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Geoff Mangum's PuttingZone Newsletter

Joint February-March Issue
March 9, 2002

Hi Folks!

I hope this finds you well during the start of the season. Inside this issue --

1. Simple Simon's Belly Putters Newsletter

2. Ernie Els & Genuity Classic Putting

3. Six New PZ Tips

4. Putting Science: Sian Beilock at MSU on Choking

5. Interesting Online Stories & Resources

6. PZ Website Developments


My Kiwi friend Simon Moore, Canterbury, NZ, is serious about putting. A successful practicing optometrist, Simon has devoted sacks of cash and over five years of hard work to develop his knowledge of putting and putter designs. He has chosen to specialize in belly putters, well before the recent rage took hold. And he now has his design in the production stages. In the meantime, he shares his enthusiasm and knowledge via his Belly Buzz Newsletter and his website In the first issue of his Newsletter, "Simple Simon" surveys belly putters seen at the PGA Merchandise Show (Orlando, January 24-27, 2002), where he and I hung out together and even played some wicked "Jungle Golf" putt-putt. I think you'll like his level-headed judgment and his no-gimmickry approach to good putter design. I also encourage you to sign up for his free Newsletter and check out his website.



In the recently concluded Genuity Classic in Florida, World-ranked #3 golfer Ernie Els, the Big Easy, putted lights out. For the four rounds, he averaged only 25.5 putts per round, finishing first in putting with 102 total putts. His putting was really even better than that, considering that his first three rounds of 66-67-66 with putts of 24-25-25 was somewhat tainted by his relatively sky-high final-round score of even par with 28 putts. He's been playing wonderful golf lately, as recounted for his fans at his website, There are two main stories here.

The first story is Els' recommitment to golf. He has rededicated himself to his career, after the birth of his daughter Samantha. As part of this, Ernie has increased his practice time and begun working with top instructors, including David Leadbetter for his full swing, and also with Allan Strand for his putting technique. Strand is the founder of Dandy Golf, makers of the Dandy line of putters designed around the technique of Horton Smith and Bobby Locke, South Africa's mythic-sized legendary putting great. The two main technique points emphasized by Strand are "hooding"-style management of the through-stroke and "loading" the putter shaft in the backstroke to "access" the shaft's energy through impact. These points are further explained on the Dandy Golf website. From watching Els' technique at the Genuity, I could see the "loading" action described by Strand but not the "hooding." So as expected, it looks like Els is incorporating some of the technique into his game and skipping some.

The other story is that Els, a longtime TaylorMade golfer, carried a new prototype Rossa insert putter at the Genuity. It certainly has been working well in his hands so far this year. The Rossa is not yet available, but the info is posted on the TaylorMade website.

Although Els started the final round with an 8-shot cushion, he played tentatively as Tiger charged up behind and cut the lead to one before Els pulled away to win by two. Els put the Tournament away with a fine putt on the 66th hole. For a video clip of this putt, see Genuity Els Birdie Putt on the par-5 12th Hole Rnd 4 (video clip).


Here are a half dozen new tips I've written, hot off the griddle:

1. TECHNIQUE: Groom the Green's Mane with the Takeaway

2. TARGETING: Stand in the Scene to Aim Well

3. TECHNIQUE: Slice Your Thumb Knuckle

4. TECHNIQUE: Pushing or Pulling Putts? It's the Lead Elbow, Stupid!

5. TARGETING: Crunchy, Toasted, Tasty, Soppy Greens

6. TECHNIQUE: Get Cozy with the Ball's Shadow

1. TECHNIQUE: Groom the Green's Mane with the Takeaway

If the putter's sole had bristles like a brush, the trick for the takeaway would be to keep the brushing action headed straight back. If you twist a brush while moving it, it snags. The same is true of a comb. A brush is really a bunch of combs clamped together so the teeth are all pointed parallel. A brush with only a few fine and short bristles sparsely but orderly arranged would move through the bent grass of a green fairly nicely.

The image of such a brush on the bottom of the putter is useful in getting the stroke straight in the takeaway, initially, and then in the throughstroke. In moving the putterhead back, imagine the short gap between the sole and the turf is spanned by the short grass blades coming up and by an sparse array of fine putter-bristles going down. The motion of the putter is then closely enmeshed with the grass, so it has to stay straight as it moves or it will snag. As the putter goes back, it will rise a bit, so the combing / brushing action will lift out of the grass as the putterhead moves to the top of the backstroke. The brushing combs the grass out so it lays parallel in a lane as wide as the putterhead, and this lane serves to guide the stroke back through the ball.

Perhaps this image is a bit baroque for most golfers (perhaps not) -- but the important point is the sense of movement implied in the image. That's what needs to be felt and learned. This is not a tip about watching the putterhead, but about moving the putterhead and feeling how to move it this way.

If you want, change the image to the stroke of a paint brush applying a smooth stripe of paint. It's pretty much the same, but just remember to focus on the feeling of your movement.

