Hand Eye Coordination Golf

Do you need Good Hand-eye Coordination in Golf?

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

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Dr. Tony Piparo

Dr. Piparo has 25 years experience as a teaching professional, 15 as a head pro. He has also worked the last 20 years as a Sport Psychology Consultant, working with golfers of all ages and ability levels, from beginner to seasoned professional and elite level amateur. He earned his doctorate in 1992 from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and winning the American Psychological Association’s Dissertation of the Year Honors for his work on concentration and performance in golf. He has a Masters from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Kinesiology (Study of Human Movement) with emphasis in Biomechanics, Motor Learning, and Sports Vision as they apply to golf. He also has a Masters in Educational Evaluation and Development, specializing in Learning Theory. Dr. Piparo’s education training and field experience allowed him to study the golf performance needs from both inside and outside the sport to develop the most effective, efficient, and comprehensive training system available to date. His programs and protocols are a benefit to all golfers and he is capable of assisting the individual needs of each golfer he works with. His books include Kingdom of the Tiger: A Golfer’s Guide to Playing in The Zone, Master the Art and Science of Putting and his latest collaboration with Colin Cromack, Target Oriented Golf: Training the Eyes, Mind, and Body for Success, all of which can be purchased here at www.golfstateofmind.com.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Colin Cromack

    Great article Tony.

    Understanding the significant difference between visual and attentional focus lies at the heart of playing the game of golf.

    Unfortunately, until coached in practice, when the golfer looks away from their target they remove their attention from it too – often taking their attention to a swing thought or outcome orientation.

    The target is rarely the focus of a players attention at execution and this creates the greatest variability in performance on a shot by shot, hole by hole and round by round basis.

    Please contact Tony in the US or myself in the UK if you are a PGA coach or player wishing to learn this skill.

  2. Sid

    The essay regarding hand-eye coordination I believe is off base. For example, as for seeing the movement of the clubhead as the parallel of seeing the flight of the baseball: The batter does not look at his bat – he knows where his bat is because he has developed the ability to have his hands and arms tell his brain where it is; the same goes for the tennis racket, hockey stick, etc. During the practice swing, the focus is on the technique, while the focus is on the ball during the regular swing (as you have indicated); it is only after much practice that the golfer can learn to “trust his swing;” until then, the golf swing is so unnatural that the golfer can’t believe it will deliver the clubhead to the ball. It is as in tennis, the swing “from low to high” has to be practiced before the player will feel confident that the ball will not fly in the direction of the swing, but will receive top-spin and drop properly on the other side of the net. It is true that the tennis swing, by the nature of the game is practiced many more times than the golf swing and therefore is more easily mastered.

  3. Phillip Korn

    I think it is wrong to use the analagy of Iron Byron as this is a man made machine using a ball in the same positiuon everytime and with the same mechanical swing path already pre-determined by programme.
    In the golf swing it is very important to have hand-eye co-orination – agreed. If you start at the bottom of the arc and raise your arms in either direction the natural thing to do is to return to the same start point as your hand-eye will be programmed with the same coordinates.

  4. Charles Yokomoto

    I read this post with great interest because I have lost eye-hand coordination due to retina damage in one eye, which has caused a loss of depth perception. I score very low on a vision test for depth derception. I’m sure this has affected my eye-hand coordiation. I used to be a ranked tennis player, but I now mis-hit a lot of tennis balls. I used to be a juggler, but not the balls bounce off my hands.

    The author says that it isn’t eye-hand coordination because the club head is moving too fast to be seen. I think that the club head is an indirect part of the eye-hand coordination loop. The main loop is between the ball and the hands, and it is the iterative closed loop feedback learning loop that brings in the club head.
    Even though the ball is stationary, the eyes/head are moving, and it should not make much difference if the ball is stationary and the eyes are moving, or if the ball is moving and the eyes are stationary. In both cases, the linear dimension between the eys and the object is changing.

    Perhaps it isn’t that eye-hand coordination is kicking in that degrades the swing. Maybe it is poor eye-hand coordination. Maybe eye-hand coordination is some sort of co-factor that must be controlled for in a research experiment on the value of eye-hand coordination in a golf swing.

    I keep thinking about how good golfers make good contact in unusual situations that they did not have many opportunities to practice, such as one foot in a bunker and one foot on high grown.

    I have played tennis with and against beginners with no training who can hit volleys successfully at the net with a bad grip and with no technique, just what looks like excellent eye-hand coordination.

    I have done considerable research in how people learn, but not in golf. All i can do is use my knowledge and experience in proposing a model to test. If I hadn’t suffered retina damage, lost depth perception, and eye hand coordination, I probably would not have spent time thinking about this in golf.

  5. Tony Piparo

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Golf is unlike any other sport we play where an object must be hit to get it into play. We don’t have to find the ball visually to hit it. If we have a good golf swing the golf ball is struck whether we see it or not. You can develop a technically sound golf swing without ever hitting a ball. This can be confirmed through the use of video analysis. I have confirmed this over and over in my own teaching. If the swing then changes when a ball is put in place to be hit, it’s not a degradation of skill but a change of attentional focus. In many cases golfers become ball bound where their attention to it make the ball the end of the swing. In an attempt to see the ball being hit, their bodies become rigid just before impact. Why? Because just seeing the ball at impact doesn’t ensure the clubface square to their target line, the club is moving along the correct path, or the appropriate angle of attack. Unconsciously, the brain knows this and the only way to control it visually is to slow the club down to give the eyes a chance to see what is going on. When golfers take their attention off the ball and learn to focus on a distant target towards which they want the ball to start flying (the same way an archer focus his/her mind on the bulls eye), the swing frees up and a video comparison of the practice swing and hitting swing show swing fundamentals remain intact. I have worked with blind golfers who have absolutely no hand-eye coordination and have great swings and hit the ball very well. In fact, sighted golfers, once they give up their fear of missing the ball hit it just as well with their eyes open or closed. Hand-eye coordination is such an ingrained skill in that we constantly use it throughout the day that our brain assumes the need to use it (unconsciously) when hitting a golf ball. It’s this unconscious reaction to the ball that triggers our hand-eye coordination and changes our swing from practice swing to hitting balls and degrades our technical fundamentals. I have a program that teaches golfers how to develop swing fundamentals without ever hitting a ball. This is the ideal way to learn. Once swing fundamentals are established, golfers are then trained to to overcome their hand-eye coordination by establishing a target orientation. When that is as well-learned as their physical fundamentals they swing exactly the same way when hitting balls as they do when making a practice swing. When doing the drills that train their body to move the club correctly, they also learn how to keep their eyes and mind quiet. Science has shown that over-active minds and eye movement are detrimental to golf performance. If you have any more questions you can email me directly at drtee_1@hotmail.com or go to my website, http://www.mindmasterygolf.com Again, Thanks for the comment.

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