HOW IMPORTANT IS VISION IN GOLF?
The system of handicapping in golf denotes the skill of the player and enables players of differing abilities to compete happily against each other. Reducing your handicap may be achieved by first improving your visual skills. Have you ever considered how vital your eyesight is when playing golf? Top golfers, such as Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, shown after winning the Open 2002, usually have far better vision abilities than the average person. To the right, are the visual abilities which are particularly important for playing better golf. Unlike most sports, golf does not require good dynamic vision as the ball is stationary and the hole is stationary. Most other sports require the player to strike a moving target but noy in golf.
SHOULD YOU LOOK AT THE BALL OR THE HOLE?
Bob Rotella, the American golf psychologist recommends an "eyes-on-the-hole" routine for the practice putting green and when Colin Montgomerie succeeded in sinking four successive practice 35-footers he kept with the system for his matches. Thomas Bjorn practices this method but says its only for "feel" players and not for those who are heavily into technique.
CAN SPECTACLES HELP?
Glasses can be a nuisance in the rain but well-fitting wraparound spectacles can incorporate a vision enhancing tint and special prism lenses to allow the eyes to co-ordinate properly. The contrast enhancing ProGolf lens from Carl Zeiss is aimed at golfers who need to interpret the unevenness of the golf course. The lenses are available in plano, single vision and progressive designs either as a single tint or graduated.
THE GOLF SWING
Golf, like most sports, requires skill and practise to play well. The purpose of the golf swing is to transfer as much kinetic energy as possible from the club head to the ball. This can be up to as much as 8x body weight. In much the same way that golfers use exercises to warm up, including stretching, strengthening and cardiovascular conditioning, exercising the eyes can also have its benefits.
WHAT IS A SPORTS VISION ASSESSMENT?
A detailed eye examination is recommended as a first step, which may reveal visual difficulties related to your ability to play golf. A sports vision assessment involves further investigation of various visual skills to highlight any weaknesses and recommendations are then made in a detailed sports vision report.
Physical trauma resulting from golf is quite rare although there have been reports of players returning home late from the golf club, slightly the worse from the effects of alcohol, receiving injuries from an irate wife. However, it is reported that sports injuries are the most common category for inpatient admissions in eye departments although being hit by a golf ball or a golf club with an erratic back swing are very infrequent. More likely are the long term eye conditions resulting from excessive ultra-violet light causing early macular degeneration and cataracts. Dry eye, corneal abrasion and eye infections are also problems encountered as a result of a long term presence on the golf course.
VISUAL SKILLS FOR GOLF
ACCURACY OF VISION
Accuracy of vision or how well you can see the position of the ball, the flight of the ball and its intended destination. A refractive vision assessment will determine if the eyes are equal, any optical correction is required and they perform in different weather and light conditions. Best vision is usually achieved using contact lenses but special spectacles can be of value if a progressive lens (which corrects for far and near) is needed. Contact lenses are better in the rain but wrap-around spectacles can protect against strong breezes.
Depth perception or stereopsis is necessary to help you judge how far you need to hit the ball. Your assessment can be accurate only if both eyes are well co-ordinated and pointing in the same direction being controlled precisely by the eye muscles. Also known as stereoscopic vision, it is the ability to judge distances such as that between the hole and the ball. This is a visual ability which may be able to be improved if it is found to be at a level below normal. An assessment can be carried out in the Practice to determine the stereoscopic acuity and exercises advised for its improvement.
Hand-eye co-ordination is essential to help you time a clean strike of the ball. Although not purely visual, this skill is essential if you are to be able to make perfect contact with the ball. The visual imput has to be translated into spatial location by the brain which triggers the various muscles of the body to move in such a way as to enable you to connect club with ball.
Focusing range and speed is affected by eye movement speed and accuracy and is important for gauging the relative locations of ball and hole. Your eyes need to be able to focus from ball to hole and the accuracy of this focusing ability may be affected by tiredness especially if there is a problem using the two eyes together. This ability can be measured in the Practice and you can do exercises at home if it is found to be deficient.
Peripheral vision is the ability to see the area around you as it is necessary for you to be aware of the flag and undulations of the course when you address the golf ball. You need to be aware of the position of the flag while you are looking at the ball. Increasing your peripheral awareness can improve concentration and balance. This can be often be improved by the use of quite simple exercises which can be done at home.
Contrast sensitivity is the ability to see clearly in dull conditions or being able to see the ups and downs of the golf course. The ability to pick out the undulations in the lie of the green and to see the position of the hole in dull or hazy conditions can usually be improved by the use of coloured filters. Older players generally like the yellow filters which reduce scattered light but the colour which is best for you can be determined during a sports vision assessment.
TIGER WOODS' RECOMMENDATIONS
Ideally, Tiger prefers his eyes to be directly over the ball at address. He concedes that it is acceptable to set the head and eyes a little to the right of the ball (for a right-hander like him) at address. He admits it's hard not to do that if the ball is positioned ahead of centre a little, which is where most people like it. The eyes should be a couple of inches to the right of the ball when looking down, to give a view of the hole that is similar to sighting a rifle.
Tiger always makes sure that his eyeline is parallel to the target line. If the head is angled to the left or right at address even slightly, he considers that there is a risk of subconsciously steering the putter head in the direction in which the eyes are aligned. Tiger likes to use the peak of his cap as a reference point. If the peak of his cap is parallel to the target line, he knows his eyes are parallel also.