Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Back to the Basics of Putting

While I try to avoid discussing golf instruction in Pro Golf Synopsis (http://www.e-junkie.com/236161/product/484341.php) I did briefly mention the importance of putting speed when it comes to putting. The main reason for discussing speed in the book was that the odds of making a putt increase when the speed of the putt is closer to optimal. Since then I have had quite a few readers ask me more about putting speed and putting.

First, I highly recommend this video on speed/putting to by Geoff Mangum (www.puttingzone.com) to serve as a reference.

So, we have a few things that are extremely important to understand:

The optimal speed of a putt is somewhere around 2-3 revolutions per second.

What this will look like if the ball goes in the cup is that the ball will land into the back plastic part of the cup.

If the ball hits the dirt that is above the back plastic of the cup, the putt can certainly go in the hole, but that is NOT the optimal speed. The same if the ball lands into the middle of the cup.

When the speed is less than optimal, the effective size of the cup shrinks. This 'effective size' of the cup is called 'capture width' and the cup is 'capturing' the ball.

As the capture width gets smaller, that means in order for the ball to stay in the cup the ball has to be rolling closer over the center (directionally) of the cup.

Here's a video showing the capture width of a putt that is hit at a distance that goes 5 feet past the hole.

This was the crux of my point in Pro Golf Synopsis on putting speed. You're more likely to make a putt by optimizing the speed because the hole is effectively wider. Many golfers, even PGA Tour players, get caught up in ramming putts to 'take the break out of the putt', but in reality they are decreasing their odds of making putts. Phil Mickelson's resurgence with the putter is partially due to his instructor, Dave Stockton, getting Phil to understand the importance of capture width rather than trying to reduce the amount of break in a putt.

17" past the cup is NOT a speed of a putt

17 inches past the cup as promoted by Dave Pelz is a distance and not a speed. 2-3 revolutions per second is a speed. This is important because as Mangum notes, his studies show that when it comes to the brains ability to understand spatial awareness and depth perception, the brain does not work well trying to aim at a spot beyond the cup. Instead, it works better when it tries to feel and visualize the actual speed of the putt.

While I've never done any research on this myself, it makes a lot of sense. You don't see baseball pitchers aiming at a point in front of or in back of the catchers mitt. The same with basketball players shooting a jump shot. There is a lot of natural instincts involved with putting.

17" past the cup is not an optimal distance

If you think about it, how could it be? And that brings up a good point...if it's an uphill putt, the ball traveling at an optimal speed of 2-3 revolutions per second cannot possibly go the same distance past the cup as a downhill putt.

The general rule of thumb I go by is that the harder I have to hit the putt, be it due to the slope of the putt or the stimp or the grass, the shorter the optimal distance past the cup will be.

So on an uphill putt the optimal distance past the cup could be something like 6-inches and on a downhill putt it could be 18-inches.


Putting stroke mechanics is where people usually get into their ability to make putts. However, SAM Puttlab data shows that people often have a skewed perception of what makes great putters so effective on the greens.

Here's a post of Tiger Woods' SAM Puttlab data


And here's Loren 'The Boss of the Moss' Roberts' SAM Puttlab data.


The common theme we see is that both players have questionable stroke mechanics in some spots and aiming skills, but incredible consistency with the putter.

This is very much like the golf swing. There's plenty of compensations in both Woods' and Roberts' strokes. But, they are both able to make the same compensation stroke after stroke.

Roberts has a closed clubface at address and actually executes the dreaded 'cut across' stroke. Tiger has a very open putter face at addess (2.5*). closes the face in the thru stroke with a hit towards the toe of the putter.

The real question to me is not about what stroke is best, but 'do they achieve near optimal speed because of their stroke consistency or is their stroke so consistent because they achieve near optimal speed?'

That does not mean one should just work on getting putting repetitions in and that will automatically make them a good putter. You can have a very consistent stroke, but if some mechanics are way off like the face angle at impact, you're going to continue to miss putts. In fact, Boo Weekley's recent putting improvement came after his coach worked to get him out of making his consistent stroke. His peak putter head acceleration was after impact and that caused major issues with his speed control even though he had a very consistent stroke.

Just like the golf swing, compensations are fine if you can repeat them almost all of the time and hit great shots in the process. But, most golfers cannot repeat compensations and they may prevent the golfer from any chance of improving their ballstriking.


Where green reading systems like AimPoint come in is that they calculate where the golfer has to aim on their putts.

But, the real key to AimPoint is that it allows the golfer to almost subconsciously figure out the optimal speed of a putt. What I have often seen from golfers is that they do not understand the geometry of a putt:

Instead, what I see is golfers either aim at the apex of the break, which is reading it too low.

Since they are not reading enough break, they compensate by hitting the putt harder. Thus, decreasing the capture width of the cup.

Or they will follow the advice that 'amateurs need to read more break.' The reality is that they may read the ball's break fine, but they are not AIMED with the putter high enough so the ball can travel on that line.

These golfers usually aim too high and hit the putt too softly in order to get more break.

This is where I think the Tour players putt so well. They are not master green readers like Stacy Lewis (AimPoint student). But, they generally have a better read than most amateurs and becaues they have such a consistent stroke, they develop a better understanding of how fast the ball will roll and how the ball will react to the slopes of the green.

For the average amateur, they do not have a caddy that can carefully chart each green and help them with reads. And they probably do not have the talent or the time to create a functional putting stroke that is extremely repeatable. Thus, they may be better off looking for ways to remove compensations in their stroke instead of trying to repeat them. I believe that is what AimPoint and its partnership with Edel putters does for golfers.

In the end, it's about giving ourselves the best chance to make the putt and not leaving 'a lot of meat on that bone' on the next putt. If we focus on optimizing speed instead of getting overly concerned with stroke mechanics and directional control, we'll start making more putts.



Azu-catto said...

Great Post

I have to admit I find Geof Mangum really hard to understand but you have made it really clear here.

Rich H. said...

Geoff is not always the easiest to understand, but his information is excellent once you decipher it.