Nova Scotia

Heads up! Antigonish a hotbed for a unique golf technique

Contrary to common practice, golfers who keep their eye on where they want the ball to go while putting could have a higher chance of sinking the putt, Nova Scotia researchers have found.

New research has found golfers who keep their eyes up while putting were more successful

Typically, players look up and down before putting, but their eyes are usually on the ball when their putter strikes it. Australia's Jason Day putts on the 3rd green during the second round of the Australian Open Golf tournament in Sydney, Nov. 24, 2017. (Rick Rycroft/Associated Press)

Golfers who keep their eyes focused on where they want the ball to go have a higher chance of sinking a putt, Nova Scotia researchers have found. 

A team based at St. Francis Xavier University observed that, contrary to common practice, golfers who looked up instead of down while putting were more successful. 

Human kinetics professor Sasho MacKenzie and his student Neil MacInnis recently published their findings in the International Journal of Golf Science

St. F.X. professor Sasho MacKenzie says U.S. golfer Jordan Spieth is one of the few pro golfers using the heads-up putting technique. Spieth is pictured here on the 17th green during the second round of the Australian Open Golf tournament on Nov. 24, 2017. (Rick Rycroft/Associated Press)

MacInnis said they applied a convention used in basketball or hockey. 

"You're usually looking at a far target when you're throwing your free throw or taking a shot on net, so what we think is why wouldn't we do that for golf?" 

They held sessions over four days with 28 experienced golfers who tested the hypothesis with breaking putts — shots where the green slopes and golfers don't aim directly for the hole. 

Forty per cent of the putts where golfers looked at the target line went in the hole — three per cent more than when they kept their eyes on the ball. 

To put that in perspective, MacInnis said golfers typically make 33 putting strokes a round.

"It doesn't sound like it's a big difference but if you think about it in golf terms … you're going to save one stroke a round and that's actually very meaningful for golfers," he said. 

Neil MacInnis of Mabou, N.S., did his honours thesis on putting techniques while studying at St. Francis Xavier University. (Dan Aponte)

MacKenzie operates a golf biomechanics lab in an inconspicuous former municipal building in Antigonish, N.S.

His research focuses on the optimal way for golfers to swing their clubs and how to customize equipment for individual players.

"I think Antigonish right now is the largest population of heads-up golfers probably in the world," he said with a laugh. 

Golf is a traditional game and players are often reluctant to try new things, especially given that it's hard to quantify if a new technique actually helps, he said. 

"Most are very dismissive, but by the end of the study when we show them, 'Look, you actually putted better looking at the far target,' … many of them will convert," MacKenzie said. 

Human kinetics professor Sasho MacKenzie demonstrates the technique of keeping eyes fixed on the target while putting in the golf lab at St. F.X. (Submitted by Neil MacInnis)

MacKenzie often presents his findings to golf instructors at conferences across the United States and said golfers like Jordan Spieth, who was already using the heads-up technique on the PGA tour, drew attention to it while the research was happening and made people "more receptive" to his findings. 

MacInnis is now doing graduate work with the Ice Hockey Research Group at McGill University, but he said his golf game performance has "increased dramatically" since adopting the heads-up technique himself.

He hopes the study may have filled some gaps in an under-studied area and he said it would be interesting to look at how golfers using the technique would perform over several years. 

Part of the appeal of the research, he said, is its practicality. 

"It's something that's useful for right now. It's not something that would necessarily be hidden away in a journal somewhere, but something that someone could take and almost use immediately." 


Elizabeth McMillan is a journalist with CBC in Halifax. Over the past 13 years, she has reported from the edge of the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic Coast and loves sharing people's stories. Please send tips and feedback to