Estimating Putting Outcomes in Golf: Experts Have a Better Sense of Distance

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In putting, golfers require an internal forward sense of the causal relationship between putting actions and outcomes—a sense of distance—to decide appropriate impact intensity. As no previous work has shown such a cognitive ability in skilled golfers, we sought to quantify sense-of-distance skill differences between experts and novice golfers in both putting-swing consistency and accuracy of outcome estimation. We compared nine expert and nine novice golfers on putting-outcome estimation by having them putt a golf ball to a target located at three distances (1.2, 2.4, and 3.6 m), and then, after automatic closure of their electric-shutter spectacles immediately following putter impact with the ball, they gave their best estimate of where the ball stopped. We assessed outcome-estimation accuracy by calculating the absolute error between the stopped ball’s actual and estimated positions. We also measured and analyzed putter head-swing movements during the task using a motion-capture system. Two-way, mixed-design analysis of variance tests revealed that expert golfers achieved both significantly lower variability in putter-head kinematics and higher accuracy at outcome estimation than the novices. Linear partial correlation analyses with target distance as the control variable tested the relationship between outcome-estimation performance and putter-head variability kinematic measurements. There were no significant correlations between them for experts and novices in separate databases, while medium correlations were found in a collective database. Thus, swing consistency and a sense of distance are independent skills that both account for putting expertise, and specific training is required for each to improve putting skills.

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