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Putting: What is Distance Control?
Distance Control (Part I)
Due to circumstances outside the control of the maintenance crew and PGA Tour staff, the greens at recent PGA Tour events, namely the Players Championship, have received quite a bit of attention. In particular, its effect on putting and even more so on green speed. There are many theories in the golf world roaming around and some even attempt to back these theories up with big words such as ‘science’ or ‘scientific research’. These theories supposedly supported by scientific research fall well short in their ability to assist you in improving your putting. I will discuss these reasons throughout this post as well as discuss what it is that greatly enhances your ability to control distance at a level far greater than most in the golfing world, pro’s included.
‘What is the ideal speed for putting?’
As stated above many attempt to utilize the 17” past the hole theory and even worse, pass it off as ‘science’. The first problem with this thought process is it has nothing to do with science. It was formulated based off two variables that had nothing to do with science of any kind; these two items were green imperfections and the doughnut hole. Green imperfections are something that will always be there, be they varying grass blade lengths, disturbed soil, organic matter of various kinds, etc. and attempting to create a speed theory and name it science due to organic material is erroneous by itself. The doughnut hole is something that also fails the science test. Hitting a ball hard enough to propel it down the slope and then up the slope of the mound created by foot traffic isn’t exactly scientific. Given the fact these two items lack anything scientific to back them up leaves the idea that 17” past the hole is the ideal speed with more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese.
If we look at another theory (the one used by one of the more popular green reading instructional schools today) their speed control is based on you being able to control your distance within a few inches of the hole on every putt. Ben Crenshaw or Tiger Woods on their best days did not have that kind of ability. In fact, those with some of the finest touch in the world, oral surgeons that deal with finite nerve endings on a regular basis, don’t employ the type of touch this system advocates. Is it any wonder why their calculations are off by up to 11% and when watching on tv a PGA Tour members ball will follow the blue line all the way to the hole yet miss? It’s at this point I find it extremely funny that the golf telecast commentator, who has built up the emotional response of the viewer while the ball is traveling to the hole only to see it miss, is left speechless.
Don’t get me wrong, these theories and all others have good intentions when it comes to telling you the ideal speed for putting but we all know where roads paved with good intentions lead. For any of you who have attempted to adhere to these theories and are still lacking in your ability to putt at an extraordinarily high level let me shed some light on it for you, these theories are seriously faulted.
If a theory is to claim ‘science’ as its proof that the system works it first has to understand there are many disciplines of science that come into play and utilizing one or two sciences does not make ideal speed nor does it allow the individual to understand, comprehend and implement ideal speed. All it does is leave you, the golfer, searching and the golfers age old adage of ‘I just need to work on it more.’ Let me explain something, if you have been working on it for more than a few days or weeks and haven’t seen enough improvement that when asked ‘Is it working?’ the answer isn’t unequivocally ‘Yes’ than that theory is most likely flawed.
(SIDETRACK) Improvement of the slightest kind can lead one to assume such improvement will continue and when such improvement fails to follow the original the golfer is left to ponder ‘why did the improvement stop?’ The usual response given by the person who instructed them with faulty ‘science’ is ‘You need to work at it more.’ There was a bit of improvement but it is indeterminable if the improvement was the result of more practice or the efficacy of what was being taught. If you do something enough times you will improve but that does not mean the fashion (or in golfs case the instructors theory) in which you used to become better was the determining factor for the improvement. This is more easily understood with weight loss. You can lose weight by simply not eating or eating only salad and many people under such a diet do indeed lose weight. However, in doing so the question becomes what is the nutritional deficiency you are now forced to operate under; meaning not eating or eating only salad is far from optional and it is perceived to be an improvement from where the person started. The same thing happens with putting.
This leaves us with what sciences are needed, how are they to be understood and utilized so we can determine what the ideal speed is and how you can achieve it on a consistent basis, even on the days you are ‘off’. Physics obviously plays a part as does physiology and how your body moves biomechanically. You can’t leave out the most important piece of the puzzle, the brain. Let’s start with the simplest of things on this list, physics.