2. TARGETING: Stand in the Scene to Aim Well

On long putts with some break, you can look along the surface for the break point, but once you find it, try this. Once you get a sense of the fullness of the break in the path of the putt, and identify an aim spot uphill and even with the hole, look past the green into the background scenery for some target at eye-height that corresponds to your aim spot. That is, look at the hole, scan along beside the hole to your aim spot, and then lift your head back erect and look for a corresponding target in the background. An example might be a tree or shrub or a house. Then, orient your setup to the putt with reference to this landmark. Once you commit to this landmark as the "line" of your putt, go back to assessing distance and the actual curve the putt should follow. But pull the trigger only at the landmark.

There is an ever-present tendency in breaking putts to plan on hitting the ball out high enough but then actually starting the ball off lower. This tip will help you avoid subconscious alterations in your stroke that send the putt off too low, without detracting from your sense of speed and break.

3. TECHNIQUE: Slice Your Thumb Knuckle

A pretty good tip is to putt as if sliding your elbows along a rail in your stroke (but see Tip 4 below for more). This is a variation that shifts the awareness to your hands, and particularly your thumbs. Imagine a sword blade at the height of your thumb knuckle, and keep the knuckle in contact with the blade's edge going back, and then coming forward. OUCH!

This tip accomplishes a couple of important things about a good stroke. First, it teaches you about NOT taking the putterhead out past the line in the takeaway. The cause of this is practically always the hand muscles getting active just at the start of the takeaway.

The second problem is allowing the thumbs to alter orientation as the stroke goes forward. This is the reason George Low, a great putter and putting teacher in the heyday of Arnold Palmer and others, advised actually digging your thumbnails into the grip so the thumbs would start straight down the grip and stay straight down the grip (or, more precisely, "square" throughout the stroke). The thumbs only alter orientation at the beck and call of hand muscles changing the grip shape or the elbow pulling or pushing, so focusing on the thumbs as moving along an edge pointed parallel to the putt line helps keep the thumbs "square" and the hands steadily oriented during the stroke.


4. TECHNIQUE: Pushing or Pulling Putts? It's the Lead Elbow, Stupid!

Open Stances

James Hilton ca. 1915 showing the characteristic "open" stance of the era, with a "pushy" stroke down the line that sent the lead elbow away from the hip. Horton Smith's "hooding" that moves the putterhead level thru the ball but requires the lead elbow to "flip out" to make this happen. Notice the open hips and feet.
Jack Nicklaus' slightly open shoulderframe and "piston" stroke action that sends the lead elbow away from the hip.

Closed Stance

Bobby Locke ca. 1950 -- watch his cap twist targetward as his right shoulder comes horizontally forward towards the putt line -- his lead elbow stays headed downline.

Square Stances

Leo Diegel ca. 1925 and an early effort to control the rear and lead elbows. Lee Trevino's wristy stroke, in which the lead elbow stays close to the ribs, but the wrists have to break to move the putterhead thru impact -- especially the "push" action from the right wrist. Dave Pelz's pendulum style, in which the lead elbow separates from the still hip.


You can always make a pull stroke by starting the takeaway out across the startline and coming into impact at the 4:30 position on the ball, with a stroke moving from out to in. And you can always make a push stroke by taking the putter back inside and contacting the ball at 6:30 heading in to out. But the shocker is you can STILL make a serious push or pull even though the stroke path is pretty straight going back and headed to impact. It's still not too late to mess up! A familiar tip to promote a straight stroke (and avoid pushes or pulls) is to putt as if sliding your two elbows along a rail that parallels the putt's startline. But that tip only works if some other elements are present in the stroke. Too bad it's a little complex ...

The Oldtime Push Stroke. An oldtime pro tip for putting is to anchor the right (hind) elbow on your hip and keep it there throughout the stroke. This requires either a pure-wristy style stroke or at least a hinging forward at the right elbow in the thru-stroke (a la Nicklaus' piston stroke), but the left elbow does not necessarily separate from the left hip as the putterhead moves thru the ball. The left arm and wrist are kept "firm" in the thru-stroke, and this causes the left shoulder to buoy up a bit higher as the follow-thru progresses. The emphasis ends up being on the straightness of the hands' trajectory down the line, and it doesn't really hurt much to stand with the feet or shoulders a little open to the target. Left-eye / right-hand golfers (like Nicklaus) feel like they have a slight "push" in the stroke because the arms and hands are moving out from the body as they go forward down the line from the slightly open stance. It's hard to "pull" a putt when you intend to "push" it right from the start. In any "push" stroke involving the arms (not just a pure wristy stroke), the lead elbow moves away from the hip, and not in a path that parallels the putt line, but in a trajectory somewhat outward towards the putt line. From this setup, a real push happens when the lead elbow moves too much outward toward the putt line.

