Failing to get the ball to the hole was the most frequent issue experienced by 71% of 1,200 golfers in the recent PuttBANDIT UK Putting Survey. We looked at the data and discovered the green reading observations, viewpoints and putting methods that reduce the percentage of short misses.
Observation – Job 1
The first task in any putting routine is to look at the putt you have and make observations of the green slopes and the surface conditions that affect it. Green reading. We need to know the three factors that matter the most:
- Distance from ball to hole
- Gravity in terms of slopes
- Friction of the grass surface that influences speed
In our survey we asked about the observations and viewpoints that golfers make when they read the greens as well as where they missed their putts from 3 feet and 6-10 feet.
When it comes to observing slopes, the 3 most popular viewpoints were:
- From the ball to the hole
- From the hole to the ball and
- Getting low to the green
Those that relied on these natural, easy and obvious viewpoints for their reads indicated that between 73-74% of their missed putts were left short. Those that made additional observations did much better.
The 21% of our sample who viewed the putt length from the side cited that 64% of their misses were short. That’s 9-10% better than the most used viewpoints and more balls getting past the hole with a chance of sinking them. Never up – Never in.
Side and astride
You’ll notice two other observations in the chart that improved speed control – ‘Standing astride the putt line’ and ‘from the last third of the putt line’. Both observations are used in the AimPoint method, primarily to sense the cross slope through balance and differential height on the feet. How does that work for speed?
They both involve walking away from the ball and back. But what isn’t obvious is that those who use AimPoint, also learn to work hard on a constant putting stroke tempo with a variable length backswing to improve speed control.
Why the improvement?
Different green viewpoints and observations inform us about different variables in the putt. But few golfers make all the observations or sense the critical conditions that inform all the green reading information needed for a putt.
If a robot could putt it would need to know four basic things before it could execute a good putt, and a fifth if it’s windy.
- Putt length
- Cross slope percentage
- Up/down slope percentage
- Green surface actual speed
- Wind speed and direction
Robots v Humans
Armed with all that data loaded into memory, a robot could make a great putt. But we are humans not robots. Few of us can simply look at the numbers and then hit the ball with optimal speed. Robots use machine learning. We learn sports by experience. Besides, the rules of golf are increasingly outlawing the use of data.
Green books with slope percentages are banned from tour pro events and many elite amateur competitions. The trend in competition rule setting is to go pure. No data, just see and feel the putt.
Sensing the data
Humans have to collect and input data into the brain by sensing it. Thanks to Aristotle, we learn in school that we have 5 basic senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing. Those with uncanny natural ability to sink putts might have a sixth sense. And there’s developing research that is adding to the popular list of five human senses. There are two lesser known senses on that list that help us read greens and make putting strokes.
Balance and movement
Vestibular sense is enabled by our ear canals to help us balance and orient in space, and kinesthesis tells us about the location, position and movement of our head, arms, hands, legs, feet and other body parts. Both are senses essential for golf, they coordinate with our sight and sometime these senses conflict with each other. Sight alone can be unreliable.
The long view
Let’s get back to why the side view of a putt may have had a better result.
If you want to guess how long a plank of wood is, you’d look at it from the side, from perpendicular to the length.
If you want to know how straight it is, you look along the length from one end.
It makes sense that a view of a putt from the side provides the brain with better putt length information than the view from one end of the putt. The side view can also inform the up or down slope but it’s not so good for cross slopes.
Sight and balance
The most popular observations, from either end of the putt and getting low, helps tell us how straight the putt is and indicates slope, but they are not that great at sensing the true length.
Pacing out the putt length on the way to take out the flag and then again as you return to the ball, can also help as it uses those extra senses to detect uphill or side slopes during the walk.
Some pros, like Bryson DeChambeau, even pace out the length and give it a number in feet. This makes the walk a data collection process that sets the ball speed to that used during practice of the same length putt. Muscle memory from practice does the rest.
Does these observations take more time?
We doubt it. And here’s why. Where do you leave your bag?
If you are a golfer conscious of maintaining a good pace of play, you’ll leave your bag off the green in the direction of your walk from the flag to the next tee. It just speeds up your clearance from the green. If you drive a buggy your cart path route probably does the same.
During the walk to drop your bag, you can usually get a side view of most putt angles on the green. A brief pause to take in the putt length helps while your fellow players catch-up. And if your ball is on the other side of the green, your walk to the ball only needs a slight detour, around the path of any other ball, to take in a good side view. And pacing out the putt length just takes a few seconds.
Putt Better in 2024
The UK Putting Survey suggests that a simple side view and making a few additional observations, all help to improve speed control. But there are other influences at play that can cause us to leave it short. We will explore those in the next blog.
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