Optical Illusion Can Improve Your Golf Game

A clever mind game may help you score a birdie!
Karin Heineman, ISTV Executive Producer

Golfers will tell you there's no substitute for practice. But even after years of practice, some players still struggle for a hole-in-one.

In studies at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., cognitive psychologist Jessica Witt found that simply making a hole appear larger on the green can improve a golfer's putting accuracy by as much as ten percent.

“When the hole looked bigger participants were also more successful at putting. So, making the golf hole look bigger, even though it hadn’t changed size, it just looked bigger, led to more golf putting success,” said Witt, now at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

The trick employs a common optical illusion called the Ebbinghaus illusion and created by surrounding the hole with smaller-sized circles to make it appear bigger than it actually is. The illusion is easily modeled on a practice green and can help build a golfer's putting confidence as he or she plays through 18 holes.

“So on days when you’re performing well, that ability to succeed also influences what you see, and on days when you’re not performing well, that lack of ability changes what you see,” Witt said.

Some old-fashioned practice couldn’t hurt, either.

Witt’s future research applies the Ebbinghaus illusion to field-goal kicking in football by having fans holding up cards to help the goal look bigger or smaller, depending on what team is kicking.


Get Inside The Science:

Study: Golfers can improve their putt with a different look

Jessica Witt, Colorado State University

Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.