How many times do you stroke a putt, it tracks with the line and speed you intended and then, in the last few feet, veers off-course jinking the wrong way? What’s going on?
Sinister forces at play
If the ball had just rolled past, missing by an inch, you know it was probably the start line or speed that wasn’t quite perfect. But when your putt mysteriously switches direction to avoid the hole, you can start believing that sinister telekinetic forces are trying to ruin your day.
We love Friday golf
These near-misses happened to me twice yesterday afternoon, Friday the 13th. Not the best day for good fortune. However, Friday afternoons can be a great time for excellent course presentation as the greenkeepers work hard to prepare the course to impress the 7-day members in the Saturday morning medal.
The 2-foot zone
Poor luck on Friday 13th had little to do with my misses. The main reason was that I didn’t pay attention to the green for the last 2 feet of roll. This is the zone where the ball decelerates fast and tiny slopes, depressions or grain direction can influence the perfect roll.
Boots on the ground
I should have known better. It was mid-afternoon, and an army of members and society groups had all played through before me. 7 hours, 52 groups of 4 adding up to 208 players wearing 416 golf shoes all retrieving their balls from the 2-foot zone around the hole. That’s some serious footfall.
A family of elephants
Let’s say the average weight of each player was 10 stone or 63.5 kg in new money. That’s just over 13 metric tonnes passing over that 2-foot zone before my turn and that’s before you calculate the dynamic load. That’s about the weight of a family of elephants walking over the hole. The greenkeepers would not be pleased at all.
Of course, those 208 players weren’t compressing a small area of turf all at the same time. It was a gradual pounding every 8 minutes or so. In dry conditions on good greens this weight of traffic isn’t a problem, but after prolonged wet weather has softened the turf, it needs to be considered and definitely during the winter season.
Flat and level – maybe
Even with light traffic in summer, that last 2 feet of roll deserves a good look. While USGA specifications say the area around the hole should be as flat as possible, it’s probably not equally level in all the available pin locations as greenkeepers manage the daily wear and tear. The 2-foot zone may have subtle breaks and bumps and the fall line might be at a different angle to the mid-to-late sections of the putt.
Walk round like the pros
Holes are usually cut vertically with an inch of ground above the liner. The exposed rootzone might be higher on one side indicating the slope. Harder to see if it’s been painted white or a stabiliser ring has been inserted. And don’t get fooled by the flag angle. Wind or worn pin ferrules and seatings can cause a tilt. A walk round, just like the pros, can be a good indicator of the fall line angle. And then there’s the grain direction of the cut or scuffs and indentations from shoes which might gently nudge a slow ball in the last few inches.
I can be guilty of not paying enough attention to that 2-foot zone or looking closely at the hole edge. It’s easy to skip the walk around the flag when the next group is breathing down your neck. I also fall into a bad habit of studying the whole length of the expected roll with equal focus. In theory, the closer to the hole, the harder I should look at surface conditions.
I’m now going to remind myself to check the 2-foot zone and look closely at the hole edges. If it doesn’t drop it’s obviously down to elephant footprints and not me.
Paul Hart is a co-inventor of the PuttBANDIT ball marker, enthusiastic golf improver and now paying attention to the 2-foot zone
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