What’s the difference between a good putter and a bad putter? Usually, we attribute the difference to mechanics. Good mechanics produces good putting. Bad mechanics produces bad putting. At least, that’s what I’ve always stressed and taught in my golf lessons and golf tips.
However, research shows that mechanics may not be the only difference between good putters and bad putters. According to Dr. Joan Vickers, University of Calgary, the difference may lie in how you use your eyes. The secret to good putting, she says, may be using your eyes to detect the right information about distance and direction; then using your mind to relay the information to the rest of your body, so you can consistently sink the putt. The Quiet Eye, as it is called, may someday help explain what being “in the Zone” means, she says.
So what exactly is the Quiet Eye? It’s when your gaze remains absolutely still on the ball just before and as the stroke is performed. There are two important aspects to this basic yet essential skill: location and duration. Which is better? Both are effective in improving accuracy, but evidence is beginning to favor the back of the ball. In putting as well as other hand-eye-target skills, the Quiet Eye is emerging as an indicator of optimal focus and concentration. And it’s something that can be taught in golf instruction sessions.
Good Putter versus Bad Putter
Having watched many players putt during golf lessons, I can see how the eyes play a part in good putting. The good putter focuses his gaze on a precise spot, his or her scans from the hole are more precise, and he or she fixates his or her gaze on a specific spot inside the cup. A good putter picks out a specific location at the hole, like a blade of grass on the lip. The target isn’t the hole and certainly not around it. Instead, the putter’s gaze focuses on a target only a few millimeters wide.
The poor putter does not fixate on a specific target, but instead directs his gaze to a number of locations in and around the hole. There’s no clear definition of his target or his line of gaze from the ball to the target. His gaze is all over the place. He has a shorter Quiet Eye duration because he is unable to keep his gaze quiet as he strokes the ball. The end result, of course, is missed putts.
Under stress, the Quiet Eye is often the first thing to go. It moves with the stroke, and golfers lose their ability to stabilize their gaze as they putt. When you choke, the billion cells in your brain lose their effective complexity in solving the slope, curvature distance and location problems. So even dozens of golf instruction sessions focused on mechanics may not always be able to save you when the pressure is on, but proper mechanics builds confidence and that helps.
Developing a Quiet Eye
Research shows that the average player can develop a Quiet Eye. A Quiet Eye routine on straight, flat putts has the following characteristics, which can be learned through golf lessons like any other skill.
o Focus on the hole
As soon as your putterhead is set behind the ball, pick a specific location on
the hole where you want the ball to go, such as a blade of grass or a small feature
on the front of the cup.
o “See” the ball go in
Look at this location for about two second, and visualize the ball going into the hole. Visualization is a keep technique in this procedure.
o Scan from the hole to the ball
Smoothly shift your gaze without interruption from the target to the back of the ball. Your gaze should move efficiently and calmly.
o Eye on the ball
Fixate on the back of the ball and imagine just the right contact of the putterhead on the ball. Picture a line through this contact point to your spot on the hole.
o Stay steady
Maintain a Quiet Eye on the one spot on the back of the ball during the backstroke and forwardstroke, and through contact. Don’t peek! Take a look at your ball going
in the hole only after putting.
The idea of being in the Zone, or the “flow,” has been around for a long time. It’s when you absolutely can’t miss. But until now there has been little scientific evidence that the Zone exists, let alone can be measured. Perhaps the Quiet Eye will emerge as one of the objective measures of being in the Zone. Learning the Quite Eye technique can only help you lower your golf handicap.