Pre-Putt Routines and Putt Outcomes of Collegiate Golfers

Article excerpt

The sport of golf presents researchers with various opportunities to examine athletes' behaviors in specific situations. Golf also provides an arena to test assumptions concerning motor control and performance, due to the psychological and physiological demands of the sport. The skill of putting is especially important within golf and accounts for nearly 40% of golfers' total strokes (Pelz, 2000). The acquisition of appropriate putting skills is easy for all ability levels, yet the mastery of putting is difficult (Pelz, 2000). The mechanics, motions, and mental approach differ from other aspects of golf. Mechanically, the putting stroke is the shortest swing and results in rolling the golf ball. Yet, the amount of control of a successful putt appears unpredictable, especially since the PGA tour average of making a 6-foot putt is around 55% (Diaz, 1989). The unpredictability of successful putting may be due to several reasons. The target of the putting stroke (i.e., the hole) requires greater precision than other golfer's targets and if the direction of the putting stroke at impact is off by just a fraction, the imperfection is magnified more than any other swing in the game of golf(Pelz, 2000). Across courses and tournaments, the speeds of the greens and types of grasses on the putting surfaces vary, making it difficult for many golfers to adapt (Pelz, 2000). Successfully navigating the contours of the green, while properly judging the speed of the putt, requires a great deal of mental skill (Pelz, 1991).

These aforementioned aspects of putting suggest that the skill of putting is difficult to master (Pelz, 2000). Efforts of simplifying the process include the development of numerous different types of putters, and ways to actually hold the putter (Rotella, 2001). One facet of putting similar to other sports is the preparation time prior to the execution of a shot which is classified as a pre-performance routine (Cohn, 1990). However, research specifically addressing the effectiveness of pre-putt routines has yet to be explored to its limits.

Singer (2002) suggested that one important function of pre-performance routines is to aid athletes in the self-regulation of "arousal level, thoughts, performance expectancy, and attentional focus" (p.359). Singer also suggested that self-regulation is thought to be particularly important in self-paced events in which the performer has the opportunity to prepare for the movement. Routines can help an athlete mentally prepare for upcoming movements by enhancing concentration. For instance, it has been argued that pre-performance routines help athletes transfer their attention from task irrelevant thoughts to task relevant thoughts (Weinberg & Gould, 2007). Pre-performance routines increase the likelihood that individuals will not be internally or externally distracted before and/or during performance. They also noted that pre-performance routines help structure the athlete's thought processes and emotional states, keeping the focus of attention in the present and on task-related cues (Weinberg & Gould, 2007).

Research has shown that individuals possess a limited attentional capacity (Lewis & Linder, 1997). However, motor behavior research also suggests that once a skill has been learned, the attentional demands towards performance are decreased (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). For instance, Backman and Molander (1991) found that expert putters who attended to the technical aspects of the putting stroke negatively affected their performance. Specifically, it is possible that attention to skill execution may be counterproductive to performance and may manifest with undue pre-performance routines (Beilock, Afremow, Rabe, & Carr, 2001; Lewis & Linder, 1997). Due to the limited attentional capacities, there may be a tendency of counterproductive over-thinking, an increased susceptibility to distractions, and/or heightened emotions (Krane & Williams, 1987). …