“Keep your eye on the ball.” Its a cliché used in most sports, and golf is no exception.
It certainly makes sense that you must be looking at the golf ball in order to hit it. But it helps to zero in on the exact part of the ball you want to strike – in every case except greenside bunker shots, that means focusing on the back of the ball.
Your gaze should remain fixed on that spot from the takeaway to the top of the backswing and into impact. Try to keep the eyes focused there until the golf ball has been struck, letting them follow the shot naturally as the head moves left and up in the follow-through.
In maintaining focus on the back of the ball, one shouldn't allow the neck and head to become rigid. Making a full, easy-flowing backswing requires the head to turn slightly with the shoulders. Attempting to keep the head perfectly still introduces tension, shortening the backswing and robbing the player of distance.
One other eye-related note: Many right-handed golfers tend to aim right of target, while lefties aim left. This is because the eye farthest from the target skews the appearance of the line to the right-handers right (or the left-handers left). Clubs with built-in alignment aids can help overcome this tendency.
Use Your Eyes Right to Play Better Golf
Your eyes aren't going to ever touch your golf club during the swing, but they are one of the most-important tools you have available to play better golf. The best players in the world understand how to control their eye movements to ensure that they are looking at the right things at the right time. When you let your eyes wander in directions that aren't helpful to your game, you are wasting an opportunity to gather information. Have a plan for where you are going to look both before and during your swing, and then execute that plan when you get out onto the course.
Out of all of the parts of your body that you have to be worried about during the swing – your legs, your arms, your hands, etc. – it wouldn't seem like your eyes would enter into the equation. Shouldn't you just be able to look at the ball while making your swing? Well yes, looking at the ball during your swing is a great place to start. Unfortunately, it isn't quite that simple during the rest of the time you spend on the course. Only a couple minutes total within a four hour round are spend making a swing – the rest of the time is spent walking around and preparing for your shots. It is during those times that you need to know where to look, and why. Making the most of the non-swing time that you have on the course will allow you perform better when you actually are making your swings.
One of the big problems that golfers run into when trying to control how they use their eyes on the course is distraction. Most golf courses have plenty to distract you during a round, whether it is other golfers, scenery, or even traffic driving by. To play your best, you will need to learn to block out those distractions and focus your vision on the important parts of the course. Any time spent looking off into the distance at a tree or another golfer is time you could have spent preparing yourself to play the best shot possible with your next swing. You don't have to stay completely focused for the entire round, but you do need to know when it is okay to be distracted, and when you need to focus in on the job at hand.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play golf left handed, please be sure to reverse the directions as necessary.
How to Use Your Eyes Before a Tee Shot
Hitting a good tee shot is an important step toward making a par or better on any given hole. A poor tee shot will put your ball out of position and put you at risk of making a bogey or worse. Therefore, you want to do everything you can to make sure your ball finds the right position in the fairway to set up an easy approach. While making a good swing is key, so too is using your eyes properly before the swing begins.
Below are three keys that you should follow with respect to where your eyes look in the moments leading up to each tee shot that you hit.
- Examine the fairway. The first thing you need to do with your eyes prior to a tee shot is examine the fairway and the hazards around it. Your eyes should be up and looking down the hole from the moment that you arrive on the tee box. Since you will be placing the ball on a tee, you dont need to worry about analyzing the type of lie that you have in this case. Your lie is going to be perfect on the tee, so maintain your focus further down the hole. Things that you should be looking for include any major hazards, the angle and slope of the fairway, and the ideal position to set up your approach shot.
- Look up for the wind. Judging the wind is an important skill for a golfer to have, and your eyes can actually help you make better determinations on wind conditions. If you are playing a tree-lined course, look up to the tops of the trees to see if there is any wind blowing. You might not feel any wind while standing on the tee, but that doesn't mean that it isn't up there waiting to affect your ball. Since your shot will hopefully fly high into the air, you need to analyze the wind conditions aloft rather than on the ground. Use your eyes, and the tops of the trees, to gather this important piece of information.
