Secret to Better Golf Scores Discovered
Tiger Woods takes his second shot on the sixth fairway during the fourth round of the US Open championship at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Sunday, June 15, 2008 in San Diego.
Credit: AP Photo / Charlie Riedel.

Better golfers are more likely to view the hole as larger than their bogey-prone counterparts, finds a new study.

"Golfers have said that when they play well the hole looks as big as a bucket or basketball hoop," said Jessica Witt, a psychologist at Purdue University in Indiana, "and when they do not play well they've been quoted as saying the hole looks like a dime or the inside of a donut."

Witt's team asked 46 golfers to estimate the size of the hole after playing a round of golf. From a poster, they selected one of nine black holes, ranging in size from 3.5 to 5 inches (9 to 13 cm). In reality, the diameter of a golf hole is 4.3 inches (10.8 cm).

Those who selected larger holes had better scores on the course that day.

To clarify the results, the researchers had golfers putt on a traditional putting mat in a lab. The golfers either judged the hole size from memory after putting or did so while viewing the hole. In both scenarios, participants whose putts ended up closer to the hole drew the circle to be bigger than golfers who hit putts that landed farther from the hole.

In past research, Witt found softball players with higher batting averages perceived the ball as larger than those with lower averages.

To keep strokes under par, golfers should stay focused on that hole. "If you look at the hole, the hole is going to remain the center of your vision where there are more receptors," Witt said. "This means you are more likely to see it clearly, which will hopefully help you putt better."

Witt hopes to figure out what visual tricks could help golfers see the hole as larger, possibly leading to better scores.

The research, published in the June issue of the journal Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.