Imagine a golfer in a professional tournament. She is about to attempt a putt on the 18th hole.

On naturalism, the golfer’s behavior is determined by neurophysiological events in the brain. Some of these brain events determine that the golfer follows through on the putt, and some of them determine that she does not follow through. Now, after the club contacts the ball, the path of the ball is completely determined by the putting green surface and other physical conditions, like wind. On naturalism, the follow-through, if there is one, has no causal effect on whether the ball finds the cup. Since there are two possibilities, follow through or not, we may reasonably assume that the probability that a follow-through occurs is something close to ½.

Unlike a gymnastics competition, where there are sentient judges who award points for form, a golf tournament is a blind selection process. The golf tournament does not care who has the most textbook technique. The only thing the golf tournament selects for is the ability to complete the holes in fewer strokes than the other golfers. Since a follow-through is causally downstream of the neurophysiological event that determined the golfer’s putting behavior, and since the putting behavior determines the result (given the other conditions), the golf tournament selection process is blind to follow-through. On naturalism, golfers who consistently finish high in professional tournaments should be no more likely to follow through on any given putt than those who do poorly. However, experience shows that nearly 100 per cent of successful pro golfers follow through on nearly 100 per cent of their putts. The probability of this happening on naturalism is low or inscrutable--perhaps even inscrutably low. Therefore, we have sufficient evidence to reject the null hypothesis of naturalism.

Does this argument work? If not, where does it go wrong?

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    "Since there are two possibilities, follow through or not, we may reasonably assume that the probability that a follow-through occurs is something close to ½." This is unjustified (to put it mildly). – Noah Schweber Mar 4 '20 at 23:25
  • Fair enough. : ) – Willie Betmore Mar 4 '20 at 23:28
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    I think this ignores the possibility that it's a trait of human neurology/psychology that motions which look a certain way up to time T may be easier to do if the intention is to continue the motion in a certain way after T (i.e. if there's a certain follow-through). Note various versions of Libet experiments that show certain actions of decisions to move a certain way are preceded by a short period of building neural potentials, it could equally be there's a link between follow-through and brain activity before it. – Hypnosifl Mar 5 '20 at 0:08
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    "On naturalism, the golfer’s behavior is determined by neurophysiological events in the brain"??? I assume "naturalism" includes those who accept the standard interpretations of quantum mechanics and hence random events. Then nothing "determines" golfer’s behavior. If anything, this argument is about determinism, not naturalism. And even assuming determinism, there is no one event that "determines" any other event, the state of the entire environment does, and "other physical conditions, like wind" make the result effectively random anyway. – Conifold Mar 5 '20 at 0:51
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    The argument does not work because you fail to rule out many possible and reasonable explanations. For instance, it's possible that shots that follow-through tend to be different from shots that don't, even prior to the act of following through. Also, I assume that golfers are being taught to follow-through, so whether it helps or not it shouldn't be surprising that top players do it. – Eliran Mar 5 '20 at 2:28

I think this problem is actually a physical problem, not a statistical or philosophical problem. And I think you’ll get better answers than mine if you post this problem on Physics SE.

All pro golfers, and all golfers who have a good form alike, always follow through after hitting the ball because that’s both the most effective way and the least injury-prone way to hit the ball. So, they are taught and trained to do so – the practice of following-through is intentional and does not happen in them by haphazardly by chance. That’s why the chance that all pro golfers do the follow through approaches 100 per cent.

The most effective way to hit the ball.

The collision between the golf club and the golf ball is not a collision between two perfectly rigid bodies. Unlike the collision between two perfectly rigid billiard balls when the contact time between the two balls is virtually negligible and the effects from the incoming ball ceases immediately after it hits the outgoing ball (i.e., no follow-through effects at all), the actual contact time between the golf club and the golf ball lasts some milliseconds and the effects from the golf club depends on the time it remains in contact with the ball.

Follow-Through in Sports

In sports where rackets and bats are used, like tennis, cricket, squash, badminton and baseball, the hitter is often encouraged to follow-through when striking the ball. High speed films of the collisions between bats/rackets and balls have shown that following through increases the time over which the collision between the racket/bat and ball occurs. This increase in the time of the collision causes an increase in the velocity change of the ball. This means that a hitter can cause the ball to leave the racket/bat faster by following through. In these sports, returning the ball with a higher velocity often increases the chances of success.”[1]

So, if a follow-through is not executed and the golf club stops at the moment it impacts the ball, then the time of contact between them will be less than if a follow-through is executed. As a result, the energy transferred to and the control of direction of movement of the ball will be less effective. Thus, to hit the ball most effectively, the hitter must do a follow-through after he hits the ball.

The least injury-prone way to hit the ball.

One may ask “why not stop the golf club immediately after the above mini-follow through is done and the ball has actually separated and moved away from the club, that is, why do the whole-range follow-through?”.

The answer is

  1. Physiologically, it’s impossible to do just the mini-follow through. To stop swinging the golf club immediately after the ball has separated from the club, we must know when that moment occurs. But it takes time for the physical signal of that separation to travel down the golf club to the hand to the spinal cord and finally to the brain of the golfer, and it also takes time for signal processing and sending back signals to the involved muscles to stop swinging the club. So, physiologically it’s impossible to halt the club swing immediately after the ball has left the club. However, it’s possible to halt the club swing some milliseconds after the ball has left the club, but this is a dangerous thing to do.

