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optimum performance from tee to green
By Mark F. Smith
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2013 The Ivy Press Limited
All rights reserved.
mind and body
Mark F. Smith
Without question the art and science of golf primarily takes place in the mind, played out through the way we move our bodies. This instinctive connection affects how we feel, how we think and then how we swing our golf club. There is no better place to illustrate this than on the course, where our golf can be dramatically affected by what happens in our mind. Tour players have an amazing ability to regulate their thoughts while still allowing their bodies to function at a very high level. How body biomechanics, anatomy, physiology, and mental strategies all link together is revealed throughout this chapter. Mark F. Smith explores, through a series of intriguing questions, the science behind the mind–body connection and how it relates to the way the golfer moves and feels, interacting with the equipment and creating movement of the body and ball.
Does physical fitness level affect performance?
Will getting fit improve my game?
From a less-informed perspective, success in golf is often seen to be more about technical, tactical, and mental factors than physical ones. Indeed it is true that, historically, physical fitness has not appeared to be of that much importance in golf. Today, however, even some of the "old school" pros are catching on. Miguel Angel Jiménez goes for a jog every morning, and Open champion Darren Clarke has revealed that more time spent working on his fitness has been a key factor in his success. Research proves that good physical attributes—especially stamina, strength, mobility, and balance—help to improve golfing performance and lower those scores.
Over the short term, walking and golf-related training has been shown to elicit a number of both general health and golf-specific performance improvements. A reduction in body fat helps to maintain a healthy blood pressure and increases functional capacity, both factors associated with the reduced risk of hypokinetic diseases. In other words, undertaking regular golfing activities in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle will decrease your chances of developing serious illnesses and will also increase your physical abilities and life expectancy.
Evidence also reveals that performing a few simple exercises each day will increase your strength, mobility, and balance. Assessing more than 250 players, with a handicap range between 0 and 20, a 2009 research review revealed that playing standard is related to trunk, hip, and shoulder strength—the lower the handicap, the stronger the player was in these critical areas. Additionally, a number of other studies have identified a link between mobility in the hip, mid-trunk, and shoulder with increased clubhead speed—which means more carry on long shots and greater spin on short shots. Studies show that adopting carefully managed physical conditioning routines—such as flexibility, balance, and strength exercises—at least three times per week for 8–10 weeks has a positive effect on clubhead speed, whatever a golfer's ability.
Do "quiet eye" moments help putting success?
Where should I look when making a putt?
Where a golfer looks during the putt may reveal more about what's happening in the mind during those vital seconds beforehand than first thought. Scientists from Canada and the United Kingdom have uncovered the role our brain's visual motor control system may play in enhancing neurological efficiency throughout the stroke. More importantly, though, they have revealed a solution which helps all players, irrespective of ability, improve their putting performance.
Evidence presented at the 2012 World Scientific Congress of Golf Science reveals that focusing on the ball in a particular way—dubbed "quiet eye" moments—eliminates unwanted distractions, and leads to more successful putting. Based on a number of controlled experimental studies, it has been suggested that the key is to spend around two seconds during the stroke concentrating on the ball and then, once impact has occurred, to continue staring at the same spot on the ground afterward.
It is thought that this approach is effective because it allows the golfer to take in only the necessary visual information required to make the shot. Focusing away from the intended task at hand can disrupt the functioning of millions of neurons in the brain that convert the visual information into movements of the putter. Given that putting is a hugely important part of golf, accounting for around 45 percent of the shots taken in an average round, researchers are beginning to acknowledge that this approach may be vital to success, improving both precision and accuracy, and preventing the breakdown of the movement under high levels of pressure and nerves.
Does aging impact on golf performance?
As a senior, does golf improve or damage my health?
An inevitable part of life is the fact that we all grow old. How our bodies age is a hotly disputed topic among gerontologists (the scientists who study the aging process). Some suggest that aging is largely the consequence of a series of random events, experienced through our interaction with the environment, altering and eventually damaging our molecular make-up. Others conclude that random events alone are not sufficient to explain all aging processes. They believe that aging is more a matter of destiny and that our lifespans are in part pre-programmed even before our births. Whatever the complex mix of genetic, environmental, lifestyle, and socioeconomic factors influencing the lifelong process, we can be certain that aging results in a progressive loss of physical and mental function.
