Eyes Witness: Vision + Reading Greens

Improving your vision can turn 3-putts into 2s

“WHERE WAS THE BREAK?!” is too often the putter’s creed when leaving it three cups wide of the hole—plus half-a-club length short.

Where, indeed?  Maybe the more important question is, What did you truly see when lining up that putt? Is your 20/20 vision at home—corrected via glasses, contacts, or LASIK—also 20/20 when out on the course? Especially on a hilly course, on a sloping green, and particularly if you’re a midlife golfer—when a harsh glare enters the picture? Not likely.

“One of the things that happens with age is that the lens of the eye gets harder,” says Gary Heiting, O.D., a Minnesota-based optometrist who is well-versed in sports vision and acts as senior editor of the national website, AllAboutVision.com. “The lens loses clarity.” It also loses flexibility, potentially making approach shots and putts less clear.

“When the lenses get opaque it’s a cataract,” Dr. Heiting says. “I’m 60 and I just had cataract surgery. When seeing a flag on a green far, far away—you’re still going to see the flag without the surgery. But I notice color saturation of the flag much better now. It’s something that may not show up in an office setting looking at an object 20 feet away, but out on a course it’s different.”

Turns out, there are at least three key seeing-eye reasons why many club-level golfers three-putt when they needn’t:

• Aging changes in the eyes (presbyopia, or far-sightedness);

• Faulty depth perception; and

• Dominant eye diversions. 

If you’re approaching (or older than) age 40, it may be time to stop giving short shrift to vision practice or work-ups. In fact, sports vision skills, “hybrid” glasses, or minor vision training may well outplay your newest club while surmounting age-related declines. Here, then, are a few sports doc-approved ways to up your game, both visually and therapeutically.

The Aging Eye (and how to outsmart it)

While LASIK surgery and bifocals have battled distortions and the age-related condition of presbyopia for years now (LASIK was approved by the FDA in 1999), some sports vision doctors have come to recommend trifocals for serious golfers—with three distinct lens patterns. The trifocals for sports contain a “middle distance” correction, one that ostensibly helps focus on the exact length from a putter’s eyeline in a hunched stance down to the Sharpie-stripe focal point on the ball while setting up on the green. This third grind accompanies the normal “split screen” pattern of two prescriptive lens shapes.

Going a step further, the Adlens company from England recently introduced to the U.S. FOCUSS, a variable power prescriptive lens that would work well on the fairway or the green. A tiny dial is embedded and hidden in the frame, allowing for “instant” magnification when and where it’s needed.

Of the 54 million Americans who wear prescriptive lenses, some 60% say they are not satisfied with their current lenses, Adlens reports. The purpose of these “variable power optics” is to enable vision correction to be at once more fluid and more responsive. The only drawback to the lenses to date, pre-release, may be its fashion component. Stuffing all that technology into an eyeglass frame means the eyewear isn’t exactly designer-deft-touch dainty. 

Depth Perceptions Deep Dive

In simple terms, depth perception is the ability to see things in three dimensions and also to perceive distance. If either one is slightly out of sync, shots and putts may—and will—go awry. So when we judge the distance of a chip, a sand shot, or a putt, we may think we’re looking at one “line,” one length from eyes to hole. Yet things are not that simple. In reality, each eye “computes” its separate distance to process the look; then each retina processes the 2-D estimate before sending it on to the brain. Then the two images are blended, averaged, and you have your 3-D estimate, or “read.” There’s math going on here! (The official term of the different distances we record from each eye is: binocular disparity.)

One way to fix the discrepancy that may occur, especially on long putts, is to line up the putt shoulders to the hole behind the ball, as many pros do before they square to the ball (but from the same height as your putting stance). This way, each of the depth or distance estimates of each retina is equal. It’s a more precise way to gauge your line. Or at the least, the proper length of the line.

Know Your Dominant Eye

Whether or not you’ve ever tested for it, you possess one dominant eye, much as you have a dominant hand. Yet this physiological dominance is far less known and appreciated. In sports, the notion of eye dominance was popularized by many pro athletes in the 1980s and 1990s who worked with Donald Teig, O.D., of Ridgefield, Conn.

Once you know your dominant eye, it helps to have that eye take the lead in lining up short shots or putts. Or—in sports like baseball or hockey—that move more quickly than golf, it helps to alter your batting or fielding postures so that your dominant eye is closer to the approaching pitch or moving puck.

“The big thing you want to do is develop peripheral awareness,” says Heiting. “It’s almost like a meditative thing.” It’s also a confidence builder of sorts, because once you become aware of your dominant eye leading your execution on and around the green, you know you’ve added one more component of “a good read.”

To find your dominant eye in less than one minute, do the following:

1) With arms outstretched and palms facing forward, bring your hands together, sliding one most of the way over the other, forming a small triangle (a “keyhole” to view through), with your thumbs as the base and index finger bottoms forming the top point of the triangle.

2) Choose a target or object to view—a picture on a wall, say—approximately 15 feet away.

3) Slowly bring the triangle toward your face, keeping the view on the object until your hands (and the triangle) are just sixinches or so away from your face.

Whichever eye you are still using to view through the keyhole is your dominant eye. This is the eye that should take the lead on the putting green or on the fringe. You don’t want to close the other eye; just lead with your strength. You know, the strength you didn’t realize you had, just a moment ago.


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Colorado AvidGolfer is the state’s leading resource for golf and the lifestyle that surrounds it. It publishes eight issues annually and proudly delivers daily content via www.coloradoavidgolfer.com.