  2. Physically, when one swings a golf club, momenta are imparted to not only the golf club but also several parts of the body – the arms, the body, the hips, the legs, etc. – and the muscles of these parts are contracting, some of them quite strongly. The more energetic the swing, the more momenta are imparted and the more strongly the muscles contract. If one tries to stop this whole complex, energetic movement and muscle contraction suddenly, injuries can occur to these parts. So, to avoid these potential injuries, one must follow through the whole range and let the momenta dissipate and the muscles relax gradually.

… upper torso rotation during follow-through phase of the golf swing likely contributes to power generation and to a smooth swing pattern that may prevent injury, and thus may warrant specific training strategies. [2]


The follow-through is important in slowing the body parts down over a longer period of time, absorbing the forces produced and helping to prevent injuries.[3]

In conclusion:

  • To stop swinging the golf club at the moment it hits the ball is not an effective way to hit the ball.
  • To stop swinging the golf club at the moment the ball departs the golf club is physiologically impossible.
  • To stop swinging the golf club some milliseconds after the ball departs the golf club is possible but injury-prone.

Therefore, all golfers are taught and trained to do the complete follow-through. Because the advice works, this results in the majority of golfers, especially pro golfers, do the complete follow-through, leaving only few golfers, if any, not doing the complete follow-through. That’s why the chance that golfers, and even more so for pro-golfers, do the complete follow-through approaches 100 percent.


  1. 12.13 Physics in action Siyavula textbooks: Grade 11 Physical Science.

  2. Katherine M. Steele, Eugene Y. Roh, Gordhan Mahtani, David W. Meister, Amy L. Ladd, and Jessica Rose. Golf Swing Rotational Velocity: The Essential Follow-Through. Ann Rehabil Med. 2018 Oct; 42(5): 713–721.

  3. Skill Analysis & Coaching GymSports. New Zealand.

  • This is an excellent and very thorough answer of the physical side of why follow-through is a good, perhaps necessary, part of the technique. I've never hit a golf ball, but I play in a Wednesday night 8-ball league. I can attest that follow-through helps with timing even in pool, even though it doesn't make the tip stay on the cue ball any longer (like in other sports). Thanks for the answer and references! – Willie Betmore Mar 6 '20 at 1:42
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    I would think another reason to follow through is that it has an accuracy advantage, in that it's a simpler motor program for the brain to deploy than a swing followed by a stop. In a swing with follow-through, there is no engagement of the muscle groups that oppose the swing. By reducing the complexity, it allows the golfer to focus on what matters to the shot. – Chelonian Mar 6 '20 at 6:45
  • @Chelonian I completely agree with you. It’s certainly easier and requires less energy to follow through than not, too. All in all, the follow-through has much more advantages than the not-follow-through. As humans seek to do what’s best for themselves, they choose to do the follow through (and not the not-follow-through, which gives them no advantages but many disadvantages instead). This is another way of answering this question of why nearly 100 percent of golfers do the follow-through: they simply choose what is best for themselves. – user287279 Mar 6 '20 at 8:28

Your suggestion is that "whether to follow through or not" is causally inert, in that how hard and in what direction one hits the ball is the causal factor, not the specific psychological manner in which one translates the wish to putt into physical actions. That would imply that the reason, therefore, shouldn't be considered a cause if we're being physicalist. And yet, as a suggestion of the need to contrapose and suggest a distinct category of mental events, the apparent success of the psychological practice of following through in putting seems hard to deny given the frequency of the trait in professional golfers.

This feels close to some "Actions, Reasons and Causes" discussion. Donald Davidson, in his theory of Anomalous Monism, suggested that mental events often give explanatory power, and seem to be very difficult to separate from how we practically evaluate states of affairs, but don't easily fit into a framework of cause and effect. Doing so reveals something very strange with the mental landscape, which is that mental events can only feature in causation as redescriptions of physical systems, despite this explanatory value.

We treat "following through" as an explanation of a particular physical action in the context of professional golf. However, a Physicalist can identify the mechanisms of "following through" as token instances of brains having learned (usually through instruction, repeated practice and rehearsal) how to effectively and consistently make golf swings. Professional golfers' success comes from their being able to repeatedly and accurately reproduce good swings, and as a technique for carrying out such swings, following through seems to work.

(by the way, I have no idea whether any of this talk of following through and swinging is accurate - it is important to say that this is an empirical question in sports psychology, which is only serving in this discussion to illustrate a puzzle for the philosophy of psychology in general)

I think you've correctly pointed out an interesting defense in the literature of mental events, but physicalists can account for them if they also accept that mental event descriptions are just descriptions, rather than type reductions suitable for logical composition in their own right. We're trying to tell a good story about what the brain is doing, not rehabilitate a scientific version of the folk psychology of mental tokens.

  • You hit on something very important by pointing out repetition. It's not as if golfers get one putt opportunity in their life. Thanks for the link on anomalous monism. It looks promising. Thanks! – Willie Betmore Mar 6 '20 at 2:13

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