There are books about how to improve at golf. Lots of books. There are harnesses to help you keep your head down, gloves to make sure your grip doesn't slip and mantras for you to recite so your concentration never wavers at the top of your backswing.
And then there is jazz.
To help explain the latest technique to help your game on the greens, Clarkson University Assistant Professor of Physical Therapy Ali Boolani joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: First of all, tell us about the study you and four other researchers designed in order to explore the effect of music on putting, and what conclusion you were able to draw.
AB: What we did was, we were interested in seeing if music genres impacted putting performance. So we had them perform putts from five feet away, and we had them in five different orders. So we had them go around in a random order and we played music on random days, so they came in on multiple days and we measured their putting accuracy using the number of putts that they were able to sink.
And we were only really able to do five from each spot because all of these golfers were very talented. They were all Division I golfers. So they learned the course very easily. Therefore we had to limit the number of times that they could putt. And what we saw was, with every music genre it actually improved their putting, but jazz improved it the most.
BL: How much improvement are we talking about?
Theoretically, [jazz] improves how well you think and how well you read things. And so that's kind of the theory behind it.Ali Boolani, Clarkson University
AB: Out of 25, they made an extra three. So on average they were hitting a little over 14, and then, when we had them putt with jazz, they were putting in about 17 strokes.
BL: Wow, that sounds significant. Do you golf and, if so, have you figured out what's most beneficial for you to listen to on the greens?
AB: Well if you've ever seen my YouTube video, you'll know I'm absolutely horrible.
And so, I have to find whatever aids that I can. And I've tried different genres — even then I still get my butt kicked.
BL: Golf Digest some time ago named Kenny G as the best musician/golfer. Maybe smooth jazz is the way to go?
AB: Maybe. That's something that maybe I should go ahead and investigate, looking at the different genres of jazz. But hey, that's what my job is, right? To try to figure answers out. Beauty of science.
BL: There are a lot of different styles that fall under the broad umbrella of jazz, of course.
I'm guessing the London Experimental Jazz Quartet's “Time is of the Essence” might lead to a three-putt or even a four-putt.
AB: I don't know. That's something that, once again, we should probably just investigate. There's just so much more out there. What jazz does is, theoretically, it improves how well you think and how well you read things. And so that's kind of the theory behind it. However, we do need to further investigate the reasons behind jazz.
BL: I can't help but wonder whether at any point in your study any of the golfers just put their hands over their ears and shouted, "Please, make it stop!?"
AB: You know, they might have done that a time or two. But I don't want any celebrities coming after me.
BL: Do you anticipate that as a result of this study, golfers across the land will be putting on headphones or inserting earbuds when they reach the green?
AB: Well I hope not. I mean, you want to be able to hear, "Fore!" — right?
BL: Oh, that's a good point.
AB: Yeah, so, maybe just when they're practicing it can help them better read and think more clearly. But when they're playing you might want to be a little careful. That golf ball comes at you pretty hard.
[sidebar title="Tiger Vs. Golf Digest" width="630" align="right"]Earlier this week, Tiger Woods responded to a "fake" interview with a real first-person essay. [/sidebar]
BL: Absolutely. I'm wondering also whether everybody should have a playlist for all the different things you have to do on the course. One selection for driving, another for the 5-iron to get you onto the green, and then of course into your jazz for putting.
AB: That's an excellent point, I've never really thought about that. But I would think, when you look at things such as running and such, high-tempo music really impacts running and it increases running speed. So maybe with the drive you can listen to high-tempo music and be able to drive farther. But that's a good point.
BL: It really is feeling as if you better have further plans to study this whole thing. This is a career, right?
AB: That's what I'm hoping. I'm hoping I can make a career out of studying golf and music and sports. I actually have some other studies in mind that I want to do with this. But I've got another couple right now that I'm working on, looking at basketball jump-shooting and music as well as baseball and music.
BL: Baseball and music. Tell me more.
AB: Well this was with college baseball players. We found that country music helped them hit home runs. We basically just had them hit balls that came out of a pitching machine, and it was basically like the Home Run Derby. It probably didn't hurt that the study was done in Oklahoma, with a lot of local Oklahoma guys. So, you know ... that might've helped.
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This segment aired on November 22, 2014.