One of the things that golfers say when they’re playing well is that “the hole just seemed bigger” or “I felt like I couldn’t miss”.
The opposite is usually true when you’re playing badly; the hole seems to shrink in size with every putt you miss.
Obviously the hole isn’t actually changing in size, but if making it seem bigger helps us putt better, is there a way we can trick our minds into believing this is true every time we play?
Which of the orange inner circles above do you think is bigger?
The answer is neither. They’re exactly the same size.
What this illustrates nicely (called the Ebbinghaus illusion), is how it’s possible to trick your mind into thinking something is a different size than it really is.
The power of perception in golf
In a study on perception and athletic performance by Jessica K. Witt, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, 46 golfers were asked to select the correct hole size from a board of different holes sizes (9-13cm), after they had just played a round of golf. The results showed a direct correlation between how those players putted that day and size of the hole they picked. The better the scores, the larger the hole size the players picked.
Further studies showed that when golfers perceived the hole to be bigger than it actually was, their stroke was more fluid then when they perceived it to be smaller (the player was trying harder to force the ball in).
How to make the hole look bigger
Here are a couple of drills you can try before your round of golf to “shape your perception” and make the hole seem bigger than it is on the course.
1. Putt to a tee
Narrowing your focus to the size of a tee will make the hole seem bigger when you get onto the course. My friend and performance coach, Karl Morris, has his students (such as Graeme McDowell) take this one step further and putt to a needle spray-painted white, while warming up.
2. Narrow the width of the hole
If you don’t have those tiny holes that some courses have on their practice greens, you can make your own, by placing 2 tees inside the hole about 2 inches apart, forming a small gate the ball has to go through to go in. Hit 15 putts, 3 from 5 ft, 3 from 10 ft and 5 from 15 ft.
What these drills also do, is train you to intensify your focus on the target, so instead of looking in the general direction of the hole, you’re focused-in on the center of the cup.
3. Imagine the hole “as big as a bucket“
On longer range putts, Greg Norman says he imagines the hole “as big as a bucket”, which helps him get it close. Actually imagine extending the width of the hole to the width of the bucket and see it vividly. Imagining the a lot hole bigger than it really is will free up your stroke and you’ll make more or at least put them within gimme range.
Would be great to hear your feedback on this exercise.