Putting – Quicker is Better

Bargoed G C Vets’ Captain lining up match winning putt

You’ve hit your 3 iron to 8 feet. You march confidently to the green and mark your ball. It’s your turn to putt and within 60 seconds you’re a nervous wreck – you three putt and walk off the green shattered, disillusioned and grumpy.

You’ve done everything exactly as they do it on the tele. You’ve looked at the distance from ball to hole from the left side, from the right side, from the hole side and from behind the ball. You’ve crouched behind the ball. You’ve held your putter like a plumb bob and looked at the hole closing your left eye then your right eye (you’re not too sure why you’ve done this but you have). You’ve lined the mark on your ball with the hole and stroked the ball 3 feet past the hole, twice.

What I think you should have done is walk up and hit it. I firmly believe that when you look at a putt you get enough accurate information in those first few seconds. The rest of the time you spend confusing yourself. .
In the next minute or so you spend time looking for confirmation that you were right in the first place. However, you start doubting yourself, looking at the slope again, guessing, getting negative thoughts, second guessing, remembering all those times you left this putt short, or long. You worry about your feet, your putter, your head. It’s a wonder you get any putts anywhere near the hole.

There is evidence from a variety of places that indicate that I am not making this up;
In the eye there are roughly 126 million nerve cells in the retina. What happens is that light hits the neurons and convert the image on the retina into nerve impulses. These impulses are then transmitted to the brain. Each neuron is capable of firing once a millisecond, yet the average activity is only four times per second. So, although it is estimated that your eyes take in a billion pieces of information every second, the brain can only process a fraction of this information – perhaps 4000 or so pieces of data. So the brain has to ‘fill in the gaps’ and ‘guess’. These guesses tend to be based on previous experiences and a set of schemata. This will invariably lead to mistakes and assumptions. The more time you have to ‘fill in the gaps’ the more you are likely to compound the errors.

You have to rely on your instincts to a great degree – it is biologically impossible to take in all the information you see, as described above. For instance – shut your eyes now and describe your watch. You may have seen this thousands of times in the past few months yet how well can you describe it. What colour is it? What writing is on it? Describe the strap. You see it yet you don’t see it.

You may well not be able to describe it very well, but does it matter? If you look at it for 30 seconds you will retain a lot more information about the watch face, the hands but has that helped you tell the time more accurately?

People make accurate assesments very quickly. Exactly how quickly was assessed by Artemio Ramirez and Michael Sunnafrank of the University of Minnesota. They carried out an experiment with 164 college freshmen. The students were split into pairs and selected to spend either three, six or ten minutes talking to each other and then completed a questionnaire asking them to predict how positive or negative a relationship they would have. Nine weeks later they were asked to reassess the relationship.

There was a high correlation between that first impression and how they felt now. They also tended to sit closer to them in class and talk to them more. One important result was that it made no difference if it were three, six or ten minutes.

In a 1993 study Professor Nalini Ambady, a social psychologist at Tufts University videotaped graduate teaching fellows as they taught their classes. She selected three random ten-second clips from each tape and combined them into one thirty-second clip for each teacher. She then showed these silent clips to students who did not know the teachers. The students then rated the teachers on a number of variables including “active,” “competent” “confident.” They combined these individual scores into one overall score for each teacher. These scores were kept and compared with the teachers’ end of term evaluations from actual students who studied under them for a year.
“We were shocked at how high the correlation was,” Ambady said” It was 0.76. In social psychology anything above 0.6 is considered very strong.” Ambady cut the length of the silent clips to six seconds. “There was no significant difference between the results with thirty second clips and six-second clips,” Ambady says.

More and more recent research seems to be saying more and more that you are right instinctively a lot of the time.  If there is something you know about, and feel is right – like when to take a putter or a wedge from off the green, go with your gut feeling. People often analyse things to death. You know yourself and you know your game. You really, really are the best person to judge.

The useful of this approach is summed up by Malcolm Gladwell in Blink. The basic idea is to sort through those first impressions to “figure out which ones are important and which ones are screwing us up.” While most of us would like to think our decision making is the result of rational deliberation, Gladwell argues that most of it happens subconsciously in a split second. This process, “rapid cognition”, is where room for both error and insight appears. Many of the snap judgments we make are based on previously formed impressions and are competing with subconscious biases such as emotions and projections. Once we become aware of this we can learn to control rapid cognition by extracting meaning from a very small amount of information.

All very interesting but all boiling down to the same message;

Trust that instinct.

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