The open setup is actually the dominant setup used around the beginning of the 20th century, as seen in the putting of Walter Travis, Willie Park Jr., and others on up to Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, and others around WWII. Not very many pros still putt this way, but I've seen a number of amateurs do it. Today, the dominant setup is "square," with joint pairs aligned parallel to the putt line. From a square setup, what happens with the lead elbow to produce a straight stroke (and avoid pushes and pulls) is not, unfortunately, "straight forward" (so to speak).

The "Hooding" Solution. The "hooding" action of Horton Smith and others was occasioned by the "gating" stroke path of the day, and has three separate components: vertical face, square face, and low face. The action keeps the putterface vertical beyond impact with left-wrist flexion. Classically, "hooding" also keeps the putterface aimed the same way it points at address even though the stroke path arcs back and around in the backstroke and then forward and around in the thru-stroke (a "gating" stroke path like Crenshaw's). To maintain the face direction in a "gating" stroke, the left wrist rotates counterclockwise going back and then "unrotates" clockwise going forward, and the degree of rotation depends upon the degree of arcing in the path. There may also be an effort to keep the putterhead close to the surface by NOT allowing the left shoulder to rise (or rise much) going into the follow-thru. This is a characteristic shared by Dave Stockton, with his drill of focusing on keeping the back of the left wrist level going thru impact (and to a lesser degree by Loren Roberts, as he allows his right wrist to fold going to the top of the backstroke and then preserves the angles of the wrists going thru -- although his left shoulder rises).

The whole emphasis of this style is on the putterface orientation in the stroke movement. Learning and being consistent with the "hooding" motion requires considerable practice, focus, and finesse. Essentially, the golfer has dual attention upon the face orientation AND the trajectory of the hands and wrists in the stroke (staying parallel to the putt line, as in making strokes above a yardstick). The more the hands are positioned out ballward from hanging directly below the shoulder sockets, the more pronounced the rotational "hooding" action in the wrists. If the hands are suspended directly below the shoulder sockets, the only "hooding" is for face verticality and lowness of putterhead, so the "rotational" wrist action is eliminated. But if the stroke path arcs and therefore requires some rotational action, but the golfer forgets, he is asking for a pull! The lesson is: if you want to use "hooding," use a hands-below-shouldersockets setup (to simplify the management) AND in any event know that the left elbow must separate from the hip going thru.

If the stroke arcs and the golfer remembers to manage the "hooding" rotation, he ALSO is forced to move the left elbow not only forward from the hip but also away outward from his body closer to the putt line. That is, only when the hands hang below the shoulder sockets does the trajectory of the left elbow stay parallel to the putt line going thru. If the stroke gates, the putterhead will curl forward and back around the body in the thru-stroke UNLESS the left elbow compensates by heading closer to the putt line. This is WAY TOO MUCH TROUBLE, so don't ask for it! Dont use "hooding" without hanging the hands below the shoulders, and ALWAYS let the left elbow separate from the hip going thru.

The Bobby Locke Torso-Putt Solution. Bobby Locke's putting style was often described as "hooking" the ball into the hole. By this, the observer was pointing up the fact that Locke stood "closed" to the start line, took the putter back to the inside of this line, and delivered the putterhead at the ball from the inside. But this is not the full story. Locke also "hooded" the putter back and thru with wrist manipulations to keep the face aimed the same as at address. But there was something else he did. He kept the shape of his arms pretty much intact throughout the stroke and delivered the putterhead straight thru impact and down the line with some outward movement of his right shoulder. If you looked straight down on Locke from ten feet over his head, and tracked the position of his right shoulder, you would see it curl back as he takes the putter back inside and then uncurl forward as he delivers the blow. This is evidenced by a slight release in his right knee plus a slight lateral move of his head targetward in the thru-stroke as his right shoulder and torso move horizontally out towards the ball and putt line. His torso as a whole has a twisting "opening" action in it. Because his left torso was twisting behind as his putterhead was moving straight on line, Locke's left elbow had to do something other than follow his hip as it turned back -- else he really would have "hooked" his putts hard to the left. Consequently, in his stroke, the left elbow splits the difference and goes back a bit and goes laterally forward from the hip a bit. This makes the left elbow appear to jut out from his body in the follow-thru, but it's really his body moving back away from his elbow as his hands move down the putt line. It's a complicated combination, but ultimately Locke's move is fairly simple to execute and repeat.

The Trevino Arms-Hands Push Stroke. The Trevino stroke pictured above illustrates a sqaure setup using a mild form of "piston" or "push" stroke. You will notice that the left wrist stays firm and ends up pretty vertical after impact, with the flat back of the left hand facing the target. This left-wrist orientation is pretty much the same in the putting styles involving "hooding" from the 1930s-1950s and the modern pendulum shoulders-only stroke style. The difference from the Trevino illustration and the other two styles is what happens with the left (lead) elbow.

