Updated: May 30, 2021
10 things every golfer should do to improve their putting performance (Part 2)
The putting stroke is not a complex motor skill and requires no excessive strength to hold the putter and impart the correct amount of force to get the ball to the hole (even for 45 footers!). Unlike other aiming tasks in sport the target does not move, nor does the ball until after impact and the golfer is generally stable and relaxed during the pre-putt phase. So, why do golf coaches’ tell us to concentrate most of our practice efforts on stroke and technique when the scientific research is clear; success in putting is based almost exclusively on interpreting the environment based on visual clues.
Now, I am not going to argue that stroke and technique variables such as face angle, centredness of strike, club path and a smooth repeatable stroke are not important, they are. But my point is these variables are not the most important to practice. The most important variables to practice for optimal performance in putting are mastering green topography, aiming and alignment.
If you think about it for a moment having a sound repeatable stroke and good technique is not going to improve your chances of holing a putt if you cannot read a green or aim correctly. Unlike stroke and technique, green reading is complex and requires golfers’ to accurately judge the distance between the ball and the hole and correctly deduce the contours of the green through the use of depth perception and the interpretation of colour contrast.
Moreover, golfers have to master the aiming and alignment of the ball with the target and the club with the ball by making highly accurate vernier acuity judgements essential to optimal putting performance. Therefore, if golfers’ can master the visual components of the pre-putt routine then the stroke and technique component of putting will be much less demanding. So, my advice is to practice less on stroke and technique and more on your vision strategy. This blog will help you learn how to master aiming and alignment.
Golfers rely on information from the environment to adequately respond to the task they are facing. Vision is the sensory system that serves the golfers’ need for information collection on green topography, trajectory identification, visual simulation, aiming and alignment. All of these tasks require accurate collection and interpretation of the visual environment. Any aspect of this process that is compromised due to a poor vision system has a negative impact on performance.
Indeed, before you can achieve the aiming and alignment demands of putting you must first consider your own visual status. That is, do you have uncorrected vision defects? It is very likely that some golfers may suffer from vision defects that would negatively affect their vision when green reading, aligning and aiming. These defects may not produce any symptoms or skill difficulties in everyday life, but they can limit the golfers’ visual potential, so get an eye check-up!
A well-structured practice routine and vision strategy in putting alignment require the study of visual aids and techniques that can assist in these essential alignment judgements, including optimising ball markings (e.g., sharpie line on the ball) and understanding ocular dominance and how it can be manipulated to create ideal conditions for the judgement of alignment.
Researchers advocate the importance of reading the green and using a sharpie line as an alignment aid to help overcome the distortions in perceived direction. When using a sharpie line on the ball, alignment of the club and the ball essentially becomes a vernier acuity task. Recent research supports the use of an alignment sharpie line and has found that in terms of horizontal alignment, golfers are actually capable of making finer judgements of alignment than is needed for accurate horizontal club alignment.
Furthermore, alignment judgements have been shown to be more accurate when made with one eye as monocular judgements do not suffer from the same parallax errors that affect two eye binocular judgements. The improved alignment will ultimately lead to improved performance if all other factors remain equal.
To aim correctly you need to identify which is your dominant eye (google dominant eye-test and follow the instructions). Also, golfers’ will find increased alignment success if they use the hand that corresponds with their dominant eye when positioning the ball (e.g., if left eye dominant use your left hand for aiming as in image above) as this will make the alignment process more linear.
As part of your pre-putt routine consider following a similar pre-shot routine to Olympic pistol shooters and stand with your arm extended outwards with the sharpie line pointing towards the target (see image above). Notably, this aiming method will obtain the most accurate information due to the arm position being at a similar height to the golfer's eye position whilst putting. Once the target is selected, golfers need only place the ball on the green with the sharpie line
pointing towards your target, align the club face with the ball and you are ready to initiate the putting stroke as if you were making a straight putt.
Good luck and enjoy your new knowledge.