Fore! Study Finds ‘Mental Practice’ Makes Golfers Better At Sinking Putts

LIMERICK, Ireland — Legendary golfer and iced tea aficionado Arnold Palmer once famously said that golf is mostly played in “the six inches between the ears.” Now, a new study conducted in Ireland is adding some scientific research to back up that claim. According to the findings, an individual’s ability to visualize an action before actually performing it, technically termed kinaesthetic ability, can greatly improve their golf abilities.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your putting game, mental practice may be just as important as getting in reps at your local golf course.

“Our results indicate that a form of mental practice, i.e. the combination of action observation and motor imagery, may enhance the golf putting ability of experienced golfers, and that could well mean a reduction in a golfer’s handicap,” comments Niall Ramsbottom a researcher at both the University of Limerick and software research center Lero, in a release.

The research team say that golfers who already have a decent  “feel” for putting and the game of golf are most likely to benefit from mental practice.

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“We found, kinaesthetic imagery ability – an individual’s ability to imagine the feel of an action without actually performing it – may have an important role in determining the effectiveness of the exercise on putting performance. Putting is a feel-based motor skill and our research suggests that those with good kinaesthetic imagery ability may perform better following this mental practice technique,” Mr. Ramsbottom continues.

“The findings suggest that simply viewing a video of another performing an action may bolster one’s ability to imagine and subsequently perform that action,” he adds.

Putting is an essential skill if one wants to succeed at golf. Roughly 40% of golf strokes are taken with a putter. Furthermore, according to the study, “golf putting ability was found to be one of the most important skills in determining earnings on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour.”

For the study, 44 right-handed and experienced male golfers from the local Limerick area were recruited. Next, in a lab setting, each golfer was told to complete 40 putts with instructions to “make the ball stop as close to the target as possible.” While this was happening, a 3D camera captured all of the putting movements. The research team used this footage to perform a statistical analysis using specialized software.

“A subset of golfers looked at an action observation video which consisted of an expert golfer performing the putting task in the same lab environment. They did so while listening to a motor imagery script consisting of short sentences describing key visual and kinaesthetic feelings associated with performing the putting the task. Having completed these simple exercises, the golfers who were found to have better kinaesthetic imagery (KI) ability benefited more from the mental practice intervention than those with poorer KI ability,” Mr. Ramsbottom explains.

The study is published in the scientific journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

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