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Clambake

Putting: Perceived Target Size and Quiet Eyes

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There was in interesting psychological study done by researchers at Purdue regarding sports performance, including a specific experiment in putting performance with targets of different perceived sizes.     More detailed info is found at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/23/4/397 but here's a short version.

An experiment was set up where test subjects putted at a golf hole, but an overhead projector was used to make the hole appear larger than it actually was.    Putting performance was improved with the subjects perceiving that the size of the hole was larger than it actually was.     The researchers hypothesize that the reason is that the subject has more confidence with a larger hole, and were more relaxed and focused on making a good putt rather than worrying about how small the hole is.

Another thing discussed in their study is the concept of "quiet eyes", where it has been shown in multiple sports that keeping ones eye focused on the target and not moving it around much has improved performance; this is seen in basketball free throw shooting, putting, etc.       One of the things that Dave Stockton talks about in his putting instruction is to keep your eyes focused on the target and line and not be looking all over the place; he doesn't refer to the quiet eye concept, but he's essentially saying the same thing.

I've been following Stockton's advice for a few month and have found my putting has noticeably improved.   I think I'll start experimenting with visualizing a larger hole next and see what that does.

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I'd agree on the confidence of seeing the hole as being larger.  Haven't you ever practiced on a green that has the Par Aide 'Do The Drill' holes setup?  The hole is about 1/2 the size of a regulation golf hole.  And if you practice on it - you'll find that your mind thinks the normal sized golf hole is larger - and thus easier to make putts.

Here is a photo of the Par Aide setup:

My putting has been struggling as of late.  But a drill I do is to simply place an alignment stick vertically into the ground of the putting surface on the putting green.  And instead of putting to a regulation hole... Putt to the alignment stick which is roughly 1/4" in diameter - maybe less?

If I can get the ball to just tap the stick - then it was a good putt.  It has helped me make those pesky 3 to 5ft putts as the hole seems huge.  And has helped with my confidence.

Unfortunately, I'm in a spell where I'm not making putts longer than 8ft... So that is an area that I'm trying to improve on.  Is those mid range putts so that I can score better.

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Originally Posted by Clambake

An experiment was set up where test subjects putted at a golf hole, but an overhead projector was used to make the hole appear larger than it actually was.    Putting performance was improved with the subjects perceiving that the size of the hole was larger than it actually was.     The researchers hypothesize that the reason is that the subject has more confidence with a larger hole, and were more relaxed and focused on making a good putt rather than worrying about how small the hole is.

Fascinating.  This seems counterintuitive to me though.  I've always believed in the concept of smaller targets being better.  If you are on the tee and your target is "the fairway" then if you miss your target, you miss the fairway.  Basically, you can't really be aiming at anything, if you are simply aiming at "the fairway."

By contrast, if you are aiming at a specific spot in the fairway, you can "miss" your target and still be in good shape.

Not disagreeing with your article, - because I am not a scientist and they are - just saying that it goes against what I've always thought.

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I found a similar thing in my research with subjects on full swing. I picked out targets at the end of the range and asked players to hit to a certain pole which was in the middle (small focus). Then I asked the same people to hit the ball to a much wider target (wider focus) although theoretically the target was the same all along, all that was changed was their focus. In almost every case, players performed better when hitting with the larger focus, even though target size remained constant.

This co-incides with my feelings when I play well, of basically saying 'anywhere down there will do', and then hitting the ball freely down that area. Wehn I drive my best, usually I encompass the fairway AND the rough in my target. As a result, I am more likely to relax and hit the fairway more often.

this did, however, contradict my hypothesis, which would be that smaller focus produce better results.

we must also remember the limitations of the study. this was performed on 10-20 handicaps. It could be that better players perform better with a smaller focus, and higher handicaps perform better when being relaxed with a larger focus. Also, mental state could play a part, with tournament situations being very different for different levels.

Overall message is, find out what works for you by doing a testing session with the 2 distinct goals. Also, try to test it on the course to see if it is any different. Everyone is different and must be treated so. It is foolish to apply broad principles to everyone, even if the majority repsond well. We must always find out what works best for the individual under each differing circumstance.

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Originally Posted by Adam Young

Everyone is different and must be treated so. It is foolish to apply broad principles to everyone, even if the majority repsond well. We must always find out what works best for the individual under each differing circumstance.

Yes, totally agree with this.

So, regarding the targets, I guess what you are saying is that with the wider focus "target," you are still aiming down the center of that focus area, but perhaps are less worried that you will miss the target because of the lee-way you know that you have.

OK, I get it.  I think that would be analagous to trying to walk on a balance beam that is 2 inches off of the ground versus walking on the exact same width balance beam 20 feet off of the ground.  Your comfort level is way up when you are 2" off the ground, so you instinctively are more relaxed.

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Originally Posted by Golfingdad

Yes, totally agree with this.

So, regarding the targets, I guess what you are saying is that with the wider focus "target," you are still aiming down the center of that focus area, but perhaps are less worried that you will miss the target because of the lee-way you know that you have.

OK, I get it.  I think that would be analagous to trying to walk on a balance beam that is 2 inches off of the ground versus walking on the exact same width balance beam 20 feet off of the ground.  Your comfort level is way up when you are 2" off the ground, so you instinctively are more relaxed.

In a way yes. but also, there is no specific target in the wider focus. Its just a case of -hit between that right pole and that left pole. Not even asking to hit the middle of it.

I think one of the chbages I also saw was that, when given a wider focus, people tended to play for their natural curvature more, I.e. slicers tended to aim at the left side and be more relaxed about it coming back. When given the narrow focus, players tended to try to hit the ball too straight at that target, allowing for less movement in the air.

It could be, however, that the players with narrow focus produced more conisstent results, even if they were not consistently in their target (if you get me). To which, possibly, a narrow focus projected towards a more suitable area (narrow focus to left side of fairway) potentially could produce better results. I didnt take that date though - wish I had. Oh well, time to do another experiment.

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I used to teach my soccer players the technique called "quiet eye" that I learned about on Scientific American Frontiers.  The subject was putting on the show, but I applied to to penalty and corner kicks.  The idea is simple.  Your brain knows where you are aiming without looking back up at the goal or target.  You stare at your target, then never look back up.  It is great for soccer because the keeper doesn't know where you are going.

Thanks for reminding me.

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Originally Posted by boogielicious

You stare at your target, then never look back up.  It is great for soccer because the keeper doesn't know where you are going.

Unless he knows you are using that technique.  In the time between you looking back down and the referee blowing the whistle, he could inch over there and you'd have no idea.

But if he didn't know, it would be good because you'd have him playing mind games with himself, Vizzini style ...

"But it's so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy's? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me."

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I have been struggling with my putting...I will put this to the test over the next few weeks... I imagine the same concept can be applied to full swings as well.

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Quote:
Unless he knows you are using that technique.

Taught the kids to look at the whole net, left, right, up and down.  Pick the target with your mind, then never look back at it.  The keeper is clueless.

Tried this again at the range (Thanks Adam and OP).  Worked wonders.  Wish I hadn't forgotten about it.

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