Coffee does a lot of favors for society. Some might even argue that the Western world wouldn’t run without the stuff (tea-heavy societies excepted). If the coffee machine in your office has ever broken, perhaps you have borne witness to the ensuing panic and tidal wave of groaning and yawning that plagues your colleagues until their automated caffeine dealer is restored to service.
In the most basic of terms, coffee improves our mental alertness and ability to focus on individual tasks. And on top of all that, it can apparently make you better at golf.
A new study published in the August 17 issue of the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examines how caffeine can have a measurable impact on your golf score. In fact, even a moderate intake of coffee can shave about two strokes off your tally if you’re decently skilled at the sport.
Here’s the thing with golf: The gameplay itself is slow, and notoriously boring while players trudge—or cart—between holes. As a result, pro golfers can end up walking up to five miles over the course of a four-course round of the game. And as a result, they end up getting, well, pretty wiped. And on top of the physical fatigue, there’s the mental fatigue of all of that swinging and tapping, says senior author Dr. Kaelin C. Young from the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine.
The research team studied 12 male golfers wearing health-monitoring devices over the course of a two-day, 36-hole tournament, with the players having a handicap of three to 18. All of the golfers were already coffee-drinkers. But on each day, the players were instructed to eat a caffeine-free meal two hours prior to play. Then, before arriving at their tee-off point, they were randomly assigned either a caffeine supplement of 155 milligrams—equivalent to about one cup of coffee—or a placebo. A research assistant record in-round golf data and also served as their caddy.
Participants reported their energy level and mood before playing, and then, after the first nine holes (which they walked rather than using a golf cart), they were administered another dose of caffeine or placebo. At that point, they ate a standard meal and filled out a second survey about their energy level and mood. At the end of the day, they completed another questionnaire.
Researchers found that the players in the caffeine group had an average of two strokes less than the uncaffeinated placebo group, at 77 strokes versus 79. The caffeinated players also said in the surveys that they felt more energetic and less fatigued than their placebo’d counterparts; no surprises there. Participants in the caffeinated group also tended to land more balls on the green and improved accuracy, with reduced distance to the holes.
Although many players already consume caffeine before games, this research offers a more definitive link between coffee-drinking and better performance.
“There’s not a lot of caffeine research in golf,” lead author Petey W. Mumford of Auburn University told Reuters. “Getting your total score lower by even one stroke, that could be the difference between getting into a tournament and not.”
Just don’t go overboard, the study authors warn. It’s practice that makes perfect, not stimulants.
After all, who needs the shakes or a full-blown anxiety attack when you’re trying to delicately tap a ball into a tiny hole six feet away?