- Take one last look at the target. Once you are standing over your ball, all of the pre-shot preparations should be concluded. You should know what club you are hitting (since you are holding it), and you should have a clear target picked out to guide your swing. As you take your stance, look down at the ball while you put the club into position. Prior to starting your swing, take one last look up at the target that you have selected. Stare at it for just a second or two, then return your gaze back down to the ball. Once your eye refocus on the ball, start your swing right away. There shouldn't be a delay at this point – allow your eyes to trigger the start of your backswing.
None of these points should be very surprising, and you probably already do most of what is included above in your current golf game. However, your game will benefit if you can get into a consistent habit of using your eyes in this manner each and every time to prepare to hit a tee shot. Consistency is hard to find on the golf course, so building it into your routine is a great way to find more repeatable results. Make sure your eye habits don't change from shot to shot and you can expect your game to quickly improve.
Subtle Changes for Approach Shots
For the most part, the routine that you use for your tee shots is going to be the same as the one you use for your approach shots. You still want to keep your gaze mostly focused down the hole so you can analyze hazards and select a target. However, there are some key differences in the way you should prepare to hit a shot into the green as opposed to when you are hitting one off the tee.
The first difference is the need to analyze the lie of the ball in the grass. When you don't get to tee the ball up, the lie that you have for each shot takes on major importance. If you have a good lie with no long grass around the ball, you should be able to hit just about any type of shot that you wish. That changes when you find your ball in some longer grass, or maybe even in an old divot hole. The first thing that you should do when you arrive at your ball is look down at the lie that you have and decide what kind of shots are going to be possible. Only after you have looked carefully at the lie should you move on to other aspects of your pre-shot routine.
Another difference in the way you use your eyes for an approach shot is the need to be as specific as possible with the selection of your target. You should be using your eyes to pick out a very small spot on the green to use as the target for your shot. When playing a tee shot, you might be able to get away with something like the right side of the fairway for a target, but that wont work on an approach. Look carefully at the green and be as specific as you can before settling on a target that you are comfortable with. This target should allow you the potential to get the ball close to the hole while simultaneously limiting your risk as much as possible. If you have used your eyes correctly and carefully reviewed the entire green complex, it should be easy to settle on a target that feels comfortable and gives you confidence prior to your swing.
One final point that relates to using your eyes during approach shots has to do with what you watch after the ball has been struck. Once the ball leaves your club, there is obviously nothing more you can do to affect the outcome of the shot. You can, however, watch the flight of the ball carefully to gather information for later in the round. Many golfers make the mistake of looking away in frustration before the ball is even halfway to the hole – this habit will cost you an opportunity to learn about your game so you can do better later on. Watch the flight of the ball all the way from the club face until it lands. Even if this particular shot didn't work out like you had planned, you will now have a better picture in your mind of the ball flight that you are hitting with your irons. Use that information in the planning of your next approach shot, and hopefully the results will be better.
Managing Eye Movement During the Swing Itself
The basic advice of keep your eye on the ball is sound, and most golfers could benefit from following that advice more carefully. When you keep your eye on the ball, you will give yourself the best chance to make solid contact because your head shouldn't be moving around too much during the swing. Keeping your eye on the ball might sound simple, but in practice it can actually be quite difficult to achieve.
Following are three mistakes that you need to avoid if you are going to be more successful in your effort to keep your eyes on the ball throughout the golf swing.
- Don't follow the club head in the takeaway. This is a common mistake among many amateur golfers – as soon as the club head starts to move back away from the ball, they allow their eyes to follow it for at least the first few inches. This is a problem because it requires the golfer to then refocus their eyes back on the ball at some point during the swing. There is no need to make things more complicated than they have to be by adding this additional step into your technique. Avoid the temptation to watch the club head move away from the ball and maintain your focus throughout the swing. It may help to pick out a specific spot on the golf ball such as a dot or another marking that you can use as your focus point.
- Don't get anxious. The other common mistake that is made with the eyes during the swing is looking up too early as the club gets down near the impact zone. There is no reason to look up early, as there is nothing you can do once the ball leaves the club face anyway. Despite that, many golfers are anxious to see where the ball is going so they allow their eyes to leave the ball before impact has actually been reached. The problem with doing this is that it can have a ripple effect on the rest of your swing. Your eyes moving up will cause your head to move up, which can in turn pull your shoulders up and out of position. Suddenly, your whole upper body will be too high and you are likely to hit the shot thin as a result. Commit to keeping your eyes down and trust that you will be happy with the results of the shot when you finally do look up.