In the Trevino-type stroke, the left elbow does not significantly separate from the hip, and the forearm simply straightens out downward and forward in the thru-stroke. But once the putterhead gets past impact, it is impossible to maintain this arrangement of the arms-hands in motion without the putterhead rising AND there is an ever-present tendency for the stroke to curl back around the body in the follow-thru as in a full swing and/or for the left wrist to "breakdown." Golfers who treat the putt as a miniature version of the full swing are apt to have a little hip rotation in the thru-stroke, as evidenced by some give or release in the right knee (e.g., Bobby Jones and Ben Crenshaw). The hips will assuredly cast the torso curling back also unless prevented. A lot of the times when the golfer blames "moving his head" or "peeking," what actually happens is his hips were rotating. It feels perfectly natural so it's hard to focus on it as "bad" to stifle it from happening. This rotating tendency causes many pulled putts and less-than-solid blows.

The Pendulum Solution. The shoulders-only "pendulum" stroke uses "dead" hands and arms. There is no attempt to use wrist action to manage the putterface. The key feature of this style is that the shoulder joint does not alter during the stroke (the armpits don't open or close any), or alters only minimally as the stroke amplitude gets larger for long putts. [The Trevino forearms style is close to this in that the armpits alter very little, since both elbows stay close to the hips.] This feature guarantees that the so-called "triangle" of arms, hands, and putter stays "intact" throughout the stroke, and that means the left elbow must separate from the hip as the stroke goes forward beyond impact. It also means the putterhead will be arcing upward thru impact into the follow-thru, as a true pendulum would, so there is no attempt to manipulate the verticality of lowness of the putterface going thru. With hands-below-shouldersockets, the trajectory of the hands will mirror the symmetrical pendular arcing of the putterhead, so the left shoulder must rise going thru, and hence the left elbow separate from the hip, and the trajectory of the elbow and hands stays in the plane that parallels the vertical plane of the putt arising from the putt line.

As with any "gating" stroke, however, there is really only ONE place in the stroke when the face is square to the start line, and that is at the bottom of the stroke arc (or peak of the rainbow-shaped or frown-shaped stroke path), which should coincide with the middle of your stance directly opposite the sternum, chin, and nose. Consequently, for the pendulum style, BALL POSITION matters a lot if your stroke gates. Since you don't manipulate the face in the stroke, if your stroke path "gates," you will push putts if the ball is too far back or pull putts if the ball is too far forward. And the only way out of this bad ball postioning is wrist rotational manipulation on an ad hoc basis. AND if this sort of variable compensation is required by a "gating" path, it also requires that the left elbow not simply separate from the hip along a trajectory paralleling the putt line, but move outward towards the line when the ball is too far forward or back behind the hip if the ball is too far back in the stance. The extent of this outward or backward component in the elbow motion depends not only on the extent of gating, but as well upon ball position. With a lot of "gating" and a ball too far forward of the bottom of the stroke arc, the elbow has to move farther outward towards the puttline than is required by the "gating" alone. When the hands are directly below the shoulder sockets, however, the ball position matters a whole lot less for how the putterface will be pointed at contact. With this setup, ball position is mostly a matter of letting the stroke reach maximum acceleration at the bottom before impacting the ball and a matter of whether the putterface is rising when it meets the back of the ball. The lesson again is: hands below shoulder sockets calls for the left elbow to move forward of the hip on a path parallel to the putt line, and any "gating" requires the elbow path to trend toward the puttline going forward.

The case of the inverse "gating" (smile-shaped stroke path) with hands closer to the feet than directly under the shoulder sockets (e.g., Fuzzy Zoeller) is too rare and ill-advised to comment on.

Conclusion. Obviously, the title of this tip is meant to be a little humorous, since this elbow action is hardly easy to analyze or describe. For almost all golfers today, though, there is a nice clear bottom line: the left or lead elbow SHOULD move forward in the thru-stroke and separate from the hip, and the question is whether the elbow stays parallel to the putt line or trends toward it (depending on the presence and degree of "gating" in the stroke path). One can note rather clearly that the left elbow should NOT stay at the hip -- this will cause left-wrist "breakdown," weak shots, and pulls, or cause some weird compensatory manipulations. One can also note that the left elbow should NOT move back and around the body going thru, at least for that critical five to six inches past the ball. This elbow action causes pulls or cut strokes. The tricky part is when the elbow needs to move outward toward the putt line, as is caused by a gating stroke path. Too much "outward" in the elbow move and you get a push. The simple answer is: don't gate! Keep the hands directly below the shoulder sockets and move the shoulderframe as a unit inside a stable vertical plane of rocking back and thru. Then the elbow move is always and exactly forward and parallel to the setup alignment. So keep the hands below the shoulder sockets and let that elbow go forward from the hip parallel to the startline!

