Monday, August 7, 2017

Jordan Spieth’s Putting Strategy

I am sure you are like me and watched in amazement as Jordan Spieth finished the British Open. Remarkable is the only word that comes to mind as he found a way to make those critical putts. A week later, I watched him make back to back 50 footers. How does he do it?
If you listen to his interviews he is very forthcoming about some concepts he uses that could provide answers for all of us.

Build a posture and set up that creates a one-way miss. One of the secrets to lower scores is to try and have a swing or stroke that if you miss it is always in a consistent direction. You hear Johnny Miller and Nick Faldo talk about this every weekend. With this in mind, Jordan has said he could eliminate the left miss with his set up. He did not say how specifically, but if you think about it, you can make a pretty good guess. If your feet are parallel to the target line and you bend straight forward from the hips with your left-hand lower than the right, you will find that your shoulders align to the right of your feet. So, if his stroke path is influenced by his shoulder alignment, it would tilt his stroke path to the right. He has talked recently about not trying to be so perfect in his stroke. I think he is allowing the shoulders to close naturally and using this alignment to swing away from a pull. In addition, by tilting the path to the right, the arc better matches the target line with his forward ball position.

This diagram is intended to show Jordan’s set up. Notice the shoulders (red) aligned slightly right of his toe line. In our stroke model, this would move the stroke path (black). Even with this tilt the path matches target line (grey) at the last second, making a miss right more likely than a miss left. It is my opinion, eliminating the fear of a left miss keeps him from steering the putter at impact, allows him to maintain the momentum in his stroke, and gives him an improved feel for speed.

Read Mid and Long-Range Putts in 3 Sections. The second aspect of Jordan’s strategy that I believe to be very important, is his concept of reading a putt in thirds. He comments that it gives him a better sense of speed. This strategy allows you to more easily see the putt in real time. For many of us the idea of the ball losing momentum as we look at the break is foreign. As he looks at each section, he can imagine the ball losing momentum and at the last section he can feel the putt closer to real time. It also gives him a more specific look at the putt. For example, the first third will never break as much as the final third. When we experimented with this concept we found it allows a player to take a linear approach to the first third of the putt and a non-linear approach to the final third.  

Regardless of my theory, when you can combine an enhanced feel for distance, with a no fear release, you can build a very successful strategy for making putts of all lengths.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Linear Non-Linear Part 3

3 reasons you miss a putt.

1. You chose the wrong line.
2. You miss your start line.
3. You roll the ball the wrong distance.

You can do these things singularly or in combination.

If you define target by where you aim the putter. Then the "target" is rarely the hole. Most golfers tend to swing to the target. So if aim and target are two different things then you miss.

For linear players, aim is critical. For non-linear players not so much. 

Give non linear thinkers a putter with no lines and they immediately putt better.

Take away the lines for a linear player and panic sets in. 

Linear players seem to like Aimpoint.
Non-Linear players seem to struggle with the concept.

All of the people I work with come to me to make more putts. 66 with no 3 putts in a one day qualifier doesn't cut it anymore. There is no room for error, and the idea of lag putting is going away. You only have so many chances, so you have to try to make every putt. The discipline required to chose the correct start line and feel the proper speed in combination at the mid range distances, 10-30 feet, is not simple or easy. It is however, very important.

Jordan Spieth is the example of why. He beats people because he makes more mid range putts.

When working with competitive players we have found that a linear view of the task lends itself to different choices than a non-linear view. The goal is to find which is more accurate. 

Finally, while I agree that we are talking about a single line. Th linear player sees it as a straight line away from the hole, the Pelz concept of every putt is a straight putt,  while the non linear player sees it as a curved line to the hole.

Example, If you are a non linear thinker, then the concept of a read verbalized like "two cups out on the right" is tough to process. You are better looking at a spot within 20% of the distance of the putt.

With most golfers I talk to, I hear linear thoughts and non linear thoughts. The question I am trying to answer is, "Would a player be better if he did not mix the message." We have seen enough at this point to think it might be true.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are you Jack or Arnold, Linear or Non Linear Thoughts Part 2

I have had a number of inquiries about the posts I made on linear or non-linear perception as it pertains to putting. Many of you don't buy into the philosophy, but many of you have asked me to share more. Let me say these are observations based on hundreds of conversations with players of all levels about putting and offered as food for thought only. Everyone is different and you have to embrace and understand your tendencies to be your best.

I don't know the first time I heard linear and non-linear used as terms in putting instruction. I think it was in my early days with Sentient Sports representing Science and Motion. I do know that the first time I heard it, I offered that I was sure that my old boss and mentor Arnold Palmer, was a linear thinker. Mr. Palmer saw most golf shots in a straight line from himself to the target. Even when he was in trouble he would look for a straight line solution to the hole, before he would ever consider curving the ball. In putting he would only move the line he chose off the hole when absolutely necessary.

Let's compare that to his friend and rival Jack Nicklaus. Like many players of my generation, Mr. Nicklaus' instruction books were the guideline of our golf games. And it is fair to say he was a topic of many a conversation with Mr. Palmer during our Monday practice sessions. Contrary to Mr. Palmer, Mr. Nicklaus would be my best example of a non-linear putting approach. Watch him on YouTube as he reads a putt. His eyes always started at the hole and came back to the ball. He was visualizing the putt going in the hole, then bringing the line back to determine a start point. Couple that with his perfect speed approach, no line on his putter or the golf ball, and I think we have it right.

So are you more like Jack or Arnold? Remember at the end of the day all of us are just looking for a solution. Never be afraid of the information and never assume what someone says is the right way for you. Try and verbalize your approach to the task. Looks for conflicts in your thinking. Fix the conflicts. That is the best way to get better.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Linear or Non Linear Thoughts.

I grew up with the theory that green reading is something that can't be taught. It is something you learn based on experience and preference. I have never doubted that. Other than how to find the fall line on a green, it is all about matching feel to visual.  

I can provide the questions. And then ask more questions until the player finds the answers, but I can't tell you how to think. Anyone who tells you otherwise is just looking to collect a fee.

I repeat. The problem is not making the decision of how a putt will break, it is matching the stroke to the visual.

An easy way to judge how you think is to analyze the decisions you make and your perceptions of the putt. For example…

What is most important, line or speed?

Is the putt a straight putt that falls away from the line?

Or does the ball follow a definite path to the hole. If so, can you always “see” that path?

If you have to have some type of line on the putter or ball or both, is it fair to say you do not have a linear perception of the putt?

What do you consider the target, the hole or your initial start line? This is a good example of how your thinking can get muddled. The hole can only be the target when you think of the putt in its entirety. Otherwise your target must be your start line.  If the target is the hole, then where do you aim? If your target is your initial start line, then how do you judge speed?

Do you tend to over read or under read putts? Does this change based on putt length?

These are just a few of the questions I have used to help clarify a players thinking. I say this because if you think you can use a little of both strategies you are asking for confusion. You have to be as specific as possible.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Tiger's Putting Stroke - Another Point of View

There is a Puttlab report floating around the internet of Tiger Wood's putting stroke. It shows Tiger with 7.8 degrees of rotation at the end of his backswing and low 70's degrees per second of rotation at the ball.

Recently a media golf expert made the claim that Tiger has as much as 50% more rotation than the average pro. Since then I have seen these "facts" repeated with great frequency. By other media experts, as well as everyday followers of Tiger and golf forums. I think the opinion is based on this report.

First let's address the backswing rotation issue. What the experts fail to mention is that in the report, Tiger starts with the putter pointed 2.5 degrees right of target on average. So the actual amount of backswing rotation is 5.3 degrees and not 7.8. Puttlab measures where the putter is at any giving time and does not judge on a cumulative basis. So if 7.8 is 50% more than the average, 5.3 is only about 20% more. Assuming the average stat is true.

I have never believed that this measurement was an accurate prediction of what Tiger did in tournament play. More so, it corresponds with his frequent complaint at the time, of not feeling the toe release during the stroke. So by opening the face at address he forced himself to release the toe hard at impact to square the face. Hence, the rotation numbers are greater than a perceived average. This is an educated guess based on a number of other reports of Tiger's I have seen with a more normal aim point and smaller rotation numbers.

One more opinion. Most tour players use a shut to open rotation pattern based the relationship of face to target line. Tiger and some others use a square to path or arc reference. The square to the path players always show more rotation than the square to the target. Regardless of how you might feel about the two schools of thought, comparing rotation numbers between the two theories is the source of a problem. The real question should be, "Does Tiger have more rotation than other square to arc or path players?" The answer is a little but not as much as the media experts would have you think.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Famous Player (Rory) Finds Success.

