Article in Irish Golf Digest.
The Path to Improvement: How to account for your dominant eye! Richard Hughes.
If you’ve ever introduced someone to the game of Golf you probably asked them this question on the way to the course: “Are you right-handed or left-handed?” Depending on your own dexterity, you either gave them some simple tips: “Keep your eye on the Ball”, “Don’t lift your head”, “Make a big shoulder turn”, or you slipped them the name of your favourite teaching pro and recommended some basic lessons.
Here’s the problem. While someone may say that they’re right-handed, there are actually two types of right-handed people: Type 1 Individuals (Right Eye, Right Hand, and Right Foot) or Type 2 Individuals (Any Left Dominance within the three). While people may argue about the raw numbers, it’s enough to say that Type 1 individuals are far more common than Type 2 individuals and that the differences between the two are significant.
By digging deeper into a lesser known statistic, we’re hoping to bring these differences to light! Curiously, despite being in the global minority, 90 percent of right-handed tour players exhibit Type 2 tendencies. Why is there such a discrepancy? Have instructors been missing something?
A Major Breakthrough
While it may seem oversimplified, a golfer’s swing is effectively the product of two systems working together – Human Kinetics (Physical Motion) and Visual Perception (The Eyes and Mind). At the Macro-level, the kinetics of the Golf Swing are fairly similar. At most, an individual’s swing will change depending on their own physical limitations. At the Micro level, however, our eyes and their corresponding field of vision, play an equally important role in helping us achieve consistent contact and pure strikes.
While there have been previous studies and research into Eye Dominance and its impact on the golf swing, there has never been a clear understanding as to why Type Two players have been more successful until now.
Background and Beginnings
Our story begins 25 years ago with PGA West teaching pro Jim Hartnett. Having worked with a number of Amateurs and PGA Tour Professionals, it’s fair to say that Jim had seen a swing or two. Over time, Jim began to notice that a few of the professionals, and many of the amateurs, had certain quirks or inconsistencies in their swings that couldn’t be tied to a physical limitation. Suspecting an internal inhibitor, Jim narrowed down the possibilities until eye dominance, and the golfer’s field of vision, were the only possible factors remaining.
Despite lacking the technical knowledge, Jim was able to figure out that there was a crucial link between golfers’ mental perceptions and their physical motions. Knowing that he had made a significant breakthrough, Jim worked hard to spread his theory. In 2017, after years of limited traction, Jim published Golf for the Other 80% describing his observations and his conviction that our optics and visual perceptions have been historically overlooked. Shortly after Jim’s book was published, perennial mid-handicapper and Sportvision Optometrist Richard Hughes, realized that Jim had made a critical connection.
With his joint knowledge of the eyes and his experiences as an avid golfer, Richard was able to add invaluable insight to Jim’s theory and book. After all, Richard had sent a letter discussing eye dominance to renowned instructor, David Leadbetter, almost a decade earlier. With further assistance from Geraint Griffiths, the Director of Sportvision UK, the team reached the following conclusion: not only does Eye Dominance play a significant role in a Golfer’s ability to make consistent contact, but the golfer likely has no understanding of why they fail to improve!
Back in the United States, Jim began asking better players and tour players if they knew which was their dominant eye. He realized that not only were the vast majority of Tour Pros cross-dominant (Type 2) but they also had very similar golf swings. Considering what we know about the modern golf swing, it’s probable that most of these similarities stemmed from historic (or “conventional”) teaching methods. On the flip side, many of the Type One golfers that successfully made it onto the professional tour had some “quirk” or “abnormality” that veered slightly from conventional teaching practices.
It begged the question: With 80 percent of the population exhibiting Type One tendencies, why hadn’t any one figured out that instruction likely favoured Type Two individuals?
Determining your Dominant Eye
To be a complete golfer, you need to understand how the body and mind come together during the golf swing. Over the next few pages, we’ll be exploring the complex relationship between eye dominance and instruction, something that hasn’t been touched in a considerably long time. If you’ve ever wondered why the success rate in professional golf is so small, we may be able to finally provide an answer! But first, you need to have a basic understanding of your dominant and non-dominant eye, including how to determine which is which.
For those of you with an Archery or Clay Shooting background, you may already know; however, if you’ve never previously determined your dominant eye, this is the easiest way to check.
- Place your Right hand over your Left hand while forming a circle no bigger than a Quarter.
- While keeping both eyes open, focus on an object in the distance and frame it within the circle. The object should be appropriately sized to fill up the space.
- Once the object is in focus, close one eye; alternate between your Right and Left. If you’ve followed the above steps correctly, you should observe a significant shift in focus away from the object. For simplicity, the following will be true:
- The Object will remain in Focus when viewed with your Dominant Eye
- The Object will be lost when viewed with your Non-Dominant Eye.
NOTE: To avoid confusion, we’ll be referring to the eyes in this manner: Dominant and Non-Dominant, as opposed to Right or Left. If you need a refresher on whether you are Type One or Type Two Dominant, please refer to the opening paragraph.
