I suppose the most often repeated piece of advice in the whole realm of golf is "keep your eye on the ball." It is given and accepted as a profound golfing truth (which properly understood it is), but it is necessary to examine what we mean by it and how it fits into the rest of our golfing program.
Very early in my teaching of a new pupil I tell him to keep his eye on the ball, because I know that unless he does so he will never achieve any class as a golfer. But I do not harp on the idea or rub it in - I point out that its importance actually lies less in the sight of the ball than in the reactions which it produces - for instance that it keeps our heads still.
And I put this emphasis on the reactions rather than on the sight of the ball because, to my mind, it is only the bad golfer who actually sees the ball out of his eyes. The good golfer I am convinced feels where the ball is more than sees it.
Now to the ordinary golfer that may seem an absurd statement, or if he does accept it, it may be confusing. So I will try to clarify my meaning.
When I was playing a lot, I was often congratulated, upon the deftness of my short game - and the congratulations were usually followed by the comment, "How long you keep your head down after the ball has gone!" Their idea was obviously that I kept my head down because it enabled me to "keep my eye on the ball."
But what I was really doing was to keep my head down in order to retain the feel of the swing and to keep my controls going even though the ball had been dispatched. Few of the spectators realized that I often played these shots with my eyes shut; yet I did so.
But when I play with my eyes shut, my senses are wide open. My main concern was to see that my general muscular feel and sense of balance went right through to the end. Not until the follow-through was finished did I look up to see where the ball had gone. I never miss a shot through looking up too quickly; I do sometimes miss one through fear of missing it! The primary fault is not in looking up but in losing the feel of the swing.
Incidentally I have taught many pupils to play beautiful pitch shots without looking at the ball. One very well-known golfer to whom I taught this brought out his "better-half" to watch him "do his circus stuff." He played some beautiful shots high in the air over gaping bunkers, dropping close around the pin every time and all the while looking me straight in the face. His wife was utterly astonished; then she saw the funny side of it and laughed herself nearly into hysterics!
My view is that the good golfer can only see the ball when his swing is working smoothly, and then it looks as big as a tennis ball! The beginner sees the ball in another way, and because of this, more often than not he misses it. His attention is so concentrated upon seeing the ball that he cannot feel his swing operate. The business of seeing the ball occupies him too exclusively.
Do I mean by that that the beginner needs to learn how to see the ball? That is exactly what I do mean. He must learn not to see the ball to the exclusion of all his other senses. So when I tell a pupil to keep his eye on the ball I at once go on to the work of building up a swing that makes looking at the ball a necessity. Of course every pupil "looks up" badly at first to have the pleasure of seeing where the ball has gone, but this is a primitive stage and soon over.
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