One of my readers asked me recently what I thought was more important...understanding speed/touch or green reading.
I do find that green reading is undoubtedly important. For instance, I went my entire golfing life never understanding the Geometry of a Putt, like shown in this video.
However, I still believe that understanding that speed/touch is the most important step to better putting. And if you are willing to go 'all in' with believing as to why it's important, then you can start to really make some putts.
This video here, by 3Jack Top 20 Putting Instructor, Geoff Mangum, is important to know by heart.
While I enjoy Mangum's work, part of the issue I have with understanding it is that he often tries to speak in layman's terms and winds up confusing myself even more...so I'll try to translate for you.
First, I'll work a little backwards. When we are talking about speed, we are NOT talking about the 'distance past the cup.' Dave Pelz believes that the optimal speed is a putt that goes 17 inches past the cup. 17 inches past the cup is not a *speed*, it's a distance.
It's very important to understand the flaw between the two. Mangum states that it is ill advised to think of putts in terms of distance past the cup because our brain, more or less, doesn't operate that way.
However, it shows how ill advised the concept of one certain distance past the cup would be an optimal speed for a putt. The reality is that if we wanted to measure speed by the amount of distance past the cup...it would vary depending upon the type of grass on the green, green stimp and slope of the putt.
Imagine if I were going to roll 1 ball up a hill and roll another ball down a hill.
I could really chuck the ball up the hill and that ball will be traveling at a very fast rate of revoultions per second. But what happens is that it will come to a skreetching halt. Kinda like going 60 mph and slamming on the brakes of a car.
Conversely, the ball down the hill can be thrown at a slower rate and will come to a stop...eventually. This is sorta like a car that is pumping the brakes instead of slamming them.
That difference between 'slamming' the brakes (uphill) and 'pumping' the brakes (downhill) cause different distances past the cup.
Thus, *if* we were going to measure optimal speed by the distance past the cup...it is NOT going to be 17 inches every time. Nor will it be 12 inches every time, or 6 inches every time. And yes, the same concept works for slow greens (slam the brakes) vs. slick green (pump the brakes).
And in reality, if we were to measure optimal speed by distance past the cup, it's actually more like 6 to 12 inches past the cup (closer to 6 on uphill/slow putts and closer to 12 on downhill/fast putts).
One question I have been asked goes something like 'if I hit a putt that goes 17 inches past the cup, what's the big deal...nobody is perfect and that isn't too far from the optimal distance past the cup, right?'
If you start to obsess about your speed, you will start to see on a slow, uphill putt that if you hit it 17 inches past the cup...you hit it too hard. You can still make the putt if you have the line, but it's clearly not the optimal speed for the putt. Think about it...if the optimal distance past the cup on the putt is 6 inches and you hit it 17 inches past, you hit it about 3 times too hard.
WHAT IS OPTIMAL SPEED?
Mangum says about 2 to 3 revolutions per second. Obviously, humans can't quite measure that.
So, it will look like a putt that will drop into the middle of the cup to the back edge of the plastic. Mangum states that this is what golfers should envision when they are putting instead of thinking about hitting it a certain distance past the cup.
However, if you are insistent about feeling the distance past the cup, it's more like 6 to 12 inches. If you have always looked at things from a distance past the cup perspective, I would suggest that you still work on that, while slowly integrating the visualization of the ball rolling in at 2-3 revolutions per second (dropping into the middle to the back plastic) of the cup.
What I have done is on longer putts I think more about the revolutions per second and on shorter putts, like 10 feet and in, I still think distance past the cup because I'm trying to work that into my visualization.
One thing Geoff explains is what we like to call 'capture width.' This is the effective size the hole becomes dependent upon how hard we hit the ball.
If we don't get the ball to the cup, our capture width is 0.
If we hit the ball harder than 9 revs/second, our capture width is 0.
If we hit it at 9 revs/second, the hole effectively becomes the size of 1 dimple (0.14 inches).
I believe the max capture width is at 3.5 inches.
Very important to grasp this because we obviously want to putt to the largest cup we possibly can.