Just as each hand plays a role in gripping the club, the golfer uses both eyes to ensure clean contact and pure strikes; optometrists use the term Binocular Vision to describe this shared relationship. During the swing, a golfer uses their combined cones of vision (Bi-Foveal Fixation) to maintain focus on the ball and the use of their peripheries to track the club through impact. If that sounded a little too complex, the next section should help simplify things.
Under normal circumstances, the Dominant eye is used to determine the position of the ball (Fixation), while the Non-Dominant eye, in effect, calculates the distance to the object so that it remains in focus. By performing their individual tasks, the eyes work together to allow the golfer to hit the ball successfully.
Binocular Vision during Unobstructed Conditions:
When addressing the ball, both Type One and Type Two golfers are able to accurately fix the position and distance of the ball. In a conventional setup, there are no physical obstructions to impair the Dominant and Non-Dominant Eye. Should these conditions remain constant, there will be no loss of vision throughout the swing.
If you ever wondered why the phrase “Keep your head still” holds true in Golf instruction, this is the simplified reason If you move your head off the ball and lose fixation in your dominant eye, your ability to make consistent contact will be severely compromised.
While you may hit the occasional green or fairway, repeated loss of fixation will eventually act as a roadblock to your long-term improvement.
What happens if there is an interruption or loss of focus in one eye?
- Type Two Golfers
Without contradicting ourselves (we did say simplified after all), it is technically possible to make clean contact despite moving your head off the ball. Odds are you’ve played with someone who had a wonky takeaway but they managed to square up the clubface and score fairly well.
Thanks to their cross-dominant tendencies, Type Two golfers are less likely to lose fixation in their dominant eye, even if they make an aggressive backswing. While they may lose some depth perception, potentially resulting in an occasional “chunk” or “thin”, the optical position of the golf ball will remain in place throughout the swing.
In short, the miss-hit tends to be manageable.
2. Type One Golfers
Unfortunately, for Type One golfers, an aggressive move off the ball typically leads to a loss of vision in their dominant eye. If they happen to lose fixation of the golf ball at some point during their backswing, the non-dominant eye will try and find the ball during the downswing. Because the cones of our eyes (Fovea) do not perfectly intercept, the optical position of the ball will be slightly different when the ball is re-acquired by the non-dominant eye. Even though the physical position of the ball remains constant, the Type One golfer will likely try and make an adjustment to compensate for this “new” position.
Ultimately, it comes down to a golfer’s comparative level of trust in the position of the golf ball. Type Two golfers rarely lose fixation in their dominant eye, allowing the player to confidently make adjustments during the downswing. Unfortunately, due to historical teaching patterns and the success of certain PGA tour players, Type One golfers are more likely to lose fixation of the ball, reducing their confidence and their ability to make sound adjustments during the downswing.
Compromised Swing Thoughts
Over time, as longer hitters started to dominate on the PGA Tour, the kinetics and fundamentals of the golf swing came under scrutiny. The continued successes from Nicklaus, Palmer, and Weiskopf, all power players with long backswings and speed through the ball, changed the direction of Golf. While it was still possible to win without prodigious power (i.e. Nick Faldo and Gary Player), the era of accuracy and precision was starting to be pushed out in favour of distance. Moving into the 90s, as Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, and specifically John Daly, became the new faces of distance, golfers were encouraged to make longer backswings in the pursuit of power. Unfortunately, for the Type 1 golfer, a problem soon began to emerge…
As the club nears the top of the backswing, the golfer’s lead shoulder (Left for RH and Right for LH) starts to force the head to turn away from the ball causing their nose to block the line of vision from the dominant eye to the ball. Eventually, they are forced to make a decision: continue the backswing past this critical point, or stop their backswing early and search for power and speed through other means. Type 2 golfer, on the other hand, does not have to make this compromise as they are able to maintain sight of the golf ball throughout all possible positions. This allows the individual to make a large shoulder turn without losing sight of the ball in their dominant eye. For the Type One golfer in particular, if they try and hit the ball like John Daly, the results could be disastrous on a regular basis. What’s the solution then?
Fortunately, there have been enough successful Type One golfers on tour that their swings have been studied and their moves adopted by certain instructors. If you look at the swings of David Duval and Annika Sorenstam, for instance, they are both Type One golfers with distinct moves through the ball. Jim Furyk is another great example of a player whose peculiar motion comes back to his right eye dominance.
Takeaway and Conclusions
While you may rightly say that Furyk isn’t a long hitter, explain how Jon Rahm develops his power? If you’ve ever looked at his swing, you’ll notice that Jon has been able to generate considerable power despite having a shorter backswing than a “conventional” tour player. By coiling his body and creating separation, he’s able to hit the ball further than some of the Type 2 players on tour.
Going forward, it is important that teachers and instructors understand the point we’re trying to make. We are not suggesting that you stop teaching certain methods or eliminate swing thoughts merely because they don’t apply to every golfer. Conversely, we believe that if these instructions are applied correctly (i.e. within the context of the golfer’s eye dominance) they can help the golfer achieve greater success than they would be able to realize on their own.
Ultimately if a Type One individual possesses the finesse and athleticism capable of achieving success on the PGA Tour, we believe that there should be a path (or sequence of lessons) that they can follow to help them achieve their goals.