Golf is about precision and concentration and instincts. The game is played with an eye on the ball, an eye on the slope of the green, an eye for the hazards, and an eye to gauge the distance to the pin. It’s important, then, to improve these qualities and your visual skills if, you want to play your best.
- Peripheral vision refers to the outermost boundary of a person’s range of vision. Central/peripheral awareness – is being aware of the primary target (the ball) while simultaneously knowing where you want to direct the ball with your club. Obviously, this is a basic skill to master.
- Depth perception – the ability to judge distances is crucial in golf. When trained properly, depth perception acts as a valuable aid in estimating yardage, in selecting the proper club and, in making solid contact with the ball.
- Fixation ability – using a series of quick and accurate eye movements, it’s the ability to fine-focus on a target, whether 3 feet or 300 yards away. Then, being able to properly focus on the ball. This skill is essential in making good contact between the clubhead and the ball. Fine focusing techniques can help both in hitting the sweet spot and stroking a smoother putt.
This scenario requires the golfer to focus or “gaze” at the right points in their surroundings and ignore the rest of the scene. Research has proven that expert golfers with “quiet” eyes are able to focus on specific targets, e.g., a precise spot in the landing area or, the flagstick. Then, they can finely focus on a specific point on the back of the ball and, remain fixated on that part until the club strikes the ball. In contrast, average golfers with “noisy” eyes allow their gaze to wander all over the place, without having a very specific focal point on their target or their ball.
No doubt, the age-old decree to keep your head down and keep your eye on the ball stems from the poor habits of the high-handicapper. Most good players, on the other hand, try to maintain their head position through impact and focus their attention at a precise point on the back of the ball until it is struck. This arrangement seems to give them a straighter path to the ball, better contact, increased swing speed, more hip rotation and improved balance on the follow through and finish.
But, this principle of keeping the “head still” and the “eyes-on-the-ball” isn’t preferred by everyone. In fact, the natural move for PGA Tour stars like Jim Furyk, Robert Allenby, Annika Sorenstam and David Duval is to not even look at the ball during impact. Instead, they let their right sides turn through the shot, allowing their heads to swivel with the rotation of their body. Maybe, those that favor this particular method are right eye dominant and/or simply prefer to play a fade. In any case, these players have found success by allowing their head and eyes to move freely through the impact zone.
My father was quoted as saying, “Never keep your eye on the top of the ball, chances are you will blade it.” Aspects like depth perception and, the fact that a golf ball’s diameter is 1.68 really mattered to dad. When he’d watch me play and I’d happen to mishit a sand shot, often his best advice would be to finely focus my attention on the sand behind the ball. Regrettably, I found this course of action to be unsettling. And, it bothered me because purely and simply I did whatever my dad told me to do on the golf course.
Occasionally, I’d find myself wondering about the ifs ands or buts of dad’s viewpoint. Well, the opportunity to discover the “truth” finally presented itself one day. It was May, 1977, when I happened upon the talented Taiwanese professional Lu Liang-Huan or “Mr. Lu” as he came to be known to British golf fans. He was practicing sand shots in a bunker at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Mr. Lu was a regular winner on the Asian Tour and, in 1971, he finished runner-up to Lee Trevino in the British Open at Royal Birkdale,
I remember being excited by the sight of Mr. Lu because, at the time, he was regarded as a world-class bunker player. Not wanting to disturb the master, I approached him cautiously. As I stepped closer to the bunker, Mr. Lu looked up to acknowledge my presence. Then, the polite man nodded his head as if to say hello. At that point, I asked him if, it would be ok to watch. After he nodded, yes, I moved to within 20 feet of him and positioned myself immediately to his right. Then, after watching him splash several more shots right next to the flagstick, I asked him my question. I said, “Mr. Lu, where do you focus your attention when you’re playing sand shots? Do you look at the ball or do you look at the sand behind the ball?” What happened next was truly amazing. Mr. Lu gazed up at me and, while maintaining eye-contact, he said “I look at you” as he proceeded to delicately extricate the ball from the sand. Then, I got to watch another of his unreal shots trickle to within several inches of the cup!