- Don't get distracted by your shadow. This one only comes into play in certain situations, but it can be a big problem if you let it bother you. When playing on a sunny day, and when the sun is behind you as you take your stance, your shadow will be cast out over the ball. That isn't a big deal – until you start your swing and notice all of the moving parts that are being projected onto the ground. For some golfers, it is a tremendous challenge to ignore the moving shadow and keep looking at the ball throughout the swing. If you watch your shadow instead of the ball, expect to have trouble making good contact with the shot. To avoid this problem, pay extra attention to your ball at address and make sure you have picked out a specific point on the ball to watch for the duration of the swing. If necessary, try drawing something unique on your golf ball that you can look at while swinging. It will take some practice to learn how to focus despite being distracted by the shadow, so work on this skill on the driving range just like you would any other part of your game.
It sounds easy enough to just keep your eye on the ball during your swing – but experienced golfers know it isn't quite that simple. Avoid making the mistakes above and you should be a big step closer to successfully accomplishing this basic fundamental.
Your Eyes and the Short Game
As important as your eyes are to the long game, they might be even more important when it comes to the short game. When playing short shots around the green, you need to accurately read the ground between you and the hole to analyze break from side to side, determine how hard to hit the shot, etc. Without being able the read the greens properly prior to hitting a short game shot, you will have very little chance of success.
Most average golfers never really learn the right way to use their eyes in the short game, and it shows in the results that they are able to achieve. Chipping and putting are the areas of the game where the typical amateur golfer stands to improve the most – yet those same players tend to spend the majority of their practice time swinging away on the driving range. If you are serious about lower scores, you will dedicate yourself to the short game, and part of mastering the short game is learning how to use your eyes properly.
When you are off the green and playing a chip or a pitch, the first thing you need to do is read the lie of the ball in the grass (just like on an approach shot). Knowing what kind of lie you have will set the stage for the type of shot you are going to choose. For example, if you have a clean lie on short grass, you can try hitting a low chip shot that has plenty of spin to stop it quickly. However, from the deep rough, that shot just isn't an option. Instead, you will need to use loft to stop the ball since the shot is going to have very little backspin out of the rough.
Your eyes will tell you everything you need to know about the lie that you are facing, but it is crucial that you look close and don't skip this step. Even if you don't know a lot about what the lie can do to your ball at the moment, still make sure to look carefully before each chip or pitch. Over time, you will learn from your experiences and your ability to read the lie will get better and better.
When it comes to putting, your eyes are used to read the break of the putt and pick out the ideal target line. Reading greens is another golf skill that usually develops with experience, but you have to give it your full attention before each and every putt in order to accumulate that knowledge in your mind. If you just walk up to your putts and hit them quickly without giving much thought to the read, you wont have a chance to develop your visual skills on the green.
Below are some quick tips related to green reading to help you get a jump start on your progress –
- Look from both ends. It is important that you read your putts both from behind the ball and from behind the hole. When you look down the line of your putt, it will be far easier to read the end that is closer to you. Therefore, you need to stand behind your ball to read the first half of the putt, and behind the hole to read the finish. Only when you have both perspectives in your mind can you come up with a final read.
- Look carefully at the grass itself. Depending on where you play golf, there may be a strong grain in the grass that influences the roll of the ball. This is especially common in areas with warm summers where Bermuda grass is commonly used. Watch for a prevailing grain direction – it often grows toward the setting sun – and account for that in your read as well.
- Look at the big picture. Don't allow your vision to become too focused on just the ground between your ball and the hole. Instead, take a moment and look at the green as a whole to decide which way it is slanted. This perspective can come in handy specifically when you think you have a straight putt. If the putt looks straight, but the green is tilted in one direction as a whole, you might want to play for your putt to break in that same direction.
You can never have too much information when playing golf, and your eyes are the best way to gather that information. Come up with a plan that allows you to look for all of the information you need before each shot and stick with that routine throughout your rounds. Consistently using your eyes the same way round after round is a great way to improve your performance without changing a single thing about your golf swing.