Vision and your golf swing - week one

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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