June 2012

JUNE 2012: Golf Tips From a Pro - How To Make More Putts

Author: Pete Popovich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

When it comes to putting, almost all of today’s instruction has to do with the stroke mechanics: straight back/straight through, arcing strokes, taking twice as much follow-through as back swing, the list is endless. Yet, all of these things are secondary to what actually controls the stroke, which is 1) the brain’s perception of where the hole actually is and 2) where the body is in relationship to the hole, i.e. the target.

From the time you were an infant and were able to stand on two feet, you have related to objects around you by looking straight out of your eye sockets. When sitting erect on your sofa, you could probably tell me within a couple of inches how far an object in the room is to your left, your right or behind or in front of you by simply turning your head. This is known as spatial awareness—where your body is in relationship to another object.

Now, lie down on your couch, and your ability to gauge how far you are from each object becomes distorted because your eyes are not looking straight out from their sockets anymore. Since you are on your back and facing upward, the eyes have to rotate downward in order to look more directly at objects. This causes your eyes to look out from the lower parts of their sockets, and spatial awareness is compromised. The same thing happens to most golfers when they putt.

Due to the changes in putter lengths in the early 1980s, almost all golfers nowadays stand more upright at address. As a result, the plane of your head is more vertical than horizontal. When this happens, your eyes are forced to look out of the bottom of your eye sockets in order to see the golf ball. (If your eyes were to look straight out of your head, they would be looking six inches to one foot beyond the ball!) Since you are looking through the bottom of your sockets, as you turn your head to look at the hole, you see the path of the putt and the hole in two different planes: one for your head plane and one for your eye plane (remember since the eyes are not looking straight out of the eye sockets, they are in a different plane from the head). As a result, when your head turns back to look at the ball, you now have two different images in your mind of where the hole is: 1) where it actually is, and 2) where your brain perceives it to be. The problem your brain and body have is figuring out which of the two images to trust.

In order to fix this problem and make more putts, it is very important to have your eyes looking straight out of their sockets. To do this and not be looking six inches to one foot beyond the ball, you need to tuck your chin so your head is almost parallel to the ground. By doing so, your eyes are no longer looking out of the bottom of the eye sockets but straight out of them. Now your head and eyes are in the same plane, and when you rotate your head to look at the hole, your eye plane and head plane are the same. Where you see the hole and where you perceive the hole to be when looking at the ball are identical. How many of you have stood over a putt and just knew you were going to make it? It is likely your head plane and eye plane were the same, allowing you to have a radar lock on the target (the hole).

All great putters throughout history had their eye plane and head plane identical when making their putting stroke. Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Locke, Ben Crenshaw, George Archer, and even Tiger Woods (when he was putting well) adopted the proper eye and head positioning. If you look at pictures of golfers pre-1980, you will see that a large majority of professionals had the proper eye/head positioning, because putters were shorter and they were forced to bend over the ball more, thereby putting their head in more of a horizontal position. The problem was that when golfers wanted to practice longer, this bent over position compromised their backs. So, manufacturers started making putters longer. With the body more erect, the head came up closer to vertical, which caused the eyes to look down through the bottom of the sockets. Once this happened, spatial awareness was lost, putting strokes suffered, and as a result, more and more golfers tried to fix their strokes when the problem wasn’t the stroke at all. The problem was what was controlling the stroke, and that is the brain and its perception—or misperception.

More than likely, the content of this article is something you have never heard. Perhaps you never heard it because so few teachers are aware of it. We take it upon ourselves to continue our research in the game of golf so you, the golfer, can shoot lower scores and take more enjoyment in the game. If you would like to improve your putting, chipping or full swing, call the Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head at (843) 338-6737, e-mail us at pete@golfacademyhiltonhead.com or join us on Facebook at Golf Performance Academy-Hilton Head.

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