What should you think about over the ball?

During a Zoom group coaching call last week, one of our participants was fidgeting like a five-year-old  after a birthday party.

My Golf is Life online group was discussing some on-course strategies when—with obvious exasperation—he blurted, “Yes, that’s great. But what do you think about when you’re over the ball?”

Everyone laughed. He hit a collective nerve; it was a flashpoint of recognition of everyone’s never-ending search for the right swing thought that will bring sweetness, light and soft draws.

The question about ‘what to think about’ is one of golf’s greatest mysteries.

Consider how golfers talk about their games. For example, someone will say, ‘I’m thinking about transferring my weight,’ or ‘swing smoothly.’ We’re convinced that if we think the right thought, we’ll hit good shots or fix a problem.

These little thoughts are everywhere online. Mostly, we discover them in practice or during a round. We do or feel something that results in a few good shots, and it’s like a shot of adrenaline. ‘Oh, joy. Oh bliss. I have found IT! If I keep doing this, I’ll own golf.’

I know because I did it for decades. The adjacent picture shows a notebook in which I recorded swing thoughts starting in 1987. Nearly every entry has to do with moving body parts, and each entry is usually different from the last entry. This also explains why Swing Thoughts seemed like the perfect name for the podcast I do with Howard Glassman.

I still fall prey to it from time to time. It’s like addiction. Hey, I’m human.

Consider the hundreds—perhaps thousands—of various thoughts you’ve taken to the first tee with a conviction that today you’ll achieve golf nirvana. But after the front nine or even just a few holes, the magic is gone. Poof.

It’s pretty weird—golf is about hitting a ball, a physical thing. But we spend so much time thinking about thinking. We’re in our heads!

Instead of thinking, I invite you to pay attention to what you’re doing. Put another way—observe what your body is doing.

Try this: when you’re over the ball, put your attention in one place and try to maintain that focus until the ball is gone. This could include:

  • What your hands feel like through the swing
  • A spot on one of your shoulders
  • The feeling of the clubhead as it goes back, down and through
  • The speed of your swing
  • How your weight moves from foot to foot

Choose whatever you like to focus on, but the key is to keep your attention there. Note that you’re not trying to do anything with whatever you’re focused on. You’re not thinking. You’re observing. There’s a huge difference.

When your attention is in one spot, you are in a state of focused concentration, which is ideal for performance of any kind. It’s called having one-pointedness, and it’s an essential part of mindfulness.

You’ll be connected to your body rather than being stuck in your head. This doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to be great. But you’ll give yourself an opportunity to play your best with what whatever level of skill you possess.

It’s a way to experience your way of playing this game in a new way.

When you observe yourself, you’ll feel distinctions that will contribute to your learning. You’ll notice things that contribute to bad shots, but also to good ones. That awareness enables you to improve your swing through your direct experience.

Give yourself a break from thinking and trying so hard.

Experiment with paying attention instead, and you’ll likely be surprised what you learn about yourself, and how well you can play.


About a week after our Zoom call, the fellow who asked about ‘what to think about over a shot’ sent me an email. He recounted some interesting experiences that had some immediate benefits.

As he started his backswing, he said the word “and” to himself. The word is short, and he found that it shortened his backswing, which was an objective.

He also said the word “free” to begin his downswing. “This seems to have two benefits. Hopefully, it is telling me to swing freely, but also because I am thinking ‘free.’ I don’t have the ability to think about anything else. This split second of emptying my mind has made me swing better.”

If you’d like help with your game, send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca. I coach at Blue Springs Golf Club in Acton, Ontario in season, and I’ll be coaching this winter at The Golf House indoor facility that is opening in Guelph, Ontario.

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, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

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