The New Way to Putt: Look at the Hole

The New Way to Putt: Look at the Hole


Conventional wisdom says that when you putt, you should look at the ball for the duration of your stroke, and keep your eyes on that spot until well after the ball has been struck. It’s the way that nearly every golfer rolls the rock

But what if there were a better way. What if there was a completely legal method of putting that could help you sink more putts and leave shorter secopnd-putts when you miss? And get that improvement in a hurry!

After completing tests exclusively for GOLF Magazine and, Eric Alpenfels, a GOLF MAGAZINE Top 100 Teacher and director of Pinehurst Golf Advantage, and Dr. Bob Christina, dean emeritus of the School of Health and Human Performance at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, may have found just such a way.

The Unconventional Theory: You should look at the hole — not the ball — from the moment you set the club behind the ball until you complete your putting stroke.

Who they tested: Forty players ranging in handicap from eight to 36. They were divided into two 20-person groups, with each group balanced in terms of handicap, age and gender. One was the experimental group. The other was the control group. This control group used the conventional method of looking at the ball while putting throughout the test.

The Experiment: Using the conventional method of looking at the ball, all 40 players putted nine balls to holes ranging from three feet to 43 feet away. The results were statistically equal.

Next, the control group putted one ball to each of nine targets in random order. The experimental group did the same but with one huge change: They were instructed to go through their normal pre-putt routine, but rather than looking at the ball as they made their stroke, they were told to look at the hole.

Then we compared the two groups. How did looking at the hole measure up? The results will surprise you.

The Shocking Results!

Long putts end up significantly closer to the hole when you look at the hole while making your stroke. On average, after all was said and done, on putts between 28 feet and 43 feet in length, the experimental group (those who looked at the hole) had slightly less than 28 inches remaining to the hole.

By comparison, on the same long putts, the control group (those who looked at the ball) left themselves nearly 37 inches remaining to the hole. That means the experimental group was 24 percent closer, 9 inches that could be the difference between a two-putt and a three-putt.

Looking at the hole may be more effective on short putts, too. On putts between three feet and eight feet, the experimental group left an average of just under 9 inches to the hole. On the same putts, the control group ended up with leaves that averaged 12.5 inches. Strictly speaking, that’s not statistically significant, but those inches might be the difference between a routine tap-in and the occasional short miss.

It’s Easy to Learn!

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of these findings was how quickly the group that looked at the hole improved. Before switching to looking at the hole, on putts from three feet to 43 feet, the experimental group (and the control group) averaged a leave of about 29 inches.

After just 45 putts, the group that looked at the hole was leaving just over 20 inches to the hole on average on putts from three feet to 43 feet.

That’s a 27.5 percent improvement over when they looked at the ball. Overall, the experimental l group imp roved nearly twice as much as the control group with same minimal amount of practice.

Rather than looking at the ball (left photo) as they made their stroke, the subjects were told to look (right photo) at the hole the entire time.

Why They Got Better!

There are three main reasons why the players who got looked at the the hole throughtout their stroke got better.

  • They were playing to the strength of their brain.

When a baseball pitcher stares at the catcher’s mitt he’s using his natural binocular vision. In sport s terms this means your ability to see your target using both eyes. Your brain translates the subtle differences in what each eye sees to give you highly accurate depth perception – in this case, the distance between you and the target – which you can more readily translate into a feel for the proper length stroke. At the same time, you also take advantage of your focal visual system which sees things like break and grain. When you address a putt looking at the ball, your brain has to remember all that stuff, and with each millisecond you linger over the ball; you’re less likely to remember it because you’ve cut off the visual information feed.

  • They kept almost perfectly still.

You’ve heard it on TV a million times, “Look how still Tiger (or Ernie or whoever) stays over the ball.” If your body moves even a little while you putt, you can’t make consistent contact with the sweet spot. Maybe it was a fear of whiffing the putt, but testers who looked at the hole maintained their posture like statues.

  • They didn’t decelerate through the ball.

In other words, they established natural speed control. The most common reason by far for bad putting is the inability to consistently control the length of putts. Call it speed, distance, pace, whatever – bad putting is almost always caused by putts struck too hard or too soft. When you lack confidence in your speed control, your brain is always screaming “Hit the brakes!” as you start toward the ball. Slowing down your stroke – decelerating through the ball – is a death move for any putt in terms of both distance and direction. (The face opens invariably when you decelerate.) This creates even more problems on long putts because of the length of the stroke required.

How to Work Looking at the Hole into Your Game

The trick is to genuinely believe that looking at the hole is going to make you a better putter. Nothing inspires belief like results, so here’s a two-week plan for success.

  • Days 1-5:

Before your next few rounds, hit five or 10 putts on the practice green while looking at the hole. This will start convincing your brain that you won’t whiff.

  • Days 6-7:

Hit 50 putts to holes at various distances on a practice green. (If your back won’t let you do them all at once, pace yourself.) After a while, you’ll see that your leaves are getting closer, especially from long range.

  • Day 8-13:

Before your round, pick three holes where you will putt while looking at the cup. Have faith – if you’ve practiced, you’re not going to whiff.

  • Day 14:

Play a complete round without looking at the ball while putting.