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Sunday, March 25, 2012


Why Scientists Love to Study Golf

Among the things I learned at the World Scientific Congress of Golf last week in Phoenix: A golf swing becomes automatic only once it's safely lodged in the brain's basal ganglia. The Official World Golf Rankings are significantly biased against members of the PGA Tour. And researchers are divided on the relative contribution to club-head speed of wrist flexion/extension and ulnar/radial deviation. (If you don't quite grasp that last one, don't worry. I won't be coming back to it.)

The WSCG is something like the Olympics of golf research. It's been held every four years since 1990 (with one delay), starting out in the Athens of golf, St. Andrews, Scotland. This was its second time in Phoenix. Roughly two-thirds of the presenters were full-time academics (the rest were golf professionals). This might lead some to suspicions about how faculty members are spending their research hours, but for several reasons golf proves to be an excellent subject for study.

One is that golfers stand in one place when they do their thing, and initiate the action on cue rather than react to an object or person coming at them, as in most other sports. Thus they can be wired to the hilt and every little motion and brain wave pondered.




Not all of the studies at the conference point to immediately practical benefits, but this one did. Vickers's advice is that when you've adopted your stance and are ready to putt, gaze calmly and steadily at the hole (or target spot) for about three counts, bring your eyes back to the ball in one count and fix your eyes on the back (or top) of the ball for two counts. Then make the stroke and continue to gaze at the ground, where the ball was, for at least one more count.

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