what to do. It can figure out how to move and apply the putter to the ball so that it matches my intention.

Setting an intention is like setting your GPS. It sets a direction that can move you toward your targets, both big and small.

*If the topic of self-interference interests you, I can recommend Timothy Gallwey’s classic book, The Inner Game of Tennis. Just substitute the word golf for tennis, or whatever your passion is.

If you’re interested in stepping more into the golf and life that you really want to lead, I would love to empower you. I encourage you to contact me. Let’s talk and see what happens.

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!