Eyes Wide Shut: Why Pro Golfers Sometimes Putt Without Looking at the Ball

Is Keeping Eyes Closed a Technique from which Recreational Golfers Can Learn?

Lexi Thompson putting with her eyes closed during the 2016 Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic
Lexi Thompson has her eyes closed on a putt during the 2016 Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic tournament. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Professional tour golfers have sometimes been caught during tournaments putting with their eyes closed. Yes, with eyes closed.

This isn't as unusual as you might think - at least as a practice technique. Many of the world's best golfers have used the eyes-closed trick in practice. It is much rarer to see it used in tournament play, although it crops up from time to time. Suzann Pettersen and Lexi Thompson are among the golfers who've done it.

And then there's the related trick of looking at the hole while putting, rather than looking at the ball. Many golfers have used this trick, including Johnny Miller, who famously did it during his last PGA Tour victory at the 1994 Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

But what exactly are golfers who close their eyes on putts accomplishing? Michael Lamanna, Director of Instruction at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., says, "There are many examples of tour players who have struggled with their stroke and have resorted to these techniques. When a player loses confidence, they sometimes can relieve doubts by focusing on the hole rather than the ball."

Or by closing their eyes completely. The desired effect is a clearing of the mind, a getting away from ball-focus, from being too mechanical, and allowing well-honed "feel" to take over.

Putting with eyes closed - or with the eyes focused on the hole - is sometimes a last resort for golfers with the yips. Lamanna says:

"Research indicates that players with the yips have rapid eye movements during the stroke. The eyes transmit the necessary club information to the brain and the rapid eye movement interferes with the brain/muscle control. With the eyes closed, or focused on the hole, the player receives information about the club head, stroke path and putter momentum through the hands instead."

Golf instructor Roger Gunn explains that "putting while keeping your eyes closed gives you the feeling you need (in your stroke) ... There is no anticipation of impact and no visual cues from the hole or the ball. It's now pure stroke, which is the goal of professional players."

Gunn adds: "It's when we put the ball and the hole into the mix that everything goes south!"

So can recreational golfers use these techniques in our putting? Well, it's probably not a good idea for a recreational golfer to close his or her eyes during play. Most of us have enough trouble with our eyes open!

But there are ways to incorporate the eyes-closed technique in your practice routines that can help you develop better feel in your putting stroke or in your full swing. Two of them appear below, but also see:

Use 'Putts to Nowhere' In Your Practice Putting Routine

Gunn offers a simple approach to incorporate into a practice routine:

  • Step 1: Hit the practice green, drops some balls, and putt them with your eyes closed. "You want to feel how the stroke just flows back and forth and there's no grabbing the putter around impact," Gunn says.
  • Step 2: Now putt with your eyes open - but do not putt to a hole or other target. "Just stroke the ball and enjoy the feeling of rolling it across the ground without worrying where it's going," Gunn says.

That's it. Very simple. The key, Gunn says, is that over time your real, competition putting stroke should begin to feel exactly like these "putts to nowhere." If not, Gunn says, "then your mind and focus might not be in the same place."

"With a little work along these lines," Gunn says, "you'll find yourself with a great stroke in no time."

Close Your Eyes for Some Practice Swings

The eyes-closed trick isn't just for putting. You can learn better awareness of your swing and better balance by incorporating the eyes-closed trick into your full-swing practice.

Lamanna provides this tip for doing so:

"Players can improve their full swing and driving with the eyes-closed technique. I often ask players who over-swing or have trouble maintaining their balance and/or posture during the full swing to make practice swings with their eyes closed.

"This heightens their kinesthetic awareness of movements and balance and often, with regular practice in this manner, they improve their ball-striking."

Next time you feel yourself overswinging or getting out of balance, work some eyes-closed practice swings into your practice routine.