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

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Abstract

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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