Study finds you can reduce your golf handicap with simple mental practice

If you can dream it, you can do it.

But in golf, it’s more: if you can imagine it, you can do it. As Arnold Palmer famously said, the game is “predominantly played in the six inches between the ears.”

Success at the club-and-ball sport it all about kinaesthetic ability, according to new research by Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software hosted at UL, and the University. Kinaesthetic ability is “an individual’s ability to imagine the feel of an action without actually performing it,” said Niall Ramsbottom, a researcher at both the University of Limerick and software research center Lero, in a release.

That means you can perform a put in your head like it’s the real thing – mental practice, if you will.

“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,” continued Ramsbottom.

It helps if you’re already kinaesthetically advanced – if you have the feel for it, so to speak.

“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.

And practice is simple:

“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.

The study and findings

Putting is major in golf – nearly 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,” as was written in the report, published in the scientific journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

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. A 3D camera captured all of the putting movements. The research team used this footage to perform a statistical analysis using specialized software.

Then, a subset of golfers watched an action observation video, which consisted of an expert golfer putting in the lab environment. These golfers did so while listening to a script of brief sentences describing key visual and kinaesthetic feelings associated with performing the putting. “After completing these exercising, the golfers who were found to have better kinaesthetic imagery (KI) ability benefitted more from the mental practice intervention than those with poorer KI ability,” said Mr. Ramsbottom.

The findings for the work were carried out by Ramsbottom and his fellow researchers, Eoghan McNeill, Dr. Adam Toth, and Dr. Mr. Campbell.