Sunday, 27 September 2015

What Should You Concentrate On?

Concentration, or the ability to concentrate, is vital in playing good golf.  We know this to be true.  But the question is, what do we concentrate on?  Bobby Jones devoted a chapter of his book, Bobby Jones on Golf, to the subject.  What he wrote concerning concentration is, I think, quite enlightening.

Bobby was once asked whether there was any one thing that he thought about that enabled him to keep hitting the ball well.  He wrote:

"I replied that when I was hitting the ball well, there was always one or two things I made certain of doing, and the doing of them would assure success for awhile.  But they were not always the same things.  One conception was good for only a limited time, and when the charm wore off, I would begin looking for something else...This is something the theorists and analysts overlook when they are not themselves reasonably capable players.  It is of great value to have a clear understanding of the successive movements making up a correct golf swing; this much is needed in order to enable one to recognize and correct faults as they appear.  But no human is able to think through and at the same time execute the entire sequence of correct movements.  The player himself must seek for a conception, or fix upon one or two movements concentration upon will enable him to hit the ball.  Then when this wears out, because perhaps he begins to exaggerate or overemphasize it to the detriment of something else, the search must begin anew for another idea that will work.  In this process, there inevitably are alterations in the swing, not in fundamentals of course, nor of radical proportions, but more than can be accounted for in any series of diagrams."

So, Bobby Jones helps dispel the notion that all good players can simply stand up to the ball, take aim and fire, without the need to think about their swing.  All swings can, and sometimes do go awry.  There is no one conception that, once discovered, works all the time.  Faults creep in from time to time and we have to search for them and find a way to correct them.  There are times when the swing is in the proper groove and the game can become almost easy.  But those happy times are invariably followed by a period of searching.

Bobby continues by saying:

"If the expert player, possessing a swing that is sound in fundamentals, has to be continually jockeying about to find the means of making it produce fine golf shots, what of the average golfer who has never developed such a swing?  Still groping for some sort of method that will give him a measure of reliability, it is only natural that he should try almost anything; and he must."

So, while it would be great to play the game with no swing thoughts; with a mind uncluttered by mechanical thoughts; the reality is that we will always have to do some tinkering in order to get better, or to maintain what we have.  That is the nature of the game, and part of its fascination.  

But when talking about what to tinker with, and what to leave alone, Bobby advised against any tinkering with the grip.  He wrote that once you have learned a proper grip, you should resist any urge to change it in an effort to correct a temporary hooking or slicing problem.  He concluded: "If the grip is wrong, change it by all means, but let the change be a permanent one."

All golfers, it seems, are in the same boat. Bobby wrote:

"To say that any round of golf offers a magnificent gamble in the way of form is to add nothing new.  We all realize that we can never know in advance how the shots will go on a particular afternoon.  To go even farther, we can have no assurance, after hitting seventeen fine tee shots, that the eighteenth will not be disgraceful.  These are the uncertainties the golfer accepts as parts of the game, and indeed loves it all the more because of them... To play any golf shot correctly requires an unwavering concentration.  The most perfect swing in the world needs direction, and plenty of it, and when its possessor begins to do a little mental daisy picking, something always goes wrong.  A perfect attunement of every faculty is a thing even the finest players attain only very rarely, but by constantly keeping a vigilant watch over themselves they are able to shut out major vices over a comparatively long period of time.  Their concentration is not occasional, but extends to every single shot, no matter how simple it may appear."

There's a wide gulf separating the champions from the average golfer, both in skill, and in the ability to concentrate.  But, as Bobby concludes his chapter, he points out that in one way, at least, we are in the same boat.  He wrote:

"But proper concentration during a round of golf is intended to accomplish something different from the perfect execution of each stroke.  Powers of concentration alone cannot make up for any vast deficiency of skill and bring a mediocre player up to the level of one who possesses more real ability.  But while on their respective form and ability to make shots and keep on making them, a wide gulf separates the champion from the average golfer, still, in one respect, their problems are the same when they start upon a round of golf.  What each wants is a good round for him, and this leaves a comparison of their expectations entirely out of the issue."

If we want to play our best, whether we are champions, duffers, or somewhere in between, we must concentrate on every shot.  The problem is, what do we concentrate on?  Unfortunately, as Bobby points out, the answer is not always the same.  That's why golf will never become boring.  It is, indeed, a "magnificent gamble."  We just never know how each shot will go.  All we can do is keep on hitting it, no matter what happens, and try to concentrate on every shot.  One shot at a time. That's all we can do.