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Good golfers see the hole differently

July 9, 2008 |  6:16 pm

Wittgolf2_2 When Tiger Woods is putting for birdie, the hole probably appears to him to be the size of a small Jacuzzi. That’s because a new study has found that golfers who play well envision the hole as being physically larger than do their less-talented peers.

Jessica Witt, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and colleagues at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville conducted three experiments measuring golf performance and hole perception. In one, the researchers asked 46 golfers to estimate the size of the hole after a round of golf, and to point out the correct size of the hole on a poster. The poster displayed holes from 3.5 to 5.1 inches in diameter. A standard hole is 4.3 inches.

Players who had better scores on the round selected larger holes than the duffers.

The investigators also conducted two additional studies in which golfers putted from near and far distances on a putting mat in a laboratory setting. In one, after putting, they drew the hole from memory. In the other, they estimated its size while looking at the hole. In both studies, the golfers who performed better on the putting drew the hole larger than the golfers who did not putt as well.

"Golfers have said that when they play well the hole looks as big as a bucket or basketball hoop," says Witt in a news release, "and when they do not play well, they’ve been quoted as saying the hole looks like a dime or the inside of a doughnut." Why this might be has yet to be determined, but Witt recommends staying focused on the hole.

If you look at the hole, it is going to remain the center of your vision where there are more receptors," she says. "This means you are more likely to see it clearly, which will hopefully help you putt better." The study appears in the June issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

-- Janet Cromley