If we wanted to amend the old tip about moving your elbows along a rail, it would go something like this: with your hands AND elbows hanging directly beneath your shoulder sockets and your shoulders setup "square," imagine a horizontal club shaft (also aligned parallel to the putt line) between your arms and chest, contacting the back of your upper arms just above the elbows a couple of inches; move your "triangle" so the backs of both upper arms remain in contact with the shaft at all times. To see exactly what this means for the elbow motion, just hold a shaft horizontal in front of your chest at sternum level so it runs parallel to your setup and note particularly that section of the shaft six to ten inches in front of your lead hip. You shouldn't let your elbow ever fall back inside that, and really never get further outward away than that, unless your setup is open or your hands a bit out from your shoulder sockets. You can also "feel" this by holding a shaft across your chest with the right hand and making strokes with a putter held solely in your left hand, sliding the back of the left upper arm along the shaft. So long as your left elbow does not hinge (flex inward) and your left wrist stays unchanged, your left shoulder will have to rise vertically up a little in the thru-stroke. The shoulder will not curl backwards any at all, and will only move straight up. That's the ticket to get rid of pushes and pulls.

5. TARGETING: Crunchy, Toasty, Tasty, Soppy Greens

Bermuda grass killed by Roundup, a very fast surface -- if packed and rolled, it would make a crunchy sound underfoot.
Penn State Turfgrass seeds on the NASA Shuttle.
The normal color of well-watered Bermuda in the middle of the growing season -- a fairly slow surface, nice and lush and spongy.

"The Augusta greens already are firm with a yellow sheen, so crusty that Steve Stricker said he could hear his spikes crunch as he walked on the putting surfaces." Tuesday, April 8, 2002

Green speed is more than grass type or mowing height, and is also a matter of moisture and surface preparation. The Bermuda greens at Augusta National, before the grass was switched to bent in the 1980s, were extremely fast even without being closely shaved bent. The trick was to pack and roll the dried Bermuda until the green surface was "crunchy." Literally. Golfers described the greens as making a sound when you walked onto them that sounded like walking on stiff celophane with spikes on. This, in an exaggerated fashion, teaches the value of the feet for reading green speed.

Dry is fast because dry is thin blades without water and dry is not springy blades that cushion and resist the roll of the ball. When grass is dry, it generally loses some of the "blue" component of its color, so lush moist grass is deep green and drier grass has more yellow even to tawny colored. Supers prepare greens for tournament play by carefully scheduling the watering to balance the natural requirements of grass for water against the need for speed. PGA Tour and US Open greens frequently have the water requirements of the green only minimally satisfied, which tends to stress the green's health. The trick is to start with a very healthy green and stress it to the appropriate extent and timed so that its stressing peaks during the days of the tournament. That usually means little greens water during the four days of play, with increasing speed from Thursday to Sunday, unless the weather fails to cooperate and reduces the course to a game of darts where approaches all stick. Occasionally, the greens start out too fast for fair play, and pros during the practice and pro-am rounds complain, so that the super increases the watering in order to reel the green speed back in.

Packed and rolled is fast because it is an artificial way of flattening and lowering the grass against the underlying turf and also flattening and packing the turf itself. There has been some concern about how much packing and rolling greens can stand, but the current understanding is that a well-designed green can pretty much handle frequent rolling. Because of this, supers roll the greens leading up to tournaments, and this tends to eliminate many surface irregularities that accumulate during normal play and maintenance, make the greens slightly less amenable to water absorbtion, and press the grass flatter than otherwise. There are scientific "thumpers" to judge the degree to which a green is "hard" for approach shots, and the pros are keenly aware of these subtleties.

So, the top putter is consciously atuned to fine gradations in green moisture content and surface compaction as these factors affect the speed of the green. This is partly a matter of looking at the grass for its lushness or spareness, its wetness or dryness, and its color for uniformity and hue. Judging green speed is also a matter of feeling the green with your feet, in terms of sponginess or crispness and depth of grass. And it is also a matter of taste and smell (which are very closely allied senses). If the green is recently mowed, the clippings have one smell if they are moist and another if they are dry. Moist soil also has one smell, and dry dirt another. This smell is a chemical composition of water, dust or dirt, and other chemicals from the green that are in the air, and the air also has a taste when it meets the taste buds. This "smellable" air is more potent on warm days with a gentle breeze, as the heat and breeze stir the smell up off the surface because of evaporation and because hot air rises and moves around more energetically than cold air. In general, the more potent the smell and taste, the more likely the green's mositure content is up.

The lesson is: You probably know most of this tip "instinctively" to some extent, but it is even better to use your instincts on purpose, so you don't forget how they can help you. When you walk on the green, pay attention to your feet and the taste and smell of the air -- not just the appearance of the grass. Your speed control will thank you, and your learning curve for that round will be shortened considerably.

6. Get Cozy with the Ball's Shadow

With the sun shining straight down the putt line, your ball will cast a nice clear shadow in front that is about as big around as a quarter. This little patch of grass can help your stroke. All that's required is to take a moment out of your busy routine to gaze at it to become a little familiar with how the grass blades look inside this area. You don't want to stare at it to memorize anything; just visit it a little with your gaze and focus solely on what's inside the perimeter of the quarter-sized area. When you proceed with your targeting and then come back to settle down and pull the trigger, take stock of this area again to see how the ball has to start off straight thru the middle of this small circle of turf. Then just do it. It helps keep the stroke headed the way you intended it to go.


