Eye Opener

Hitting the Links with
Craig Farnsworth, OD

Dr. Craig Farnsworth, right, with his star pupil and PGA Pro Nick Faldo.

Craig Farnsworth, OD has always had a love affair with golf. “My father was a golf pro and I was drawn to the game as a kid,” says the Denver-based optometrist. “I realized early on it was my passion and I always wanted to integrate it with my vocation.” He’s done just that since the late 1970s, when he added sports vision to the scope of his practice. Four years ago, he wrote a book entitled “See It & Sink It,” a how-to guide to better vision on the golf course. He eventually became a certified Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour instructor, working with dozens of pro golfers. Fully retired from practice, he owns and operates the See and Score Golf School in La Quinta, Calif. L&T caught up with him on the links  to discuss sports vision.

How did you get involved in sports vision?
Back in the mid-1970s, I heard about work being done by two optometrists with the Kansas City Royals baseball team. These two docs had taken the team from last in the league in batting to first in one year. Since I had an interest in sports, I set about trying to find out what these guys were doing. I ended up spending countless hours at the home of William Lee, OD, who has since passed on, and gleaning a wealth of knowledge. His work became the foundation for my learning the sub-specialty of sports vision and shortly thereafter I got a call from Bill Harrison, OD, my other mentor, to assist with the vision-screening program for the U.S. Olympic Committee. The rest, as they say, is history.

Why did you leave to pursue it full-time?
Back when I was practicing, my optometry colleagues would never ask me how my practice was going. They’d always ask about my golf game. It was my passion and they knew it. Around 1997, I started planning to get out of full-time practice. By the time I semi-retired and sold my practice in 2000, I was traveling to golf schools almost every week”

How has your experience as an optometrist translated into your new career?
I have taken my profession to another level. I work on the concept that almost everything an athlete does starts with what he sees. The ability to line up shots on the golf course, putts in particular, is about as visual as it gets. Now, 90 percent of my golfer clients come to me for advice on aligning their body and the club to the target consistently. Their vision isn’t bad—many see 20/20—but their visual skills are. They may have to relearn their swings in addition to rethinking how they use their vision on the course.

What do you think your work does to benefit your clients?
I haven’t met anyone yet who has worked with us and not felt we’ve impacted their life or profession in some way. My work helps athletes with the essential elements of their game. In the case of golfers, many are not what we call “green ready,” meaning they lack the visual discrimination and recognition skills to read greens. They don’t know where to look and how to look. We give them visual exercises they can do on their own to improve these skills, improve their visual endurance and reduce stress.

Who are the other athletes you’ve worked with?
I worked with Nick Faldo for two days in Orlando in 1996 and found after a few tests that he was perceiving the hole left and short of where it really was on the green. He was dumbfounded that I could determine that. We worked with his visual skills. A month later he started the season. In two months, he went from being the 96th-ranked putter on the PGA Tour to number one. And he won the Masters that year. Through my career, I’ve also worked with guys like [former pro football star] Tony Dorsett and former [pro basketball star] Kiki Vandeweghe. I’ve worked with more than 100 Tour players on visual alignment alone.

What lenses can help athletes’ performance?
It really depends on the player. Tints, polarized filters, photochromics. We’ve recommended them all. Most athletes now are having laser surgery. Some still wear contacts. But we often recommend they use some type of eyewear, for sun protection or to read the greens. We’ve found that lighter tints work better for them in discerning slopes on greens. They improve visual attenuation, visual discrimination and eye-hand coordination, and they still offer good glare protection.

How can other ECPs get into sports vision?
You’ve got to be able to go to meetings and learn. The American Optometric Association’s Sports Vision Section has annual meetings and there are smaller meetings all over the country. I’d also suggest observing other sports vision practitioners at work. It’s amazing what you can learn from that. You have to be able to take your practice to the fields where the athletes work. That’s the essence of the specialty.