If ever there was a word of which the value and meaning in golf is misunderstood it is target selection. Commentators often refer to it as target golf in a tournament when a player is not focusing on technique but is in the moment and striking the ball magnificently while at the same time hitting every target.

Unfortunately this term is not quite grasped or implemented by higher handicappers because they erroneously believe it is something that is beyond them and their skill levels.

Another factor that prevents the average player from improving their target selection is an over-reliance on technique. If you watch any weekend player they are often so hell-bent on getting their technique right that this is the only thing they focus on over the ball. When in actual fact they should be focusing on the one thing that actually allows you to play better under pressure: the target.

Another worrying aspect is that the typical pre-shot routine at your local club normally includes any or even all of the following technical checks. Practice swings, checking of the grip, checking alignment, checking posture and repeatedly doing the swing drill your swing coach has given you. Now all of this is wonderful if golf was all about the technicality of your swing and your execution of it, but alas it is not. The small but integral aspects of target selection and type of shot is so often forgotten that it leaves many golfers wondering how it is possible that their technique can improve but not their scoring.

In this month’s Swing Thoughts we look at how you can include target selection in your routines and thus ensure that you achieve mastery of not only your swing, but you game as well.


Faced with tee-shots one is often tempted to whittle the process down to a good routine and the hope that your basics stick up to the pressure. The aspect that is often forgotten is where we want the ball to go and how we want it to get there, in other words target and shot selection. Thus somewhere in your tee-shot routine you need to include selecting a target somewhere down the fairway as well as visualizing a shape of shot that will get the ball there with the least effort.

One of the most important principles of target selection off the tee-box is to focus your attention on a specific target that is elevated above the fairway. The reason for this is that focusing on another bump in the fairway is not challenging and specific enough for your brain to remember and you will probably experience yourself standing over the ball wondering what you were actually aiming at. By selecting a distinctive raised target you are also “hooking” your attention to something significant and this can be remembered over the ball after your last look down the fairway.

Another way of addressing the issue of target selection is by looking at the shot from behind the ball and choosing an intermediate target in line with your intended target. This allows one the luxury of only having to look a few metres in front of you while knowing that you only have to get the ball to go over this target to ensure it is a good tee-shot.

The last aspect that is very important in target selection for tee-shots is to have a pre-shot routine that, towards its end, allows you to only focus on the intended target and not technicalities.

A routine where you are still adjusting your feet and posture just before you are about to hit the shot, will not allow you to play your best golf. Instead, focus on getting technical aspects, such as your alignment and posture, out of the way early in the routine while focusing on target exclusively during the last few seconds you are standing over the ball.

Approach shots

As with all processes target selection on approach shots starts with perfect information. Thus before you select any targets from the fairway make sure you (or your range finder) get the exact measurements of the shot. This first step once again allows your brain, in essence a super-computer, to work with detail and specifics and not generalisations that encourage lazy decision-making.

The second crucial aspect to target selection off the short grass is to be very specific with where you want the ball to end up. Now I can hear the higher handicappers saying how happy they are if they just hit the green much less a specific part of the green, and for some this is true specifically those of us who do not care to find out how good they can be or those who do not believe that the human brain is capable of infinitely more than we give it credit for.

If you do not however subscribe to the theory that you are as good as you will ever be then please read further.

By challenging your brain and body to get the golf ball in a specific part of the green you will focus harder and commit more to the shot. To make this process even sweeter you will notice that even if your shot does not work out the way you intended your misses will improve a lot.

Lastly, with approach shot target-selection it is important to state clearly where you want the ball to end up on the green and to visualise that eventuality. It is pointless to want to do something such as leave the ball below the hole and then not go to  the trouble of at least “seeing” it happen once before you have to hit the shot. Humans are creatures of imagination and dreams, is it not time you let your imagination run wild?

Theo Bezuidenhout
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