Scott Hoch

blows a 2 footer for the Masters

Doug Sanders

chokes on a 2 footer for the Open

Bernard Langer

gags on a 3 footer with the Ryder Cup in the balance

Ed Sneed

goofs a 2 footer for the Masters


Sian Beilock (r) and her brother Mark (l)


Sian Beilock is a doctoral candidate in the Departments of Psychology and Kinesiology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, where she earned her MA in 2000. Along with Dr. Thomas Carr and others, Sian has been making some important contributions to the scientific understanding of optimal putting technique. Specifically, she has carried out some substantial investigations into putting attention, visualization, and "choking" under pressure. The "choking" study has received attention around the world. The study:

Beilock, S.L. and Carr, T.H., On the Fragility of Skilled Performance: What Governs Choking Under Pressure?, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. December 2001, Volume 130, Number 4, 701-725.

The basic finding is that too much self-conscious focus on the technique leads to choking under pressure, but deliberately exposing yourself to pressure can have an immunizing or insulating effect that leads to improved pressure performance. Here is a brief summary by CBS News of her work and it's real-world implications for golfers on the green:

"Our research agrees with the theory that a person can become too focused on aspects of the way they are performing a specific task," says Thomas Carr, PhD, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Carr was co-author of the paper, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology. "That overdriven awareness can cause the learned process to become bogged down. When that happens, the overall performance can suffer." The research took the following form:

Skill Under Pressure. Carr and his colleague, Sian Beilock, PhD, a student, looked at golf putting as an example of a skill that can suffer under pressure. They split a pool of 54 novice student golfers into three groups and trained all to a high skill level on a golf putting task. The groups trained in one of three different conditions. One group practiced under normal conditions. Members of the second (distraction) group learned to putt while simultaneously performing a secondary task--listening to words presented on a tape recorder and repeating a target word every time they heard it. The third group putted with a video camera set up in front of them. Beilock and Carr told its members to pay close attention to performance because golf pros would review the tapes. For the study, all three groups were given the same low- and high-pressure tests. In the low-pressure test, participants performed a series of putts in a quiet, calm environment. In the high-pressure test, prior to putting, participants were told they had to improve their putting performance to receive money for themselves and a partner who was depending on them. The groups putted about equally well on the low-pressure test, but the picture changed under high pressure. The single-task putting group and the distraction group both got significantly worse under pressure, whereas the self-consciousness group actually improved. The researchers say that their findings suggest that "adapting to an environment where one is forced to attend to performance from the initial stages of learning may provide immunization against the negative effects of performance pressure."

Preventing Poor Performance. "Understanding the cognitive mechanisms leading to poor performance under pressure, as shown in these experiments, can lead to prevention," says Beilock, in "real-world tasks in which serious consequences depend on good or poor performance in relatively public or consequential circumstances." Training under conditions that have individuals attend to their performance, or, conversely, purposely taking one's mind off well-learned skill performance under pressure (for example, by repeating a key word or singing a song), may help, according to the authors. "These findings are interesting because it helps us understand how performance can be impacted by training methods and by the environment in which the performance takes place," says Priti Shah, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "What sports players and other performers have said is true of "choking" appears to be true. Too much focus can be a bad thing. What also is of note here is that this may have implications in other high-pressure, performance-based areas, such as the military or transportation."

In addition to the choking study, Sian has written articles on attention, memory, and visualization in putting:

Beilock, S. L., Carr, T. H., MacMahon, C., & Starkes, J. L. (in press). When Paying Attention Becomes Counterproductive: Impact of Divided versus Skill-Focused Attention on Novice and Experienced Performance of Sensorimotor Skills. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. [Golf putters who pay close attention to how to putt benefit from doing so as learners of skills, but after they have progressed to a well-learned level of expertise, such focus can be harmful to performance -- findings consistent with neurological studies of the reduction of brain activity as a skill becomes more progressively automatic and "overlearned", but perhaps not the full story on the role and value of paying attention / procedural monitoring at the highest levels of putting expertise]

Beilock, S.L., Wierenga, S.A. & Carr, T.H. (in press). Skilled performance and "expertise-induced amnesia." To appear in J.L. Starkes and K.A. Ericsson (Eds.), Recent advances in research on sport expertise. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers. [e.g., Jack Nicklaus' mistaken but firmly-held belief he has never three-putted the final hole in a tournament. See Rotella, Putting Out of Your Mind, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001].