It's not all bad news for the aging golfer. Despite many of the age-related changes affecting older players' risk profiles, playing golf regularly offers ways of preserving flexibility, strength, endurance, muscular speed, balance, and cognitive function. Playing golf doesn't require high levels of physical fitness, which is one possible reason for its popularity among older individuals. However, the golf swing is a complex movement pattern that puts various joints of the body under stress, and golf participation has been shown to be responsible for injuries to the lower back, wrist, elbow, and other joints of the older golfer, which can also lead to a high risk of injury recurrence.
Because of this, the importance of proper conditioning for the senior golfer should not be underestimated. Continued participation in golf can be a very important form of exercise and social interaction for an older adult. Furthermore, research reviews conclude that conditioning programs, in addition to regular rounds of golf, are highly recommended for all older players irrespective of their level of participation. Not only could the programs prevent injury, they also have the potential to improve performance. Such programs do not need to be elaborate—home-based exercises incorporating one's own bodyweight, weighted clubs, or elastic tubing resistance are very effective.
Does a balanced posture affect putting success?
How should I stand when putting?
Despite the relatively small body movements involved during the putting stroke, how a player stands and moves during those few brief seconds may reveal how posture at address and through the stroke could play a more important role than first thought in determining putting success. Top players look to create a stable, balanced, and solid base, along with a fixed pivot point to execute the stroke consistently. Without these, the putting stroke may not stand up under pressure.
Using the latest scanning technology, a study published in the Annual Review of Golf Coaching measured the pressure under the feet of both right-handed amateur and professional golfers while addressing the ball and making a strike. Recordings of the weight distribution between the right and left foot and the toes and heels revealed that amateurs place on average 20 percent more weight on the right side than left, with more pressure through their toes than heels. Professional players have a more even distribution, spreading pressure more consistently. When measuring the movement of pressure throughout the putt, the study also identified that amateur players created more sway during the putt while the professionals remained relatively still.
With uneven weight distribution at address, the researchers suggested that the amateur player is already placing their body in an "unbalanced" posture before they attempt the putt, meaning that any subsequent movements will simply be compensating. It has been found that many right-handed amateurs place a greater percentage of pressure on the right foot than the left, and more toward the right toe (vice versa for left-handed players) when standing still. When in the putting address posture the same pattern is observed; golfers with handicaps greater than 10 performed significantly worse than those with handicaps less than zero when both were asked to balance on one foot. Given the importance of postural stability before and during the putting stroke, using activities that improve balance can lead to a more repeatable and mechanically sound ball strike.
Does golf performance relate to perceived hole size?
Can imagining a bigger hole help me play better?
The history books reveal conflicting stories as to how the size of the hole was originally determined. Some sources suggest the hole size became standardized when golf officials began using a common drainage pipe to produce the hole. There is also reliable evidence that in 1829 officials at the Royal Musselburgh Golf Club in Scotland invented the first known hole-cutter. It produced a hole 4.25 in (10.8 cm) wide. From this point on, all holes on every course were standardized. However, even though actual hole size remains constant on modern courses, players' perceptions of dimensions on the green may vary considerably. A growing body of research demonstrates that how well the golfer is performing may actually affect how they perceive the size of a hole and distance to the pin. Evidence from the sport of softball has shown that players who are hitting well perceive the ball to be bigger than players who have more difficulty hitting. Also, research shows that when study participants were asked to reach for a target with and without a tool (for example, a golf club), despite targets being presented at the same distances, perceived distances to targets within reach with the tool were compressed compared with those to targets that were beyond reach without it. In another series of studies, golfers who played better, having lower scores on the course on that day, judged the size of a hole to be bigger than players who played worse, having higher scores. However, handicap, which is a measure of longer-term playing ability, did not significantly correlate with the judged hole size. Combined, these results suggest that better players did not see the hole as being bigger, but players that were playing better on that given day did. In a further experiment, players with a short putt of 1.3 ft (0.4 m) perceived the hole to be bigger than golfers with a longer 7 ft (2.1 m) putt. The results suggest that when players are faced with a shorter test they perceive the hole to be bigger, and success therefore more likely, than golfers facing a longer, more difficult putt. Since putting is harder from a farther distance and performance was markedly worse in the longer putt task relative to the shorter putt, these findings suggest that putting performance influences apparent hole size.
