Golf Science Blog 1: What should you think about whilst putting?

Introduction

Welcome to the first episode of my ‘Golf Science’ series, a set of experiments using real golfers to test theories on how to improve performance and hopefully drawing conclusions to help every golfers game.

In this experiment, we look at whether what you are thinking about whilst you putt can make a difference to your performance and discuss what the optimum state of mind is for this aspect of the game.

Method

In this study, we used two subjects – A 54 handicap beginner (AJ) and a 6 handicap experienced golfer (JC).

Both subjects results were monitored for two different lengths of putt:

  1. 24ft – average distance from hole.
  2. 4ft – % of putts holed.

Subjects completed putts using 4 different methods:

  1. Using their current normal method
  2. Set-Up as normal, but then look at the target during the stroke, rather than the ball.
  3. Complete the stroke with their eyes shut.
  4. Saying ‘red, green,yellow, blue’ during the course of the stroke.

Theory

It is recognised that many golfers struggle with their putting due to the focus they have during the stroke – by concentrating on technique, or worse, by thinking about the consequences of failure – they ignore the most important factors determining success such as the target and feel for distance.

Each of the three ‘alternative’ methods employed in this study attempt to take the golfers focus away from these negative thought processes and instead concentrate their mind on more positive thoughts.

By looking at the target instead of the ball, the golfer sharpens their end goal – to hole the putt – in much the same way that somebody throwing scrap paper into the bin will look at the bin in order to do so.

Shutting your eyes and removing the sense of sight from your armory helps to heighten the other senses. In the case of putting, the feel of the putter in your hands and the weight of stroke can both be transformed without the eyes playing a role.

Saying a simple sentence during the stroke requires the minds full focus and therefore removes any harmful thoughts about technique or consequences of failure.

Results

Key – For each golfer, the following numbers relate to each method:

  1. Normal technique
  2. Looking at the target
  3. Eyes Shut
  4. Red, Green, Yellow, Blue

AJ (Beginner)

Long Putting (24ft)

  1. 3.5ft
  2. 8.5ft
  3. 8.5ft
  4. 9ft          (average distance from hole)

Short Putting (4ft)

  1. 75%
  2. 23%
  3. 78%
  4. 76%       (% of putts holed)

JC (Experienced)

Long Putting (24ft)

  1. 3.13ft
  2. 2.07ft
  3. 2.19ft
  4. 4.63ft        (average distance from hole)

Short Putting (4ft)

  1. 75%
  2. 38%
  3. 88%
  4. 50%          (% of putts holed)

Discussion

AJ was open that during her ‘normal’ stroke, she would be thinking about at least 4 aspects of her recently learned technique.

For the long putts, AJ saw a significant drop in performance when employing any of our 3 alternative methods. Due to the early stage of learning that she is at, changing the focus away from technique led to a complete break-down in the technical aspect of her performance, poor strikes and ultimately a drop in performance.

Interestingly, for the short putting, where the technique is slightly more simple and there is less time to think, AJ showed a slight improvement compared to her normal performance with her eyes shut and saying red, green, yellow, blue. Indeed her results in these areas matched those of our more experienced golfer.

AJ reported a benefit to thinking less about technique or worries about mis-hitting the putt. The only exception to this was when she was looking at the target, which reduced her confidence that she would strike the putt correctly.

When asked, our experienced golfer JC explained that during his normal putting procedure, he had a strong focus on his routine, including some slightly quirky pre-shot triggers.

JC saw an improvement in his long putting performance when he was looking at the target and when he had his eyes shut. As an expert golfer with sound technique, the greater focus on the target and the improved feel for the stroke led to better results. The exception was when JC was saying red, green, yellow, blue during the performance, this actually led to a negative drop in his ability to feel the stroke or focus on the target and significantly worse results.

In the short putts, JC saw his best results with his eyes shut. He reported that knowing that he could not see the results or stroke allowed him to ‘free’ up his stroke without fear of failure. Focus on the target did not have the same positive effect as for his long putts.

Conclusion

The results of our study suggest that what you are thinking about during your putting stroke can have a significant effect upon how well you perform.

The best focus for the golfer will depend both on the stage of learning that they are at and indeed the individual tendencies of the player.

Complete beginners will need to focus on technique to get the best results. Once this aspect is settled, however, thinking more about the target or feel of the stroke during performance will be the optimum state of mind.

Individuals should practice different variables to find the optimum strategy for them. In our study, our expert golfer found benefits to putting with his eyes closed. This does not mean that he should employ this method in his next competition. To do so may affect other aspects of his performance, such as self-confidence. Rather, it suggests that his present method does not prioritize the ‘feel’ aspect of putting enough and his practice should focus on changing this – perhaps with an eyes closed drill.

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