I recently stumbled upon a tweet by Lou Stagner (Golf Stat Pro) about a video from sports biomechanics professor, Sasho MacKenzie on putting. In the video, MacKenzie is giving a talk to the Metropolitan PGA Section about “eyes up” (or heads up) putting.
I’ll admit – staring at the hole while putting is something that is awfully foreign to me and off-putting. As someone who has played higher level amateur and some professional golf, it’s just something you do not see in tournament play. At all.
But rewind a few years ago, when we started to see a little bit of this from Jordan Spieth. Considered to be one (if not the) hottest golfer at the time, Spieth was occasionally staring right at the hole when he was putting. When I first saw it, I was amazed.
Here he is at the 2014 Masters (where he finished 2nd behind Watson):
It’s interesting to note that Brad Faxon—considered to be one of the best putters when he was on Tour—gave the analysis of Spieth’s “eyes up” putting. Faxon surmises that he’s doing this to take the analysis out of the stroke. Spieth has been known to miss shorter putts in his career at inopportune times (though he has certainly made his share of lengthy putts).
There’s very few players who have done this in tournaments (that I could think of). It’s so rare.
Does heads up putting work?
So, when I watched MacKenzie’s video on his eyes up putting analysis, I was intrigued to discover his research.
MacKenzie was speaking to a crowd of men and women who know the golf game. They teach it, play it and are in the business of it. So, if you’re going to show up and talk about somewhat of a taboo subject, you’d better come armed with some data.
And he did.
MacKenzie has worked with noted golf teacher and biomechanics proponent, Chris Como (Como has also taught Tiger Woods). In his research, MacKenzie was set out to measure the effectiveness of eyes up putting. He too was intrigued after seeing Spieth do it during high level tournament play.
He set out to conduct this test where he would have a number of golfers putt conventionally (eyes down) and then try a similar number of putts looking at the hole. The results were very interesting.
What MacKenzie found out is that golfers who started putting heads up, were worse than when they were putting conventionally. But over, time and with some practice, they putted better than conventionally.
It’s important to note the golfers probably had never really tried heads up putting before coming to the study. It could be safe to say this was their first introduction to it. And, even though they were “beginners” of the method, the more they putted, the better they got at putting. Beating even conventional style putting.
In his talk leading up to the findings, MacKenzie provides a lot of insight about the mechanics of putting. It gets a little in-the-weeds, but he’s setting up to talk about the effectiveness of heads up putting.
He noted that golfers rarely “miss” hitting the center of the face of the putter. Even as compared to pros (who obviously hit it more often and consistently) but noted that percentage isn’t off by much.
MacKenzies alleviates some of the fears to heads up putting as well; like mis-hitting putts.
Did it work for me?
Intrigued by the study’s findings, I had to give this a go at the local golf course. After a few awkward attempts at it, I was quickly finding a groove with heads up putting and seeing more and more of my putts ending up nearer to the hole (than when I putted head down). And, I was making more putts too, with ease. It was fascinating.
After years of putting heads down, it’s very difficult to break that impulse to want to bring the eyes back to the ball before beginning the stroke. One of the points that MacKenzie makes against heads down putting is that your mind quickly “forgets” its target.
I’ve never been a great putter – so I’m certainly interested in giving this a try during future rounds. I’d love to report back about how it’s working.
Have you tried heads down putting? What’s your experience been?
To view MacKenzie’s full presentation: