Mind Over Matter
Now that the holiday excitement is over, and it’s still too cold play golf, what might die-hard golfers do to while away a few weekend hours and perhaps also stay in touch with golf, so that the next season can start off with great success? Drag the putting mat out into a hallway now devoid of any festive decorations, and try this scientific experiment to figure out how you putt best. Then write in and let us know what worked best for you!
Try four different “focus of attention” (FOA) styles and see which one works best. Practice about 10 to 20 putts with each recommended style and then count how many of 20 straight 6- foot putts you sink using each style. Style one is called “proximal internal focus.” Keep the left side (for a right-handed golfer) of your head and neck in place from address to impact and hold your finish (where ever it may be), to a count of five. Style two is “distal internal focus,” in which you try to keep your body weight equally distributed between both feet throughout the stroke. Style three is “proximal external focus.” Feel a smooth tempo of your putter-head as it goes back and through. Style four is “distal external focus.” Feel as if you are trying to move the putter toward where you know the target is (without actually looking at the hole). For all of the four styles, use your normal setup and pre-shot routine, but once you have finished looking at the hole, make the actual stroke with your eyes shut, so you can better focus on the style you are trying. Perhaps try one style per day so you can practice it adequately, not confuse the styles, and, equally importantly, not strain your back.
Why does any of this matter? Motor control research is the branch of human movement science that attempts to explain how the brain is able to make the body produce specific, coordinated movements on a consistent basis, despite the very many movement options – degrees of freedom – possible at each joint. It is known that the neuromotor (brain-body) system is able to self-organize around the “constraints” or restrictions of the person, the task, and the environment to produce reliable goal-directed movements. For self-organization to take place, it is important for a learner of movement to have the opportunity for discovery learning so as to figure it out without the restriction of explicit instructions. This is especially important in golf because for no two consecutive shots does a golfer have the same body condition, the same task or the same environment.
An important aspect of any athlete “figuring it out” is said to be that an image of the achievement is more useful than an image of the action, which is why an external FOA that allows a golfer to think about the effects of the golf shot on the environment rather than think about a body part, is supposed to be more useful than an internal FOA, which requires the golfer to concentrate on the movement of specific body parts. It is said that an internal FOA interferes with the brain’s ability to self-organize and also overloads working memory. However, the contention here is that previous research used internal focus ideas that could easily imbalance the automatic routines that most golfers who have been playing for some time have. The belief with the recommended “proximal internal focus” suggested here is that keeping the head and neck steady past impact and holding the finish to a count of five will not only allow the putter path to be along the intended target line, but will also provide a natural rise-angle to the ball, for less skid and more roll. So, the hypothesis is that the steady head will produce better results than the fixed weight distribution, and even perhaps than the putter-head motion or the targetward foci of attention.