Vision and your golf swing - week one

By Katherine RobertsMay 20, 2010, 12:20 am

Welcome to week one of “Vision and your golf swing”. This information is an excerpt from my new book Swing Flaws and Fitness Fixes.

The following information is provided by Dr. Alan Reichow, Nike’s Global Research Director for Vision Science, and Director of Research and Development for Nike SST  Dr. Reichow has researched the role of vision in sport, and provided comprehensive diagnostic, remedial and enhancement vision care services to thousands of professional and amateur athletes, including elite golfers, for the past 32 years.

Katherine identified earlier in this chapter that “There are three components that effect balance – the eyes, the inner ear, and something called proprioception.”  You will note the order she listed these skills.  “The Eyes”, or a broader and more encompassing term, “Vision”, is the dominant human sense.

The phrase, “The Eyes Lead the Body” was coined by the late American Football’s Cleveland Browns Coach Blanton Collier in the 1950’s.  He observed that the best players in certain positions were the ones that popped their head and eyes towards their final goal.  These 5 simple words have served as the basis for the vision performance research and clinical care of athletes I have been involved with over the past 32 years. For most, the “Eyes” simply are related to how clearly one sees.  Certainly, this is an important component, but the “Eyes” are merely the gateway to a complex visual system we rely on for interpreting the world around us and making appropriate and timely responses.  Balance is a common denominator across all of these visually-driven responses.

In the world of sport we all have those moments of greatness.  It just so happens that the best of the best display those moments of greatness routinely.  They are consistently at a high level.  Specific to golf, we all recall those occasions of reading a challenging thirty foot breaking putt and dropping it.  Or the approach shot with hazards seemingly everywhere, where we leave ourselves with a short birdie.  What’s the magic to putting these performances together more often?  A critical, but often neglected aspect of elite human performance, is Vision.

Tiger Woods stares down puttWhether it’s the baseball player who is in a hot batting streak or the golfer who is seemingly dropping every putt, most athletes experiencing such a consistent high level of performance make such reference as I’m “Seeing” the ball or line well.

There are three basic questions that we look at relative to “Seeing It Well”.

  1. What does “Seeing It Well” mean?
  2. How can we test for “Seeing It Well”?
  3. How can we provide the tools or training so that an athlete can turn the “Seeing It Well” switch on whenever she/he wants?

This section of the chapter will take an introductory look at these questions and will provide some guidance to the golfer in how to begin influencing “Seeing It Well”, with particular emphasis on balance.

Vision involves collection of the light information of the world around us through our eyes, the most sophisticated cameras ever created. That information is then transmitted primarily to the visual cortex, and to a lesser extent, other areas of our brain, where it is processed, resulting in a motor response(s).  Humans possess 2 eyes for a purpose.  These two eyes operate on a summation premise in that the Power (or Quality) of the visual signal we utilize is stronger and more accurate with the combination of the two eyes together.  Relative to skills such as depth perception, spatial awareness, and balance, two-eyed use is definitely more powerful than one-eyed use. Given normal 2-eye use, it is critical to keep the 2 eyes on the object of regard as much as possible. 

Vision / balance relationship exercise #1:

This drill will demonstrate the importance of 2-eyed use on depth perception and balance.

While standing on 1 foot with 1 eye closed, toss a coin high into the air, with your dominant hand out in front of your body.  While it is in flight, pat your stomach with your dominant hand and then reach out for the catch.  Next, repeat the process with both eyes open.  Most individuals, unless you have a significant 2-eyed use limitation, will experience much greater accuracy of catching and stability with 2-eyed use.

Each of your eyes transmits approximately 1.1 million nerve fibers to the central nervous system, with nearly ten percent to balance control.  How powerful is vision as compared to the inner year you might ask.  In most healthy individuals vision will override the vestibular & proprioceptive systems in balance and stability if there is disagreement.  As example, you may have been to an amusement park fun house with a room painted to simulate a dramatic tilt to the right or left.  Virtually all who experience this will feel the strong pull towards the lower corner of the simulated room.  In this case, the vestibular and proprioceptive syetems are saying that everything is “Cool”, but the visual system is screaming that all is not well and you’ll feel the drift to the side.  Similarly, you may have been sitting in an “Omni” type theater watching simulated high speed action as in a jet or high performance car traveling thru a maze of sharp turns.  Once again, although the vestibular and proprioceptive information is stable, the visual system is communicating a wild ride, that is “Felt” by most people.  For some individuals, the power of the signal is so strong, that they may experience slight discomfort or even nausea.  In most real world situations though, the visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems are designed to support one another in maintaining balance and stability.

Relative to vision, what can you, as a golfer, do to improve your core balance and stability during golf? There are two general areas I consider for a golfer, or any athlete, for that matter.  There is the “Hardware” side, which simplistically is the eyes on out, and the “Software” side, or what’s behind the eyes.  Relative to the “Hardware”, the stronger and more accurate the visual signal sent by our two cameras (eyes), the better the “Software” side will be able to function, resulting in more timely and accurate response, including balance.

Our research on thousands of athletes from virtually every sport and level of play indicates that athletes generally see differently than non-athletes, that higher level athletes see differently than lesser level athletes, and that it can even vary by position.  We know that golfers are among the most visually sensitive athletes.  The best LPGA and PGA golfers we’ve evaluated tend to “See” things that most other athletes don’t.  Over the years I’ve evaluated professional golfers that see detail far beyond the best of the best in other sports.  Those golfers frequently state that one of their greatest assets is that they “see” details on the green that their peers don’t.  Our research also shows that virtually all visuals skills, including visually-guided balance, peak in the teenage years, and begin a gradual descent in the twenties and early thirties, with a rapid drop-off in the late thirties and forties.  For those gofers who are older than forty-five, you know that feeling when your arms are no longer long enough to read the scorecard at the 19th hole!!  These age-related visual changes can be influenced by intervention on the “Hardware” and/or “Software” side.

Fitness tip:  For more exercises on balance check out my archived video tips and articles on this site as well as my site www.KRFlexFit.com



Editor's Note: Katherine Roberts, founder of www.KRFlexFit.com and www.YogaForGolfers.com has over 20 years of experience in golf specific fitness training, yoga studies, professional coaching and motivation. Katherine welcomes your email questions and comments, contact her at Katherine@KRFlexFit.com

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.


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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.


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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.