By Dr. John R. Mishock, PT, DPT, DC
The ability to be a great golfer is multifaceted; however, it minimally takes countless hours (10,000 or more) of tedious, high-quality, perfect rehearsal to create great swing mechanics. Possibly, the most underrated aspect of golf mechanics is the eyes, which are the most important organ of sense. Up to 80% of the information from our surrounding environment reaches our brains through sight. Over the past 35 years, over 100 studies (using mobile eye-tracking glasses) show the importance of the eyes and, more specifically, the “quiet eye” of elite performers in archery, billiards, golf, soccer, hockey, football, baseball, basketball, basketball, darts, and military shotgun activities. (Mann et al. 2007, Rienhoff et al. 2016, Vickers et al 2019) The “quiet eye” is defined as the final focus point of the tracking eyes to a specific location or object (Eye focus with a minimum of 100 milliseconds on a target). Simply put, it is the movement of the eyes to a given object (hole) and how long that focus point is maintained.
Before a golf swing, our eyes scan (saccades) and then focus on the ball, and hole, giving information on the best way to approach the golf shot. That information is then sent to specific areas of the brain (visual cortex, parietal lobe, cerebellum, motor cortex), which houses the memorized golf stroke (movement pattern engram) in preparation for movement. The brain takes the practiced memory of the shot and combines it with information gained by the eyes (quiet Eye). The combined stimuli are processed and incorporated into the preparation of the final movement. The perfect golf shot combines the eyes (quiet Eye) and the memorized movement patterns (engram), known as the visuomotor response. (Marques et al., 2018)
The onset of the QE in elite athletes occurs earlier, and the duration is longer compared to near-elite or non-elites. Elite golfers with low handicaps averaged between 2.0-3.0 seconds of “quiet eye” compared to 1-1.5 seconds for high handicap golfers (Vine et al., 2011; Mann et al., 2011). Elite golfers control their gaze precisely to process critical aspects of the ball, hole, breakpoint, and other locations with full visual acuity. Extensive testing of golfers has shown that only highly skilled golfers can consistently hold the “quiet eye” stable on the ball for about one second before the backswing, one second during the stroke, and a half second after contact. (Mann et al., 2011; Vickers et al., 1992; Vickers et al., 2004)
The “quiet eye” also helps when anxiety or threat exists. During pressure situations, our brains can go into a sympathetic response of “fight, flight, or freeze.” aka the choke. This protective neurologic response sends the brain activity back to innate evolutionary behavior, causing the eyes to scan the environment creating many focus points rapidly. Rapid eye movements were an evolutionary advantage when locating or evading predators in the wild. However, this reduced quiet eye activity becomes a distinct disadvantage in sports, especially golf.
The pressure and anxiety cause the individual to “think” vs. “do,” leading to rapid eye movements without fixation on one spot, making it difficult for the brain to figure out the final destination of the fine motor shooting task. So, the player with great mechanics may miss the shot due to eyes and not the mechanics.
The quiet eye enhances “attention control.” Attention control inhibits all irrelevant information, allowing the athletes to focus on their task without being distracted by internal (negative self-talk or emotions) or external (nose of the parents, coaches, or crowd) distractions clearing the mind. With the quiet Eye, the athlete is performing “in the moment” (mindfulness), letting his memorized golf shot take hold, not the stimulus causing the distraction. Remember, our higher-level brain (cerebral cortex) can only focus on one thought at a time. We cannot focus on the golf, negative self-talk, coaches, and the noise of the crowd at the same time.
In golf, a long-duration “quiet eye” provides a mental buffer or barrier that prevents intruding thoughts or bad experiences from arising in the brain (hippocampus and amygdala), leading to better control and confidence during the golf swing (Wood et al., 2012)
When training the “quiet eye,” try these steps:
1. Go through your normal putting/swing process of reading the green.
2. Set up over the ball and ensure the center of the clubface faces the center of the ball.
3. Focus the eyes on the target for a few seconds.
4. Focus the eyes on the back of the ball for 2 seconds before the backswing.
5. Swing and contact the ball at the exact focus point.
6. Maintain eye focus on the green where the back of the ball was for 1/2 a second.
Research shows that training the “quiet eye” can lead to longer quiet eye durations during competition with reduced anxiety and improved golf performance.
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Dr. Mishock is one of only a few clinicians with doctorate level degrees in both physical therapy and chiropractic in the state of Pennsylvania.
He has authored two books; “Fundamental Training Principles: Essential Knowledge for Building the Elite Athlete”, and “The Rubber Arm; Using Science to Increase Pitch Control, Improve Velocity, and Prevent Elbow and Shoulder Injury” both can be bought on Amazon.