Friday, July 8, 2011
The Putting Priority
This weekend I was playing golf with a stranger and he commented how much he liked my putting stroke. I’ve gotten that over the years because my putting stroke has generally been very ‘smooth’ and ‘buttery looking.’ Mind you, it’s not something I consciously do. In fact, I probably am more conscious of NOT trying to have that ‘smooth’ and ‘buttery’ stroke because as the Karlsen and Nilssen putting research study showed, one can have too slow of a thru stroke to their detriment and that’s generally what golfers do….get too slow with their thru stroke. I like to call it ‘being too careful with the stroke.’
I had mentioned this to my playing partner and that more or less I don’t care all that much about the stroke, whether it’s ‘straight back-straight thru’ style of ‘symmetrical arc’ style. Furthermore, I think both are very flawed in theory…but that’s another point in time to be made.
He then asked ‘what do you think is the most important part to putting well?’
As I’ve mentioned many times here, I replied ‘speed and touch.’
Now, I’ve said that too many times to count. But, I never quite understood the exact why until about a month ago other than the ‘well, if I miss the read and/or the line, if I have great speed I’ll have an easy second putt and it will cut down my 3-putts.’
I think that’s still true, but I think there’s more to it and why any golfer will MAKE more putts when their speed is better. I think that for the most part, there’s almost a direct correlation between the two.
I actually started to understand why speed and touch are so important and why they correlate to MAKING putts when I played Shingle Creek Golf Course in Orlando. That day I shot 68 (-4) with the following made putts:
#4 – 30 footer for birdie
#7 – 20 footer for birdie
#13 – 20 footer for birdie
#15 – 10 footer for par
#16 – 8 footer for birdie
#17 – 12 footer for par
#18 – 60 footer for birdie
That was approximately 170 feet worth of putts (and yes, I hit 12 greens in regulation).
The one thing I noticed about my putting that day was my speed/touch was impeccable. I don’t think I had one of those putts go in where they barely died into the cup or hit the back dirt of the cup pretty hard (tough to tell on the 60 footer, but it looked like perfect speed to me).
You see, the best way to make putts is to hit a putt so you can get the optimal amount of capture width. That increases your chances of the ball finding the cup. THAT is what’s most important with putting and THAT is why speed/touch should be the #1 priority in putting.
When I lived in Atlanta, I used to play golf with a group of guys about 2 times a week. We would have about 20-30 of us and we would usually play 4-man teams, in a best ball format (with handicaps). When there would be 1 golfer in with a par and another putting for birdie, they would tell him to ‘give it a run because par is in.’ And more often than not the guy would knock it way past the cup.
The theory behind ‘give it a run because par is in’ is that you want to give yourself a chance because if you leave it short, the ball has no chance of going in. The flaw in that thinking is like the video shows above. If you hit it very hard, you’re essentially going from have 0% chance of making a putt that goes short to having an extremely small amount of capture width by ‘making sure you get it there.’ And with that amount of capture width, you may be giving yourself about a less than 5% chance of making the putt. Had you hit like you normally would, you probably increase your chances of making the putt because for every putt you leave short, there are putts that you would ‘get there.’ And that’s on putts that go about 5 feet past the cup (1/2 and inch of capture width). It’s not rare to see golfers who ‘at least get it there’ to go 10 feet past the cup. So essentially they are giving themselves no chance to make that putt either, even though they ‘got it there.’
I think one will start to really see this when you get that round of golf where you are hot with the putter. Look to see what your speed was like on those putts that went in. And then when you follow up with a day when you ‘can’t make anything’, notice how the speed just is not nearly as good as it was the day you made all of those putts.
Obviously, there are many things that go into good speed like green reading, striking the putt consistently well, etc. But I think you will find that perfect stroke mechanics and even striking the ball on the sweetspot are not as important as you think in order to get a good speed. At Shingle Creek, I didn’t strike all of those putts perfectly, but I read the putts well and had the perfect speed and good enough aim to make quite a few bombs.
From there you’ll see that we want to optimize the capture width to optimize our putting performance.