Beilock, S.L., Afremow, J.A., Rabe, A.L., and Carr, T.H. "Don't miss!" The deblitating effects of suppressive imagery on golf putting performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology (Champaign, IL) 23(3), Sep 2001, 200-221 [while negative visualization harms putting performance, positive visualization of the outcome is not shown to benefit the sample golfers -- a finding at odds with much golf psychology and perhaps subject to future qualification].

Harvey Nakamoto at the University of Hawaii reports on the vizualization study in these terms:


The article "Thinking About Errors May Foul Up Athletes," examines the cognitive effects on sensori-motor behaviors. McKinney, the author of this article claims that, "In a study of novice golfers, researchers found that frequently visualizing negative images -- overshooting or undershooting the targets -- before putting had a negative effect on putting performance." McKinney quotes Sian L. Beilock as saying "The effects of positive imagery are still up in the air" because in their studies, "positive imagery didn't benefit performance in comparison to a control group". She suggests a couple of possible reasons for this lack of correlation between positive imagery and improved performance. Beilock suggest that it is possible that the lack of correlation between positive imagery and improved performance is the result of a lack of motivation saying, "the effects of imagery may differ when performed during practice, rather than during actual competition, when stakes are higher." Another possibility she suggest is a lack of skill in imagery techniques saying, "imagery itself is a skill ... it's something that needs to be practiced along with physical skill."

The FULL CHOKING ARTICLE is available online here:

On the Fragility of Skilled Performance: What Governs Choking Under Pressure? Sian L. Beilock Departments of Psychology and Kinesiology Michigan State University Thomas H. Carr Department of Psychology Michigan State University. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. December 2001, Volume 130, Number 4, 701-725.

For more info on Sian and her work: Curriculum Vita.


American Psychological Ass'n Press Release:

WHY DO WE "CHOKE" UNDER PRESSURE? SKILLED GOLFERS PUTT MORE POORLY WHEN SELF-CONSCIOUS Psychologists find that over-attention to well-learned performances may make things worse; however, training that way may actually improve performance under pressure.

Press Reports on Beilock's work:

ABC Mastering the Moment - Ever Fumble Under Pressure? Researchers Think They Know Why By Lee Dye.

CBS Healthwatch: Skill Under Pressure.

BBC News: Why we crack under pressure.

NPR: Talk of the Nation, Feb. 8, 2002. (Beilock interview audio file)

NPR: Science Friday, Feb. 8, 2002. (same - audio file)

Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC): Choke! (4.0 MB MP3 audio file)

Globe and Mail: 'Choking' athletes may try too hard. - Golf Psychology: Choking. (in German)

Medscape: Grace Under Pressure: Lessons in How to Not 'Choke' John Casey, Medical Writer.

Scientific American: PSYCHOLOGY - Athletes Can Train to Avoid Choking under Pressure.

HealthScoutNews Reporter: In Sports, Over-Analysis Leads to Paralysis 'Choking' attributed to thinking too much By Randy Dotinga. (English) (Spanish version)

More on Sian Beilock and Dr Thomas Carr:

MSU Cognitive Psychology Course Materials (PSY 200).

Psychology at Michigan State University - Faculty: Dr Thomas Carr.

Related Choking Studies:

Sports Illustrated for Women: Face Your Fears Choking under pressure is every athlete's worst nightmare. Learn how to keep high anxiety from putting a stranglehold on your performance -- By remaining calm, world-class athletes keep their edge. Manny Millan By Dana Hudepohl.

SelfHelp Magazine: Choking in Big Competitions, by Kaori Araki, Sport Psych. research Team, Univ. Northern Iowa. Feature Story: Study Explores Golf's Pressure Environment By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer. & Golf Magazine, March 2001: Putting Under Stress, by Dr. Debbie Crews, Arizona State Univ. Dept of Exercise Science and Physical Education.

Dr Robin Jackson, Sports Sciences Dept, Brunel University, West London, A behavioral analysis of choking in self-paced skills, PhD Diss, University of St Andrews, 1998.

Choking Karl Slaikeu, Ph.D. and Robert Trogolo Focused for Tennis, in MySportsGuru, courtesy of Human Kinetics.

Is Your Stress IQ Hurting Your Performance? -- by Dr. Mick G. Mack.

Preventing "Choking" and Downward Performance Cycles, Robert M. Nideffer, Ph.D.

Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Dept - Medical Edge: Yips as Choking (online video).

CoachingMotivation.Net: Mental Collapse.

ESPN Mag - El Foldo by Curry Kirkpatrick, May 15, 2001.

Performance Under Pressure: A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing? Lew Hardy and Richard Mullen, in Optimising Performance in Golf. Editor: Patrick R. Thomas, PhD, pp 245-263. Australian Academic Press for Griffith University, Centre for Movement Education, in association with the World Scientific Congress of Golf Trust in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Dr David Conroy, Penn State's Sport Psychology Laboratory Meeting Schedule - Spring 2002, on anxiety and performance.

Dr Randy Isaacson's Sports Psychology Course Materials, Indiana University South Bend.

