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All knowledge has its origin in our perception.
Leonardo Da Vinci
When I first tested Nick Faldo, at the Leadbetter Academy at Lake Nona Golf Club in Orlando, Florida, he was amazed that the visual perception tests he did in a hotel room could so well predict his alignment problems without there being a putter in his hands. He readily agreed with my concept of vision being the controlling factor in putting.
Ever wonder why you like downhill putts more than uphill putts, you miss long putts on the same side of the hole, you misalign your body and putterblade, you miss short putts?
You may be amazed, like Nick, that each of these problems is often the result of your visual perception.
The PGA Tour players I test, or interact with, are convinced a faulty stroke is the common cause of missed putts. But after going through perceptual testing, they realize the problem more often rests with the quality of their perceptions. To test your perceptions, make a dot near, but not in, opposite diagonal corners on a plain sheet of paper. Turn the paper so that the two dots appear in line as you look from behind one dot. Now, using a ruler or straight edge, draw a two-inch line, aiming it at the far dot, with one inch of the line behind the near dot and the other inch extended toward the far dot. You cannot use the ruler or paper edge beyond one inch of the dot. No fudging. Go ahead, draw it.
Before checking your results, repeat the test on another piece of paper--but this time draw the line from arm's length and to the side. In other words, mimic your perspective when aligning from over theball.
How does it look? Are you on line? To check your accuracy in both tests, continue drawing the lines out to the far dots using a straight edge. The first test evaluates your ability to aim at a target; the second gauges how you adjust to golf's unusual and unnatural address position beside the ball.
If either line was off even a little, imagine the error being compounded by five- to tenfold or more, as you align to a spot a few feet in front of the ball, or worse if aligning to a far target. For example, if you aimed your putter at the hole on a ten-foot putt, a one-half-inch error (at ten inches) would be compounded to a six-inch error for a ten-foot putt, when using the hole to align to. This is arrived at knowing ten feet equals 120 inches, or twelve times the test distance. Thus twelve times a one-half-inch test error equals six inches.
If you were off by more than a quarter inch when making your line from behind the dot, you can be aligning outside the hole from a distance as close as five to ten feet. If your error was worse when above the page (at address), then you compound your basic error. If not, you may have learned to compensate, in part, when over the ball. A great majority of those we tested had more of an error with the test that approximates your visual challenge in the address position. This is often because the eyes are "skewed" at the address position. In order to avoid confusion on this concept, realize that you can see something clearly but not be pointing your eyes right at it. One thing is clear--alignment is a visual challenge.
Another self-test that can provide information about how you perceive distance is a simple one. With a nickel or quarter in hand, place another coin that will act as a target on the floor. Pace off ten feet from the target. Face the target, close your eyes, and toss the coin in your hand at the target on the floor. Toss underhanded and attempt to land on the other coin. Before the coin lands, open your eyes to see the result. Another test is to close your eyes and walk toward a target on the floor several feet away. Once you believe you are in front of the target, drop a coin (held in your hand) on the target. Before it hits, open your eyes to see where the coin lands. It is important not to count steps as you walk. Attempt to visualize the target's location as you walk toward it with your natural step. During the "International" golf tournament, Andrew Magee reacted to the results of the dot-to-dot and walking-to-a-spot-with-eyes-closed tests by saying, "That's me, always short and left."
Scoring of these tests should be with two areas in mind. You should record what, if any, error you made to the left or right (directional) of the target and/or short or long (spatial). If you do both tests, record the highest error in each of the categories or the test that best approximates what you believe to be your typical error when putting.
There are more sophisticated tests to determine the extent and the type of error, but the tests you just performed aren't bad indicators. Also realize that your perceptions can change day to day. The better putters on the PGA tour were the most accurate when undergoing an alignment test (using an infra-red testing device) than the tour's statistically inferior putters. In one test of professional golfers, only eighteen percent of those who participated were accurate at aligning both behind the ball and at address.
The eyes and brain aren't as exact in their perceptual analysis as we would like to believe. Alignment and even the task of correctly judging the factors that affect the speed of the ball are two areas that are perception-based. Misperceptions can result in your eyes and brain projecting the hole to the left or right and/or short or long of its actual location. If you do not believe the above tests are a good indicator of your putts, feel free to take the "self-assessment" test in Appendix B.