The Quiet Eye Approach to Putting

There’s no such thing as a miracle cure for anything in golf, but sometimes we can be surprised.

The surprise is that rather than doing something more, we perform better when we do less.

It’s my experience as a player and coach that most of us cause our own struggles in golf because we’re anxious and trying to swing the right way. In essence, we’re self-interfering.

It’s interesting to me that two of the greatest influences on golf coaching both came from outside the game, and they both were enormously influential in providing insights into better performance: Timothy Gallwey, the tennis coach who went on to write the classic The Inner Game of Golf, and Dr. Joan Vickers, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Calgary who discovered the Quiet Eye in sport.

As a university athlete at the University of New Brunswick, Vickers had two extraordinary experiences of performance in volleyball and basketball that spurred her to find out what could possibly explain her feats.

Through her curiosity and conducting hundreds of studies, Vickers made a discovery that has become a foundational piece of performance skill for elite athletes in a range of sports, including golf, hockey, basketball, baseball and more.

Dr. Vickers discovered a methodology that she named the Quiet Eye technique. In her studies on putting, Vickers proved that the Quiet Eye greatly enhances a player’s accuracy and distance control.

In my own experience and players that I’ve coached this season, it also improves solid contact, smooth’s out your stroke, and relieves much of the anxiety that golfers feel standing over a putt.

If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s how:

  • Go through your normal putting process of reading the green
  • Set-up over the ball and ensure the centre of the clubface faces the centre of the ball
  • Allow your eyes to take in your target for a few seconds
  • Bring your eyes to the ball
  • Fixate your gaze (Quiet Eye) on the back of the ball about a second before the backswing, through the foreswing, contact and maintain your Quiet Eye on the green where the back of the ball was for a half second. This last elongated quiet eye is crucial

That’s it. It seems remarkably simple but it has enormous influence on how your brain and body work together to allow for a solid putting stroke without any mechanical thoughts.

By focusing your attention on the back of the ball, you are, in essence, distracted. That is, given your brain can only focus on one thing at a time, you are not susceptible to the instructive or narrative thoughts such as ‘Accelerate through’ or ‘Get it there’ or ‘Please don’t miss!’

“Quiet Eye takes your concentration and keeps you on task,” Vickers said.

Without self-interfering thoughts, your brain and body can self-organize to stroke the ball—not perfectly, but to the best of your ability. It is amazing how well golfers can stroke a putt when the conscious mind is in a state of relaxed concentration. The parts of the brain that perform motor skills—such as walking down a flight of stairs or driving a car—are allowed to flow without interference.

Of course, if you already have plenty of golf experience and a foundation of skills to draw on—such as good posture, alignment, ball position and so on—you’ll see greater benefits than a beginner. 

Vickers says that one of the key reasons that people struggle with putting is that their eyes are moving all over the place as they prepare to putt and make the stroke. Out of anxiety and doubt, their eyes dart back and forth from the ball to the target, and then they’ll often watch the putter go back.

“When your vision moves around, you pick up feedback that makes its way into the hands and brain, and you overwhelm yourself with information,” Vickers explains.

She said that this is often the cause of the yips. “It’s the same with PTSD. The brain is overwhelmed.”

The Quiet Eye may seem like a miracle cure, but take my word for it that it takes effort and time to train yourself to do it and stay with it. My monkey mind is addicted to outcomes so it’s easy for me look at the rolling ball prematurely to see if I’ll get the result that I so desperately crave.

Give Quiet Eye a shot. You may be surprised at how it quiets your mind and allows that great putting stroke that you always had to reveal itself.

About Tim O'Connor

Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast with Howard Glassman, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID—a Guelph punk band!