For the sake of simplicity, all advice on swings and drills is provided from a right handed perspective; lefties …. well, you know what to do!

Last Saturday during the WGC Accenture Match Play telecast, the announcers were talking about why Ian Poulter was so great at match play, but really hasn’t made his mark in stroke play.

They were bandying about various interesting theories, including several comments about focus which got my interest.
Johnny Miller said that he thought Poulter had trouble maintaining focus over a 72 hole stroke play match, but that he did fine in the head to head match play format.

Peter Jacobsen, who I think is a great addition to the commentator crew, said that Lee Trevino said that he only concentrated for one minute per shot, and that kept him relaxed.

I want to talk about that stuff, but first I wanted to say that for Poulter I think it’s simply a matter of talent. He seems to overachieve with a match right in front of him rather than needing to be concerned with a whole field of players. In match play there’s no need to fret too long over a disastrous hole, it’s still only one hole – not a big number on a medal play scorecard that knocks you off the leaderboard . He seems to recover well to those situations due to his competitiveness and his aggressive nature.

In fact, Jacobsen was comparing him to a cage fighter, which was a bit extreme. After he said that, Miller asked Jacobsen if he had been into someone’s stash .. a pretty funny moment actually..

I think it’s just easier to get yourself up for a match when it’s right in front of you, but there may well be some merit to the focus point of view.

I like Lee Trevino’s angle on the subject.

I’ve given mental energy conservation and focus a lot of thought in the past, especially when I coached college golf. Here’s what I told my players then, and what I tell my competitive players now.

Conserve energy wherever you can, both physical and mental.

This means walking and thinking at an even pace.

It also means only putting yourself into the extreme focus zone, which saps mental energy, for short periods of time.

Good players maintain a level of general focus throughout their match, and extreme focus as they approach their ball for their shot.

While in the general focus mode, you are aware of your competitive environment, but you can also enjoy the walk, so to speak. There’s no rule that says that golf can’t be enjoyable when you’re competing – and it can be, if you don’t make it four (or more) straight hours of gruelling tension.

Between shots you can allow yourself to think pleasant thoughts, and enjoy your surroundings.

However, as soon as you get within ten yards of your ball, the extreme focus switch needs to be turned on.

When you are in the extreme focus mode, specific thinking starts to take place. At that point in time, you clear all the clutter from your brain, and the only thing you are concerned about is executing a good golf shot. That’s it, nothing else matters.

Specific thinking hones focus, random thinking kills it. The way we get specific is to launch into our pre-shot routine. I just put a new page on my site outlining pre-shot routines for putting and for other swings. These are the pre-shot routines I have my students do, but feel free to tweak them for you own use. Here they are:Pre Shot Routines – Putting and Other

Whether you use mine or your own, practice them and be very specific in their implementation. As I said before, specificity hones focus, randomness kills it.

If you adopt this method of implementing general focus and extreme focus into your game, you will only be in a heightened mental energy state for about one minute for each shot you take,

If you shoot 85, you’ve only spent 85 minutes out of 240 minutes (or more) at a high level of focused concentration, and you shouldn’t become mentally fatigued during your round. You’ll really feel the dividends on the back nine, where it will be easier to concentrate because you’ve got more mental energy in the tank.

If you’ve never moved yourself into the extreme focus zone for shot execution, you’re really in for some big dividends, because I’m sure your shot making will improve.

Try this, you’ll like it.

Love your practice, enjoy your golf,


Tom Tucker is a World Golf Teachers and United States Golf Teacher Federation-certified golf instructor. He may be contacted via his website or at the Plum Creek driving range in Batavia, NY.