How often do we pay attention to ball speed friction factors on the green or are we too focussed on the slopes? In our previous blog, we reviewed the most frequent putting issue of UK golfers – ‘Leaving putts short’ – as revealed by the PuttBANDIT UK Putting Survey. We also looked at the green reading observations of those who get the ball past the hole more often.
The side view
Surveying a putt from multiple viewpoints, particularly the side of the putt path, reduced the frequency of short misses by 11% compared to those who only view their putts from the ball-to-the hole.
To make a good putt we need to know the putt distance, cross slopes, elevation changes and the friction of the green surface.
If the side view helps judge the true length and elevation changes and the ball-to-hole view helps see the cross slopes, what helps us judge the friction factors that influence green speed?
The UK Putting Survey asked respondents to specify where on the green most of their misses ended up for 3ft and 6-10ft putts. This helped us correlate different observations with these misses.
The golfers who missed short the least, paid more attention to wind and grass cut direction and got 14% more of their putts past the hole compared to the most popular observation. Firmness or softness of the surface was another observation that had better than average results.
Wind, grass cut, and green firmness observations may just be the habits of those golfers who pay more attention to detail. Nobody would recommend looking at wind speed direction alone. It’s just one observation of a more detailed green reading routine.
With the pace of play pressures on a busy course, we might forget to notice the indicators of surface friction of the green.
The survey revealed that 52% of 10-30+ handicap golfers feel under pressure when reading greens. 57% think they take too little time. In contrast, 56% of Plus-9.9 handicap golfers never or rarely feel under time pressure. Are they better golfers because they have a faster, more observant green reading routine?
Judging green speed is a lot harder for us amateurs than the tour pros. They have a caddie to help them with their reads and they play on the most cared for greens on the planet and usually in nice warm weather. We wish! And if it rains on tour, subair drainage systems will help vacuum the water out of the green to help restore the intended green speed.
Golfers like us are on our own with many more speed variables to understand. And we play on courses that constantly change their baseline speed throughout the year due to variable climate and good course management.
In the UK climate we rarely experience playing on thicker bladed Bermuda grass on firm fast greens at warm sunny tour event locations. We mostly play on bent grass varieties. But we don’t just roll the ball over grass throughout the year. That would be too easy.
Holes, lines, bumps and bobbles
With winter on the way, we have the challenge of making putts on a surface that may have cut lines or thousands of holes of various sizes due to scarifying, verti-draining, hollow tining and mole ploughing. Putts can bobble and move offline, and consistent, predictable speed is a hard to achieve.
Greens can be top dressed with blends of washed sand, soil and loam, particularly after autumn hollow tining or verti-draining. And then there’s bald patches from fungus or frost damage and those pesky worm casts and pecking birds that can wreck a chance of a birdie score.
How short is my green?
But even after all those off-season speed and line variables have smoothed out, it’s the length of the grass, the direction of cut, the moisture on the surface, and sometimes high winds on an exposed green, that all influence friction and actual green speed. It pays to take notice of these friction factors.
Greens might be cut to 3mm in summer creating a faster and firmer regular play striped surface. However, in colder wetter months, the speed might drop by half as greenkeepers protect the green with a longer 5mm cut.
The influences of sand, tining holes, and softer wet surfaces in the late autumn-to-spring season, make putting a difficult challenge compared to warm summer days on dry, firm close-mowed greens. We must adapt, and mostly we do.
Trust your judgement and aim long
The survey data suggested that those who targeted a spot around hole length or trusted their judgement, had better speed control and missed short less frequently compared to those who target a spot on the path and just in front of the ball.
Picking out a spot a few inches in front of the ball can help to make a stroke on the right path to send the ball over the spot and down the chosen start line.
Some golfers aim and align to a more distant target spot. The survey data suggested that a more distant focus around hole length, had better results on speed. But what about line? We will cover that in another blog.
The survey didn’t ask about the final visual focus of the 1,200 participants or what they were thinking just before they made a stroke. Over-thinking about technique, putter path and having line doubts, might be a distraction from the goal of getting the ball to the hole. It might help to trust your line decision before clearing the mind to solely focus on speed.
There are those whose final focus is on a tiny spot on the top of the ball. This fixation might calm the eyes and clear the head of distracting thoughts and doubts.
Some golfers keep switching their gaze from the ball to aiming spot, to the hole and back. And there’s a few, like Jordan Speith, who on certain length putts, just look at the hole when they make a stroke.
What’s clear is that a comprehensive green read needs to incorporate multiple observations to understand putt distance, cross slopes, elevation changes and the friction of the green surface. It also needs to be time efficient.
On busy courses there’s often pressure to get on with it from your playing mates and those marching down the fairway behind you. Developing a fast and comprehensive green reading routine and sticking with it, isn’t easy under pressure.
What the survey showed is that some green reading observations and aiming methods have better results than others.
Putt Better in 2024
In our next blog we will look at what the UK Putting Survey discovered about the impact of different putt aiming and alignment methods on missed putts and the top putting issues.
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