Keep in mind the diameter of a golf ball is 1.68” which would make one full revolution of a ball very close to 5.25”. The ideal speed for putting would be the ball either creeping up to the edge of the hole and tumbling in or go into the hole with enough speed that if missed would allow it to roll up to 21” past the hole but not further. These speeds would be between 1 rps (revolution per second) and 4 rps. (4 rps X 5.25”/revolution = 21”). These are the ideal speeds for two reasons: 1) The hole is at its widest at 1rps due to the ball being able to fall in the front edge (let’s call it 6 o’clock), slightly off to the sides (either 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock) more off to the sides (8 or 4) and so on. For large breaking putts it may even fall into the hole at 1 or 11 depending on the slope. As the ball increases in speed the effective size of the hole becomes smaller. For example, if a ball is traveling at 6 rps the size of the hole is reduced because the speed will not allow enough of the ball to fall below the top edge of the hole to allow it to fall in. A ball rolling at 1rps will tumble into the hole and land somewhere close to the front edge of the cup, closest to the golfer, at 2rps it will fall just shy of the center of the cup, 3rps just beyond the center of the cup and 4rps it will hit slightly up the back wall of the cup. As you get into 5rps+ where the ball falls into the cup moves higher and higher on the hole until it gets to a point where 51% or more of the ball does not fall below the rim which doesn’t’ allow the ball to fall in. In fact, 9rps is the maximum a ball can be traveling (on a flat putt) and still fall into the hole (it usually hits the back edge, pops up into the air and falls into the cup, hopefully). You can make putts at 5rps+ but again, the hole becomes smaller for each incremental speed you increase, up to 9rps. When a putt is going 5rps+ and you miss it also moves you farther away from the hole on a miss; i.e. 7rps X 5.25”/revolution = 36.75” from the hole or more than 3’. This brings into play a lot of other things, most importantly the brain and the psychological side of putting.
Humans have a natural tendency known as fear. While many may view fear as a character flaw it is one of the human characteristics that has allowed us to evolve as a species over the millennia. Those that didn’t fear lions or bears centuries ago most likely never got the chance to elaborate on their lack of this emotion because they didn’t live long enough to do so; i.e. they didn’t run away and as a result were eaten. As it relates to putting, fear plays a big role, especially when it comes to putts you think you should make on a regular basis, regardless of how much that thought process might be skewed.
(SIDETRACK) Many amateurs believe the pro’s make every putt they take from inside of 8’-10’ which is hardly the case. However, when they watch golf telecasts on the weekends they see exactly that, each pro on tv making all their 8’-10’ putts. What they don’t realize, even though it is quite obvious, is the same golfers are not making the 8’-10’ putts every week. It’s only the leaders that are doing so. The pro that made all the putts of this length last week might not have made any this week and is likely to be the reason you don’t see them on tv this week. In fact, the average amount of putts it takes a PGA Tour pro from 8’ is 1.5 putts. From 10’ it increases to 1.61 putts (for more see Mark Broadies statistics on Putts Gained: Measuring Putting on the PGA Tour).
While many amateurs think they should make every putt inside this distance the fear factor kicks in when they start thinking ‘What if I miss?’ and herein lies the problem. The fear factor of what others will think of them for not doing something they think they should be able to do (making a short putt) can be overwhelming. However, when the distance of putt is greatly reduced the fear is all but eliminated, even for some of the worst golfers. The distance this fear seems to be at a crossing point just so happens to be slightly shy of 2’ or better put, 21”. Is it any coincidence that 21” also happens to be 4rps?
(SIDETRACK) The phrase ‘in the leather’ for giving putts at one time referred to putts in the leather measured by the length of the grip which is approximately 10”. At some point in time someone thought it would be a good idea to change the measured distance from the putter head (usually placed in the hole) to the bottom of the grip, approximately 25”+ and just outside of the ‘oh shit’ zone mentioned above. I’m certain whoever came up with this new measurement system suffered from a severe case of ‘What do my friends think of me?’
The next question related to distance control is how can a golfer dial in their distance and allow the ball to be between 1rps and 4rps? The answer to that question is it’s already built into your system whether you realize it or not. But you will have to wait until next time to find out.
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Want to hear our interview on Apex Broadcasting's 'The Low Country Links Show' with Bob Steven's and Roger Clarke on putter fitting? Listen below:
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What questions or thoughts do you have about controlling distance in putting? Please let us know in the comments.
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6/14/2016 05:09:26 am
I have been asked by both instructors and players this same question. Often phrased "where do you want the ball to finish?" My smile gives me away when I tell them all 4 inches. After a pause I add "down" in the bottom of the cup.
12/22/2020 10:53:07 pm
Great reading yyour post
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