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Scientists find the key to golfing success

By Paul Gittings, CNN
  • University reseachers claim to have invented a technique to help hole more putts
  • "Quiet Eye" technique gets golfers to focus on the back of the ball before striking
  • British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen used focusing techniques to aid his victory

London, England (CNN) -- It's one of the oldest adages in golf: you drive for show and putt for dough.

Tiger Woods agrees. The world number one blamed his lack of success on the greens at St. Andrews for his failure to win a 15th major title at the recent British Open.

"This was one of my worst weeks for putting," moaned Tiger, who said he felt the ball was "on a string" with his longer shots from tee to green, but he could not capitalize where it counted.

Perhaps the American should have had a quick lesson from researchers at Exeter University in south-west England.

They claim to have invented a technique known as the "Quiet Eye" which can help golfers of all abilities -- even Tiger and his professional counterparts -- to trim a few shots from their score.

Studies by staff from the university's School of Sport and Health Sciences have shown that focusing your eye on exactly the right spot at the right time can be vital to success in sinking the ball into the hole.

Samuel Vine, who led the research, told CNN: "Putting is a hugely important part of golf, accounting for around 45 percent of the shots taken in an average round.

Putting is a hugely important part of golf, accounting for around 45 percent of the shots taken in an average round
--Samuel Vine, Exeter University
  • Golf
  • Tiger Woods
  • Louis Oosthuizen

"It's vital to success and requires high levels of precision and accuracy, making it susceptible to breakdown under high levels of pressure and nerves.

"Our research shows that assessing visual control, using state-of-the-art eye trackers, and coaching golfers to use the Quiet Eye technique can lead to dramatic improvements in putting performance."

The Exeter researchers studied film of top golfers when they putted and saw they followed a familiar pattern of visual control, before and during a shot.

When lining up the putt, experts quickly look backwards and forwards between the ball and the hole.

But just before they are about to putt, and as they make the stroke, they focus on the back of the ball for about two to three seconds.

Even after hitting the ball with the putter, their eyes remain steady for a further half a second. This technique has been christened the Quiet Eye.

Poorer putters tend to allow their focus to waver to other points on the green, flooding their brains with unnecessary visual information which hinders their ability.

Research tested

To test their research, Vine and his team called on the services of two groups of low handicap golfers -- with an average of 2.5.

The first trained using the Quiet Eye technique and found they were sinking six percent more putts and cutting their scores by an average of two shots.

The crucial test came in a money contest against the second group, who had not trained in the technique.

Competing in a putting contest for a $150 first prize, the Quiet Eye golfers came out on top, sinking 17 percent more putts than their rivals.

A variation on the idea of total concentration and cutting out all distractions was employed by the winner at St. Andrews, South Afican Louis Oosthuizen.

He admitted that before the British Open that his thought process was "a mess" so he employed sports psychologist Karl Morris to help.

Oosthuizen's red spot

Morris introduced Oosthuizen to the "red spot" theory, and the rest is history.

The spot was marked on his golf glove, and rather like the advice from Exeter University researchers to the putters, the 27-year-old was told to focus only on the red mark before and during his swing.

It clearly worked wonders as Oosthuizen won by seven shots with a remarkable display of composure under pressure.

Woods trailed in 13 shots behind with his wayward putting, but at his best he was renowned as one of the best in the history of the game.

Vine added: "Obviously just keeping your eye on the ball won't make you Tiger Woods overnight, but our research shows that changing small but important elements of your pre-shot routine and learning to control your vision can improve your accuracy, allow you to maintain focus under pressure and ultimately make more putts."

Findings from his study are be published in the Journal of Applied Sports Psychology.