These studies suggest that a relationship exists between golf performance and perception of hole size, but the causal direction of the findings remains unclear. Do golfers putt better and therefore see the hole as bigger, or do they see the hole as bigger and therefore putt better? The research does not answer these questions, but it can be speculated that the relationship is reciprocal so that a golfer's perception of hole size and their putting performance are likely to influence each other.
equipment: golf shoe
The outcome of a golf swing is dependent upon precision, balance, and consistency. Every great swing has a starting point or setup, which places the golfer in an optimal position to execute a repeatable, efficient golf swing and ball impact. To generate the athletic movement of the swing, the relatively relaxed and stable posture must start from the ground up. After all, it is the interface between the ground and the foot that creates the stabilization upon which the swing movement can build and develop. During the initiation of the movement, the body builds muscular tension from the ground up, through the connection of the lower and then upper body segments, triggering the start of the backswing.
To ensure a stable platform for the initial accelerating physical forces of the swing, the golfer's connection with the ground needs to be optimized and, to this end, the modern golf shoe has evolved from humble origins about 150 years ago, as merely a boot with nails in the sole, into a high-tech golfing tool—more like an athlete's shoe. Engineered to assist the player in making the push-off needed on power shots, the latest innovative designs allow the shoe to bend and twist while offering ample ground-hugging traction that helps stabilize the feet during powerful shots requiring significant leg push.
What does "functionally connected" mean?
Why are mobility and stability important?
Many coaches regard staying "connected" throughout a golf swing as maintaining a tight relationship between the body, arms, and club from start to finish. More scientifically, the concept of connectedness has both a mental and a physical dimension. From a psychological stance, being internally connected could be viewed as having an inner calmness, being present in the moment, and being relaxed and ready. Conversely, a state of disconnectedness is associated with anxiety, feelings of negativity, or self-doubt.
From a biomechanical perspective, the notion of a connected swing can signify that all body segments are either accelerating or decelerating in the correct sequence with precise and specific timing so that the club arrives at impact accurately and with maximum speed. Additionally, efficient connectivity between the body's neural pathways ensures communication between regions of the brain responsible for processes such as motor planning, control, estimation, prediction, and learning.
More broadly speaking, connectedness can refer to the ability to complete the desired pattern of movement, activating and steadying the correct body segments. In turn, this will produce a consistent, powerful, and synchronized series of muscular activation patterns necessary for an efficient movement. If this series is altered, through poor technique, inflexibility, or muscular weaknesses, dysfunction will occur and the body will try to compensate, creating new and inconsistent body movements. So, from a physiological point of view, golfers need to ensure their body performs two important activities to stay functionally connected throughout their swing—effective regional mobility and stability. Mobility refers to the combination of muscle flexibility and joint range of motion, while stability is the ability to control the motion of a joint. During the golf swing, the body is an alternating pattern of stable segments and mobile joints. If there is a limitation in the mobility of a mobile joint, the stable region above or below will compensate to create movement and the stable segment will become mobile. When this sequence of muscle events is affected, the golfer becomes functionally disconnected, and the physical sequencing of the swing changes, in turn changing the swing's consistency, power, and accuracy.
What can we learn from the brain activation patterns of top players?
What happens in the brain during the pre-shot routine?
Successful golfers have the canny ability to refocus after unwanted distractions, have control over their thoughts and emotions, and employ cognitive techniques in imagining intended shot outcomes. In addition to these characteristics, top performers can also deploy consistent cognitive-behavioral strategies that are maintained throughout competition. One specific cognitive-behavioral approach used in golf is the pre-shot routine. This ritualistic sequence of events that, time after time, prepares the golfer for their shot, is a process of mental and physical rehearsal. What a golfer thinks during these vital seconds before the swing may begin to reveal what is actually happening in the brains of the top players.
By using functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques, otherwise known as fMRI, scientists from across the globe are beginning to observe fairly striking differences in the brain activation patterns of players during those all-important seconds before the shot. By examining the neural events in the brains of golfers while they are visualizing their normal golf swing, or performing their mental pre-shot ritual, researchers have begun to show that during these periods of mental rehearsal there is less neural activity in the brains of better players. At the lower-skill level, the typical swing is a complicated array of moves and adjustments, errors and corrections, anticipation and worry. Simply trying to organize thoughts and plan movements ahead of the strike can result in intense brain activity. With diminished brain activation occurring as skill level increases, it has been concluded that as a consequence of practice and experience, the tour player's brain becomes less activated during these periods as their movement creation and shot planning becomes more automatic.
Excerpted from golf science by Mark F. Smith. Copyright © 2013 The Ivy Press Limited. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of ContentsContents Introduction Chapter One. Mind and Body Chapter Two. The Swing Chapter Three. The Equipment Chapter Four. The Environment Chapter Five. Coaching with Technology Chapter Six. The Practice Process Chapter Seven. The Score Notes Table Of Measurements Glossary Notes On Contributors Index Acknowledgments