Monday, May 28, 2012

Thoughts on putting

The old saying, ‘Drive for show, putt for dough’ is so true. The player that wins the tournament is often the one which has putted the best, so it makes sense to practice this art – right? Yet how many of us are spending enough time on the green? Sure it is more fun to hit a booming drive or to finally figure out how to convert that slice into a draw, but these things are rarely contributing to our consistent low scores. Our best rounds of golf are usually when we have converted more of those makeable chances, and sink the 5-10 footers more often.

Unfortunately, although most people are not practicing putting enough, the ones that do are usually wasting their time. I see good players with the best intentions in the world spending hours on the green, often working on things that really don’t matter much. Which brings me to the main point of this topic -How important is technique in putting? By technique, I am referring to what most people work on such as their swing mechanics.

For me, putting can be broken down into three distinct parts
  • ·         Mechanics, or technique
  • ·         Green reading
  • ·         Speed control

When I see people practicing their putting, they often are doing so with a video camera, or a plane board/putting arc or lazer etc. Whilst all of these things can serve a benefit, I personally believe they have the smallest influence on the ability to hole putts. Working on your technique disproportionately may even make you a worse putter – I will explain.

Dave Pelz identified that most putters do not read greens very well at all. In fact, on average, players under-read a break on the green by 66%. So on a 3 foot breaking putt, players were only reading a 1 foot break. What this means is

“The better your technique and hence your ability to roll the ball on your intended line is, the less putts you will hole”

Read that again and again. If you read a putt incorrectly, a better technique just means that you will get better at rolling the ball towards that incorrect spot. When we consider how difficult it is to actually consciously read a green, this poses us a big problem.

Add to this the fact that when we focus too much on internal technical thoughts, our ability to control speed is massively reduced. Speed control is maximised when our awareness is more on the target rather than our movement itself. Think about when we play a game of catch. Our ability to throw the ball the correct distance is going to be better when we are aware of where our target is rather than what our arm and wrist are doing. Now, if your speed is off, even reading a green correctly is unimportant; a ball will only take the correct line if the speed is correct for it. E.G. the faster you roll a ball, the less it will curve and vice versa, thus affecting the line.

So, great putting mechanics are useless if we cannot read a putt correctly – we just get better at starting the ball on the wrong line. Reading a putt perfectly is also useless if we roll the ball the wrong speed. But if we get the speed correct, we have many options and lines that we can take into the hole so long as the speed matches the line. So for me, speed is of paramount importance, closely followed by reading. The least important for me is the technique used. 

Regarding technique, as long as it is consistently reproduced and can start the ball close to where the person wishes, this is good enough. A players’ technique becomes much more important when they are faced with a straighter putt that doesn’t require much reading, speed control or feel – but this is infrequently seen on the golf course. What is good enough? Can you hit a dime from one meter away? If so, the technique is good enough to hole the majority of straight putts, whilst at the same time offering enough room for variation so that the subconscious mind can 'auto-correct' for any potential speed and read issues.

            Is this really going to help you hole more putts?                                                                              Or will you just hit it closer to where you have mis-read it?

So the question I ask when I am dealing with coaching a player is – what is their limiting factor. Is it reading the putt, is it their speed control or is it their swing mechanics? Often, with beginners, it is all three. As I know that their speed control and green reading will get better as they progress and practice, I may choose to work more on basic technique to give them a headstart – although I make a point to have an external focus during play. With better players however, their ability to start the ball on their intended line is often very good. Unfortunately, when a good player putts poorly, they start asking the question of ‘What did I do wrong in my technique?’. Usually there is a teaching pro there with an answer for that one (I don’t want to go into this one now). As they start changing their technique, their focus shifts internally and now their speed control and green reading suffer further. I often find that by getting the player to focus more on the target, reading and their speed (through simple exercises) their putting improves immensely.

The best advice I can offer is to focus on imagining the ball going in the hole. As you make your practice swings, look at the hole and imagine it dropping in. Eradicate all other thoughts, even thoughts of speed control – if you want the ball to roll faster just imagine it hitting the back of the cup. For a shaky downhiller, imagine it dropping in the front lip. Either way, visualise it going in the hole and then stroke the ball with that image in your mind. This is more likely to get the subconscious mind to co-ordinate the speed and starting line together – vital components in holing a putt.

Wait there, isn’t this what we do automatically when we are putting well? We may hole a putt early on in a round, which fuels the belief that we can hole the next so we stand over this putt visualising it going in the hole. This then compounds itself and we have a great round of putting. Think about what you do when you putt poorly. You miss a putt early on, maybe missing another on the next hole. Now your thoughts go internal, trying to figure out your technique mistakes and then trying to overly control the movement. Now your speed control and subconscious control of the line is shot to pieces and your putting form takes a dive. Take control of this mechanism by choosing to visualise the ball going in the hole.

Not enough credit is given to visualising the correct outcome - the ball dropping in the hole at your desired speed. we spend vast amounts of time working on things which are correlatory to that - but as any good scientist knows, correlation does not equal causation. When good visualisation is combined with the philosophies behind IDEOMOTOR EFFECT, and the RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM, it can be a very powerful thing.

This is, however, a conscious effort. It would be more preferable for our visualisation of the ball going in the hole to be a subconscious thing – a belief. But, although this is definitely more preferable, it requires a little more work. Maybe next article I will explain how to do this (or read HERE for more clues). Until then, try to consciously visualise the ball dropping in the hole at your intended speed – it is a very good step in the right direction and much more likely to improve your results than changing your stroke.

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1 comment:

  1. lots of good gems in that article, these 2 were my favorite:

    If you read a putt incorrectly, a better technique just means that you will get better at rolling the ball towards that incorrect spot.

    Speed control is maximised when our awareness is more on the target rather than our movement itself.


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Currently working for the World famous Turnberry Resort at the Golf Performance Academy. I am a golf coach who specialises in not only what to learn, but 'how' to learn. I am always looking to further education of myself and others, and improve knowledge and understanding so that we can be better golfers and coaches