Distraction and Golf
by Edward (Ned) Hallowell, M.D.
When my brother-in-law, Chris George, asked me to write a piece for his website about distraction on the golf course, I was happy to do it, not only because of my high regard for Chris—if you haven’t met him, you really ought to; he is a supremely gifted instructor and a prince of a man—but also because of my love of the game of golf.
I love it not because I am skilled at it—I am not—but because some of the happiest moments in my life have been spent on golf courses, mostly playing with my two sons, Jack and Tucker, who are now 27 and 24. But we started playing together as early as they could swing a club.
For that reason, I’ve come to love golf—for its having given me a gloriously green and verdant field on which to have a ton of fun with my sons. My daughter, Lucy, and my wife, Sue, Chris’s sister, are not fans of the game, so I find other playgrounds to have fun with them. But for my sons, golf is our little paradise.
For millions of people of all ages, the golf course brings them as close to paradise as any place on this earth. But to help them avoid the hellish side of it, I am going to offer a few suggestions on how to avoid getting distracted while playing the game.
I am a psychiatrist, and a specialist in attention. I’ve written the best-selling books on ADHD, and have treated literally thousands of people who have the condition. Not only that, I have ADHD myself! So I know a lot about attention and distraction.
Here are five suggestions I hope will help you focus when you play golf, lower your scores, and add to your enjoyment of this bedeviling, confounding, and enchanting game.
# 1. Relax. One of the main reasons people get distracted is that they tense up, think too much, try too hard, and allow a million commands from past lessons and books to flood their minds the moment they address the ball. In addition, they worry about what the other players will think of their shot and how they will rate in the eyes of the people playing with them. Before you start to play, try to clear your mind of all of that. You are on the course to play your best and to have fun, and you can do neither if you are tensed up, trying too hard, and worrying about making the perfect shot.
# 2. Find your feel and make it real. This is a corollary of # 1. In order to relax when you swing, you need to trust what I call your “feel,” your natural way of swinging, without thinking about it. You can correct obvious flaws in your swing during your time with your instructor, but when you address the ball you want to shut off your thinking and trust the “feel” you’ve developed during your lessons and practice time.
# 3. Focus. Mental focus naturally, effortlessly results when you’re in a situation that combines structure, motivation, and novelty. Video games are a good example. No one has trouble focusing when they play video games. Well, another excellent example of a situation that combines those three elements is golf. Every shot combines structure--you address the ball, hit it toward a target, and obey a host of rules; motivation—you want to do well, to hit a good shot; and novelty—every shot presents a new location, a new set of obstacles, and a fresh opportunity to improvise and excel. This is a perfect recipe for intense focus, if you just let it happen.
# 4. Forget your flubs. “We’re on to Cincinnati,” Bill Belichick famously said after his Patriots suffered an ignominious loss, 41-14, to the Chiefs at the start of the 2015 season. Rather than dissect the defeat and get miserable over the loss, the coach looked forward to the team’s next game against the Bengals, stating simply, “We’re on to Cincinnati.” That loss to the Chiefs was like a quadruple bogey on the opening hole of a round of golf. When you flub up, and every golfer does, learn how to tell yourself to move on to Hole # 2, otherwise known as Cincinnati.
# 5. Keep it simple. Distraction results from allowing yourself to lose focus. To maintain focus and avoid the pains and penalties of getting distracted, obey simple rules and procedures. Keep your eye on the ball. Don’t look up. Be quiet when someone else is hitting. If you do get distracted, don’t worry about it, just focus on the next shot. Don’t pray over your putts, just draw your putter back and hit the ball. Play quickly. Time spent thinking between shots is almost always counter-productive. Let the game carry you along. It will take you to beautiful places.