If you want to play the odds, the odds of making putts will increase in a golfer's favor the better their speed/touch is. And they will decrease the worse their speed/touch is. And this is regardless of aim and green reading.
Sure, there is that occasional time where you catch fire despite poor speed/touch, but on average that will not be the case.
Imagine if you had a regulation basketball rim (18 inches in diameter) and a special made basketball rim that was 54 inches in diameter). You would automatically start making more free throws in the special made 54 inch rim, even if your mechanics and aim had not changed one lick.
It's tough to green read, aim and hit it where you aim...right on the money each time. Thus, if you can putt to a larger cup you are greatly increasing your odds of making a putt.
WHY MICKELSON GETS IT WRONG
At the Deutsche Bank Championship Mickelson decided to go to a belly putter. He did shoot a 63 in the 3rd round, but later mentioned that he felt like he 'didn't make a thing.'
The reality was that he actually putted poorly with the belly putter. He actually dropped about 30 spots in the 'Putts Gained' rankings.
Mickelson's issue is that he hits his putts entirely too hard. I believe it's because he wants to take the break out of the putt, particularly on short putts.
But, by doing that he's actually decreasing his odds of making a putt. He's actually making the cup 'smaller' and now needs to be *more* precise in order for the putter to drop.
I find this common with amateurs. They also try to take the break out of the putt, either on purpose or subconsciously. It's also a common theme to hear 'make sure you get it there' in scrambles or best ball tournaments where one guy is in for par and the other is putting for birdie and wants to make sure they 'get it there.'
Then they'll knock it 8 feet bye and say 'well, at least I got it there.'
What's funny is those that bemoan the golfer that left it short by 1 inch or so. The putt they knocked 8 feet past the cup had the same chance as going in as the putt left left 1 inch short. But, the putt left 1 inch short may have been due to mis-hitting the putt slightly or a spike mark or an indentation in the green, etc. That putt left 1 inch short...probably has a chance to get to the hole eventually and start dropping. The putt hit 8 feet bye does the golfer no good, whatsoever.
GREEN READING FACTOR
This does not mean that I find green reading unimportant. I do believe that one can be a great at green reading and the putt will not drop if their speed is terrible. AimPoint Golf’s green reading is for putts with a distance of about 12 inches past the cup. Thus, if I leave a putt short of the cup, it will not go in. And if I hit a putt that goes more than 9 revs/second, it cannot physically drop into the cup. And if I hit one at 7 revs/second…it’s not likely to go in the cup either.
However, I feel that green reading is a vital supplement to developing a good touch on the greens.
What most golfers tend to do is that they will aim at the apex of the break of a putt. Typically, that means they will miss the putt on the low side.
And what usually happens is that golfers will hit the ball too hard to straighten out the putt. As I discussed earlier with Mickelson, that actually makes the cup effectively smaller and decreases the golfer’s chance of making putts. I also believe that golfers tend to have their brain go haywire after hitting a few putts too hard and then start leaving putts short.
I think the better putters who don’t quite understand the geometry of a putt probably used the idea of ‘play 2-3 times more break than you think’ and did place an importance on speed/touch on the greens. The ‘play 2-3 times more break than you think’ is not exactly correct either. A golfer may have the actual line of the putt down pat, but their *aim* is off. And by playing 2-3 times more break than they think, they are actually adjusting the line of the putt. It’s probably better than aiming at the apex, but not the very best way to approach it.
That’s where I find AimPoint to be invaluable. It really teaches the golfer about maximizing the capture width of the cup because all of the green reading is designed to have the ball go into the center of the cup. And from my own experience and discussing it with others, what often happens at first is that we do not trust the AimPoint reads and start missing putts because we hit the putt entirely too hard.
Plus, the roll of the ball in putting is essentially two things:
1. Speed of the ball to maximize the capture width of the cup.
2. Direction of the ball towards the hole
We want to combine these 2 factors as best as we possibly can. Thus, we do need green reading and aim to help. Thus, I feel that if a golfer can just improve
- Green Reading
They will dramatically improve their putting. Even if the improvement is somewhat marginal, improving all 3 of those factors will see a dramatic improvement in results.