The 2011 version of the World Series has just ended with the St. Louis Cardinals, who defeated my beloved Brewers for the National League Pennant, outlasting the Texas Rangers in an exciting 7-game series. On a side note, my English born wife begs the question why we call it the World Series and the winner, World Champions when no other country is invited to participate. Anyway, one of the most important attributes of these amazing athletes is fantastic hand-eye coordination. Hand-eye coordination is also required for most other sports, like football, basketball, tennis, hockey, and even badminton. But is great hand-eye coordination required to be a great ball striker in golf?
In baseball, hitters must keep their eye on the ball to determine its speed, path, and spin so they can find the ball with their bat. In hockey, players must keep their eye on the puck and in badminton, players must keep their eye on a shuttlecock. Let’s combine these other sports and say that great athletes require fantastic hand-eye coordination to locate and hit a “moving object. “
In golf, the ball doesn’t move so do we need to “keep our eye on the ball” to locate and hit it? The answer is no.
USGA engineers designed Iron Byron, a mechanical robot to determine if golf balls submitted to the USGA for approval met the appropriate requirements. This robot is capable of hitting the ball 10,000 times in a row perfectly and it was built without eyes. Many blind golfers are capable of hitting the ball better than their sighted counterparts. They can’t see the ball and they don’t have great hand-eye coordination. If Iron Byron and blind golfers are capable of hitting the ball well without great hand-eye-coordination or ever seeing the ball, why are golfers told to keep their eye on the ball?
To use hand-eye coordination like other sports it’s the moving object we’d have to see, not the ball. The ball is not the moving object in golf; the club head is. We have to see the path of the club head, its angle of approach to the ball, and its face angle to determine if anything is amiss prior to impact and then make the necessary corrections so the ball is struck near perfectly. After initiating the swing, the club head leaves our peripheral vision and doesn’t come back into view until it’s about half way down in our forward swing. How much time do we have to make the appropriate corrections before impact once the club head re-enters our peripheral vision? Snap your fingers or blink your eyes. How long did that take? That’s more time than it takes for the club head to hit the ball once it’s re-entered your peripheral vision. You have that amount of time to locate and determine the specifics of the club head’s movements, determine what is wrong, and then correct what your body is doing to get the club head on the right path, approaching the ball at the correct angle, with the clubface square to your target line. Using hand-eye coordination is humanly impossible in golf.
If we develop a fundamentally sound swing, the golf club hits the ball whether our eyes are open or closed. Since blind golfers are capable of developing sound swing fundamentals without the benefit of eyesight so are sighted golfers. Hand-eye coordination in golf is not only not required, but is detrimental to good ball striking.
I know that’s a bold statement, but think about it. We use hand-eye coordination every day, all day, in such as activities as eating, drinking, driving a car, writing, putting our glasses on or contacts in our eyes, and so on. We rely on hand-eye coordination so often and so heavily that its use has become instinctive. That means we use it without trying to or even knowing we’re using it. So when we’re hitting golf balls, our hand-eye coordination is triggered merely by looking at the ball.
I have videotaped hundreds of golfers making practice swings and then hitting balls. I always know when their hand-eye coordination automatically and instinctively kicked in. Their swings change from practice swing to hitting swing. They don’t look like the same golfer. This can’t be a mechanical problem. They can’t make a fundamentally sound or near-sound swing without a ball and lose those fundamentals when hitting balls and attribute it to mechanics. If they have a sound practice swing, it will show up when they hit a ball. If it doesn’t, it’s an attentional problem, not a mechanical one. And so the mere fact that an object must be hit causes the subconscious part of the brain to defer to an extremely well-conditioned response; in this case, its hand-eye coordination.
So simply looking at the ball, whether we’re trying to keep our eyes on it or not, activates our hand-eye coordination unless we have another skill to replace it and activate it before swinging. That skill is Visual Fixation/Attentional Focus Separation and the process to activate it is referred to as Target Oriented Golf.
Photo by Steve Newton