James Sieckmann is one of GOLF’s Top 100 Teachers. He operates the Shadow Ridge Golf Academy in Omaha, Neb., and is the author of “Your Putting Solution: A Tour-Proven Approach to Mastering the Greens,” which is now available for pre-order on Amazon.
Is there something substantial to learn from Lexi Thompson’s win last week in Thailand, where she struck most of her putts with her eyes closed? Can closing your eyes really free you up to putt your best, or is it just hocus pocus? There is no doubt it has helped her. And it can help you as well, for two very different reasons.
First, golf is one of the rare sports where you don’t look at the target while you perform the action. When you do focus on the target, like when a quarterback finds his receiver running a route, it’s intuitive to react to it. When the focus and picture are clear, true athleticism and developed skill take over. Performance becomes a reaction. What ruins performance, then, is the mental clutter forcing you to hold on tight instead of letting go.
Nowhere is that problem more common than in putting, especially when you are close to the hole and expectations go up. I like to tell my players that there’s one picture of the target and many possible distractions, such as the result, your technique or what your buddies are going to think. Your job is to putt to the picture without becoming distracted. With your eyes closed, you have no other choice but to fill your mind with a picture of the hole and react like an athlete.
Try it at home (first in practice) and you will find, like Lexi, that it frees you up to trust and let go. I gave this very drill to five-time PGA Tour winner Ben Crane the Tuesday before the 2014 FedEx St. Jude Classic, and he won with some amazing putting. He called putting with his eyes closed “the pinnacle of trust,” and he keyed into that feel to roll them all in that week.
Secondly, there is scientific proof that keeping your gaze quiet during your putting motion and for a count after is a key fundamental for great putting. The study and term “Quiet Eye Technique” was first coined by Dr. Joan Vickers at the University of Calgary. She demonstrated through her study that most professionals have a quiet gaze pattern when putting, while most amateurs do not. When amateurs were taught to quiet their eyes they made 12% more putts on average. Your eyes tend to shift to anticipate impact or the result when you are closer to the hole and expectation for outcome makes you worry.
Whether you take a cue from Lexi and close your eyes or from Jordan Speith and look at the hole while you putt, you are executing Quiet Eye Technique perfectly. The result: you become emotionally calm, your motion becomes athletic and fluid, and you’ll putt the way you know you can.