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2016 World Scientific Congress of Golf Review

The old course st andrews number 18

Put a bunch of academics, researchers, engineers, and golf coaches at a University presenting research on golf and what do you get? The World Scientific Congress of Golf held this year at the home of golf in St Andrews, Scotland.

I was lucky enough to spend the week in St. Andrews attending as many sessions as possible while trying to get a good grasp on where the research is currently at and where it’s headed.

A little about the Congress

This was a return of sorts as the first event was held in 1990 at St. Andrews University led by Alastair Cochran (author of Search for the Perfect Swing) and Martin Farrally.

The mission of the WSCG is to bring together researchers, professionals, and interested golfers in the areas of The Golfer, The Golf Course, and Equipment and Technology.

You might recognize the current chair of the Congress, Dr. Debbie Crews from past episodes and founder of Opti International. However, this was her last year as chair, having held that position for the last 10 years! She did a fantastic job pulling together an amazing group of presenters and creating an event that was really enjoyable to attend and completely fascinating.

I wanted to share a few things that stood out to me and give you a quick look at some of the research.

Quiet eye might not be all it’s thought to be

We recently did an episode sharing some research on Quiet Eye and putting. It’s a concept that a fair amount of research has been done on, but when I sat in on a presentation from Laura Carey she presented some valid arguments to take another look at the concept.

In her study they attempted to create a representative task (previous studies haven’t taken this into account) to what golfers face on the course, putts of different lengths and slope (8, 15, and 25 feet) and what they found was surprising.

The data revealed considerable within-participant variability in both QE and performance measures. The within variability of participants in putts holed and QE highlight that within experienced amateur and professional golfers there is inconsistency within their putting accuracy and their routines. (Laura Carey, Robin Jackson, Malcolm Fairweather, Joe Causer & Mark Williams, 2016)

What they found was a lot of variation and variability with the duration of Quiet Eye amongst golfers. At this point it seems we don’t understand why it works or why it happens.

The takeaway? Take a listen and learn about the concept but understand that you need to test it yourself and see what works best for you.

Gaze Behaviors of Elite Golfers: Does Task Difficulty Influence Quiet Eye?
Laura Carey, Robin Jackson, Malcolm Fairweather, Joe Causer & Mark Williams


There’s more to the concept of “external focus” than you think

We’ve done a few pieces of content here at the Golf Science Lab talking about Internal vs External Focus. The concept being that an external focus helps to make movements more fluid and improve performance + learning.

Dr. Noel Rousseau presented some VERY interesting research that might open up some new possibilities. In a study he did he created an “intervention” of sorts walking golfers through a pre-shot routine helping them limit conscious processing (swing thoughts). You might think that if you had “no thoughts” during a swing you would be able to perform better.

What he found is that’s not true for everyone…

A high ‘verbaliser’ group deteriorated while ‘visualisers’ showed improvement during restricted conscious processing trials (Noel Rousseau, Matthew Bridge & Ian Boardley, 2016)

What I took away is there’s more to the conversation than just internal vs external. The reality is that there has been some incredible golf played with an internal focus… why is that? Well there’s variability between us and what works for you might not work for me.

I’m really interested in Dr. Noel’s work and looking forward to learning more about these concepts.

Conscious Processing of a Complex Motor Skill: An Investigation Into the Automaticity Paradigm of Full Golf Swing Execution
Noel Rousseau, Matthew Bridge & Ian Boardley


The Irish are working hard on their player development

There were two really good presentations looking at the development of golfers in Ireland. The first by Jussi Pitkanen talking about the transition from amateur to professional.

The most important need for these amateur golfers was social and psychological support, followed by financial support, and the need to be highly self-motivated and driven to succeed.

One fact that stood out from Jussi’s study was that, the players that received the most funding and support during their amateur careers have the lower world rankings after turning pro.

I heard more than a few times at this congress from player development experts that the emphasis needs to be on developing great PEOPLE and not just winning. There needs to be more topics talked about other than performance, scores, and winning that help to equip athletes for life beyond sports.

Elite Irish Golfers’ Experiences of Transition From Amateur To Professional
Jussi Pitkanen & Martin Toms


There’s a lot of very practical and useful research going on at Pinehurst.

Dr. Bob Christina and Eric Alpenfels from Pinehurst went about busting a number of myths with their research. Here are a couple of the most interesting ones that will probably have an impact on your game the next time you head out to the course.

Aim Small Miss Small? – BUSTED
In the testing they did this didn’t hold true… in fact the opposite appeared to have the most positive impacts with driving and long putting.

Lower Tee Height = More Accuracy? – BUSTED
Not only do golfers hit it longer but also more accurately when teeing the ball up higher. This again goes against conventional wisdom but showed to be true with their testing.

Use the grip size that feels best? – BUSTED
Most people choose their grip size by what feels best or based on some type of fitting chart. Through testing 23/24 golfers found they had their best performance with a grip other than what they were fit for based on measurements.

The reality is that selecting the right grip size has less to do with preference or size of hands and has more to do with the type of shot and performance.

With all of these concepts. Go do some testing and see what has a positive impact on your performance.

dr bob christina pinehurst studies
The Pinehurst Studies: Discoveries That Defy Conventional Wisdom
Bob Christina & Eric Alpenfels

Aim Small, Miss Small: To What Extent Does it Work?
Bob Christina & Eric Alpenfels


Great Info from Golf Coaches

I attended two presentations from some great coaches…

A Framework for Artful Coaching: Infusing the Lesson Tee with Learner Optimized Activities – Corey Lundberg and Matt Wilson

How do you actually implement these research based learning concepts into the lesson tee as a coach and instructor? That is what Matt and Corey covered so well.
curious coaches presenting
I love this framework and in fact they have an entire article outlining the concept you can go through here.

The Scottish High Performance Golf Project – Graeme McDowall and Peter Arnott

Amateur golf is characterized by stability and professional golf is characterized by instability.

How do you create training that helps golfers improve skills that show up under pressure when it matters on the golf course? Graeme and Peter are looking at helping players use constraint based coaching environments.

We’ve done two amazing episodes with these guys in the past. Highly recommend checking those out.

How Good Golfers Get Good
Constraint Based Learning Environments

Speed Set Testing – Application of the Scientific Method to Club Fitting – Liam Mucklow
What would happen if you applied the scientific method to club fitting? A valid question if you ask me! Liam got everyone out onto the St. Andrews driving range giving a hands on demonstration through the method he takes people for fitting clubs.

Fantastic method I recommend looking into more.

The Brain and Emotions Control Learning and Performance – Michael Hebron & Stephen Yazulla

Michael always has some interesting insights to share on learning and the brain and his workshop was no different. I love the premises he shared…

1) To be mindful that your words and attitudes create emotional responses in your students during a lesson, particularly those attempts that would be considered to be “failed” outcomes.

2) To understand that these emotional responses are reflected in the hormonal environment of the brain, which in turn affect subsequent actions.

3) To coach in a manner that takes these changes in the brain into account so as to create a learning environment that enhances learning and performance rather than suppressing them.


It was a fantastic week and one that I came away with a lot of new knowledge and great experiences from. Watch for the all the abstracts from the Congress which will be published mid August in the International Journal of Golf Science supplemental issue.

At the closing banquet it was announced that the 2018 congress will be held in Vancouver, Canada. Hopefully we’ll see some of you there!

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Founder and chief curator of the Golf Science Lab. Documenting what's going on in the world of research and beyond that can help you play your best golf on the golf course (when it counts). Join the movement of researched based coaching over trusting beliefs and what worked for one person a few decades ago. Follow on Twitter