Competitive Anxiety in Sport (Paper), by Rainer Martens, Robin S. Vealey, and Damon Burton, Human Kinetics, 1990.

Psychological Dynamics of Sport and Exercise-2nd Edition, Diane Gill, Human Kinetics, 2000, chaps. 10-13.

Emotions in Sport, Yuri Hanin, Human Kinetics, 2000, Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) system.

Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology-2nd, Robert Weinberg, Daniel Gould, 2nd Edition, Human Kinetics, 1999, chaps. 4, 11-12.

Golf Nutrition Sciences: Feel Like Choking - Here, Drink This... New Herbal Cure Quickly Reverses The Anxiety & Stress That Causes Golfers to Choke! - Choke: The dirty five-letter word By Patrick J. Cohn PhD 20-Sep-00.

Hearthstone Reviews: Dr Patrick Cohn Interview - What is Choking?

Famous Chokes in Pro Golf:

Fairway To Heaven - Victors & Victims of Golf's Choking Game, by Tim Glover and Peter Higgs

The New Yorker Magazine, Aug. 21 & 28, 2000: Scott Hoke, Retief Goosen, Greg Norman ...

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sep. 10, 2001: Kelly defends his play in Reno Golfer says he didn't choke on par-3 By Gary D'Amato

Did Cambo choke? 18 January 2002 Jim Mahoney looks back at the New Zealand Open. (Michael Campbell's three-jacking from 3 feet on the 71st hole to lose)


Choking Humor:

GolF' Top Ten Signs You're Choking


"No Tour pro likes to hear the c-word, but the fact is, choking comes with the territory."

- Blaine McCallister, MyStory, Tuesday May 16, 2000.

"Where there's golf, there's choking."

- Alan Shipnuck, Sports Illustrated / CNN

"A lot of guys who have never choked, have never been in the position to do so."

- Tom Watson

"I've done my doctoral thesis on choking.... Everyone has his own choking level, a level at which he fails to play his normal golf. As you get more experienced, your choking level rises."

- Johnny Miller, Golf Digest, June 2000

"I went through so many mood changes out there that they need to put me in a ward, probably, because it can't be healthy. Times where you just feel like you're choking. You are shaking one minute and the next minute you are winning a golf tournament."

- David Toms, 2001 PGA Champion, Toms has what champions are made of, by Melanie Hauser Aug. 19, 2001.

"It's amazing," he said. "It's like I've been unconscious. Now it's going to be interesting. I'm used to choking on the cut. I'm nervous on the last hole. Today, I wasn't worried about that. When you are going well, you are not worried about choking."

- Scott Dunlap, after setting record for 36-hole lead at 1996 Canadian Open, but losing the rain-shortened event in the third and final round by skying to a 76.

"I let a Masters get away with a four-shot lead in 1990. That one really bothered me. I can handle losing, though. You have to. We all choke. We hate the word, but I've choked a thousand times."

- Ray Floyd, Golf Digest, June 2000.

"Hagen said that no one remembers who finished second. But they still ask me if I ever think about that putt I missed to win the 1970 Open at St. Andrews. I tell them that sometimes it doesn't cross my mind for a full five minutes."

- Doug Sanders, Golf Digest, June 2000

"No doubt about it, pressure causes choking. Or does it? Actually it is your reaction to pressure that causes choking."

- Tom Weigle, Choke? Who Me?, Tommy Knocker Golf

"Choking is about thinking too much. Panic is about thinking too little. Choking is about the loss of instinct. Panic is reversion to instinct."

- Malcolm Gladwell, The Art of Failure, New Yorker Magazine, as retold in SportsGeekMagazine

"I was choking like a dog."

- Hale Irwin at 2000 US Senior Open

"I was choking like a dog."

- Fred Couples at 1999 World Match Play Championship

"When your mind leaves your body, you are in deep trouble."

- Johnny Miller, The horror of Stage Three choking" -- Johnny talks golf, Golf Digest, Aug. 2001.

"Breathe out worry. Breathe in confidence. Now pot that black."

- GQ Active, Spring 2000



Recent stories of note:


Since the last newsletter, these features have been added to the PZ Website:

Greens : Two very comprehensive additions to the Resources > Organizations section -- a collection of contacts for International Greenkeeper associations in N America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim (gkcontacts.html); and a complete collection of GCSAA Chapters contacts for all of the 100+ US Greenkeeper chapters (gkgcsaachaps.html).

Tips : Revamped to make the page loads quicker by separating the sections into individual pages.

Aids: Several dozens added in March, including all the stuff I learned about from the Orlando PGA Merchandise Show, including a large collection of vendors of outdoor synthetic greens.

Gallery: A montage of putting photos - Putting is Serious Fun.

Science: Over 100 golf science Dissertations, most with abstracts and 1st 24 pages online, on putting and putting-related sports science topics; more added to the Discussion of the science of putting subtopics, including some interactive learning features.

Later, and cheers!

Geoff Mangum
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