Pars & the Particulars: The Science of Golf

By Donovan Prostrollo

The earliest forms of golf can be traced all the way back to Scotland during the Middle Ages. Throughout the years this rewarding, yet often frustrating, sport has captured the attention of a great many minds. From those finding professional prowess on the fairway, to those just looking to shake off the office blues and turn their attention towards a leisurely afternoon on the green.

For the skilled golfer, sinking that final putt is just as important as perfecting those long drives down the fairway. And fortunately (for the ambitious player), there have been a number of recent assessments of the game in the form of physics, physiology, and psychological reviews. Let’s take a look at some of science’s best tricks for teeing off towards perfection.

Psychology
Pay Attention to Perception
According to this psychology studypsychology study, a golfer’s performance is related to the size that they perceive the hole to be. In the study, golfers who perceived a larger hole played better than those who perceived a smaller one. This study demonstrated that perception is in part influenced by capability. So next time that hole looks to be on the large side, you may want to play another round rather than pack it up for the day; your results may surprise you.

Aim Ahead
Aim Ahead
Putters should aim for a spot just beyond the hole. This can help with swing follow through, and keep the putting mind focused on a direct line. Putting from a variety of angles should create a diamond in the mind’s eye beyond the hole. This diamond is the perfect aiming area for the putt.

Jazz It Up
According to a team at Clarkson University (http://www.scitechnol.com/the-influence-of-musical-genres-on-putting-accuracy-in-golf-an-exploratory-study-vMmE.pdf), it doesn’t take a quiet mind to improve your putting. It appears music can boost putting performance! And not just one type of music, but any type of music. If you’re a jazz fan you’re in luck, as these tunes produce the best results, followed by more classical compositions. While you may not be able to crank up the tunes in a golf competition, you certainly can during practice.

Physiology

Handling the Heartbeat
An accelerated heartbeat can wreak havoc on those pristine putts. Before you take that slight swing, exhale. This slows down your heartrate and also helps relax your muscles and remain still and steady as you sink that ball.

Square Up
To get good and consistent putts, the putter should remain square to the ball. This requires that you keep your hands under your shoulders throughout your swing. Take a tip from Golf.com and practice your putts with the assistance of a penny roll. Practicing your putts on a penny roll, which has more weight and width than a golf ball, will immediately tell you whether or not you are putting squarely. If you are not, the roll will bounce away at an angle instead of rolling smoothly along.

Physical Positioning
A big part of a great swing is the appropriate positioning. According to Golf Tips Magazine (http://www.golftipsmag.com/), there are five keys to setting up a good golf swing.

1. Keep your head steady. Your head can move downward, but you should try to avoid lateral movement or a swaying of the head. This helps the rest of your form stay in line throughout the movement.

2. Transfer your weight. A large difference between professional players and amateurs is the distribution of weight at the moment of impact. The average PGA tour pro puts 80-95% of his or her weight on the forward leg. The average amateur player places only 55% of their weight forward at the moment of impact.

3. Keep the left wrist flat during the swing. This keeps the shaft of the club from extending past the left arm prior to impact, and helps prevent the “flip” that results in many a poor shot.

4. Swing on the sweet spot path. Swinging on a sweet spot path means swinging your club so that it takes on a diagonal path, inward and up at the beginning of the swing and outward and down towards the end, as if swinging along the roof of a house.

5. Control your clubface. The direction of the clubface determines much of the direction of the ball. The ball generally starts in the direction the clubface is pointed and curves away from that path. Controlling your clubface allows you to anticipate and direct the resultant path of your golf ball.

Physics

Assess Your Intuition
According to professor of physics Raymond Penner (http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/p01-137#.VXGdcM9VhBc), most golfers prefer to putt uphill after missing a putt. Although intuitively this might seem to make sense, as there is an innate assumption that an uphill swing allows for better control, the truth of the matter is opposite. Although this may seem to be the easier putt, it turns out that the likelihood of sinking the ball is much greater for a downhill putt than an uphill one.

Taking Torque Into Consideration
It turns out that the wrists are an important factor in determining the distance the ball travels. By uncocking the wrists at the bottom of your swing, the kinetic energy in your shoulders and arms is effectively transferred to the club. This requires no extra energy expenditure on your part, but merely a more efficient means of transferring energy.

Even with complete control over your own body, the game of golf is not always predictable or easily controlled. The weather and the conditions of the course itself can also affect your game. But with a bit of attention on the physics, physiology, and psychology of our play, you can try your hand at perfecting that scientifically seamless swing.

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