Last week I wrote about some past ideas concerning Rory McIlroy's putting stroke. After last weekend's success I thought I would  share some assumptions I have on his new success, based on past knowledge and current conversations.

The following is a depiction of Rory's stroke prior to working with his new instructor.

This shows a pattern of attempting to hold the face square to the target line while allowing the putter to swing in a straight to left of the target line arc. This pattern is accomplished by controlling the stroke with a strong lead hand. It is typical of many lead hand low players, for example. Before you assume this was the problem, please know that we have found successful examples of players using all of the 9 Profiles we describe and this one, Profile 6 is no exception. For example, this stroke pattern won 4 majors for the player we are talking about. There is no way of knowing why he lost the feel for this stroke. It could have come from listening people who think they have a better way, or it could have been because he is right handed trying to control the putter with his non-dominant hand. Maybe, he never had a good grasp of the fundamentals of this pattern. Why he lost the feel for his stroke probably doesn't matter. What matters now is how he fixed it.

The first thing I think his new team discovered was that his natural arc and rotational requirement on his forward swing were less than he was using with a toe hang putter.. Basically, he stands closer and more over the ball than required by the original stroke. The new pattern might look something like this.

In this pattern we still see a left bias, but on a more shallow arc. Typically players with this pattern will use putters that balance closer to horizontal. His new putter is closer to face balanced, but not exactly horizontal, somewhere around 25 degrees or so. This would compare to his previous putter that had closer to 45 degrees. Given the increase in potential toe rotation of the old putter this would explain the inconsistency or looseness he felt in his stroke. A lower rotational requirement would ask for a lower rotational value of the putter. It as all about matching feel to actual. The bigger the arc the faster I need the toe to move to feel stable. Conversely, the more shallow the arc, the slower you need to have the toe move to find the same stability in feel.

Based on the interviews and his description of the new pattern, I think the ah-ha moment came when he changed and became less left hand dominant in his stroke. He added a little right hand into his release. He talks of making a grip change in his right hand and you could see a more toe movement through the ball with some of the televised putts. I also know that his new putting coach prefers a more neutral swing through the ball. Using left and right side in sync, rather than having a dominant side. So, if we have guessed correctly the new pattern looks something like this...

From experience I know for most of you would think this pattern looks "best". I will tell you because it requires a match of lead and trail sides it can be difficult to replicate. For example, Profile 3 replicates the most successful putting stroke of all time. My guess is that as Rory continues to integrate his right hand into the stroke, he will experience an occasional left miss, as too much trail hand often leads to a closed face. It comes with trying to release the toe. This might compel him to move his pattern to more inside and down line rather than inside to inside. Regardless, the miss should be less dramatic and he might not be so compelled to fix the miss as he was on his old pattern.

The moral of this story is to find what works best for you! You can't assume because Rory has success with this new pattern that you would by duplicating his method.  Rory's new stroke is more about his tendencies than it is about finding a perfect method.

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Famous Player Changes Putters

In 2013 I did the following analysis for Nike employees at the Oven. At the time I was working regionally with the Nike rep, discussing putter fitting and design. The document is my response to a conversation showing why I felt the player in red would struggle with a full offset model, similar to the one used by the player in blue, and why.

In this first break down of the two strokes, there are two noticable differences. First is the position of the left shoulder at address. Notice Red’s is much higher at address. Second is how the two player’s release the putter. Player Red uses what I call a “hold” release, similar to what you might see when hitting a cut shot. Player Blue allows the toe to release much like you would when hitting a draw. Notice the extention of his right arm through the ball. This would be similar to a draw release in your full swing.
In the next pictures we predict the path shape based on posture and release. This is done by building a mechanical model of the player’s stroke based on set up, and source and sequence of motion. I developed this protocol in 2010 and it has been very accurate in predicting a player’s basic stroke. It serves as a model for the player, not necessarily to copy, but to compare to actual measurements of the stroke. I phrase it this way. If we built a robot just like you, how would the putter swing? Creation of this mechanical model allows me to work with player’s who do not have access to technology that can measure the parameters of their stroke and allows us to make educated changes rather than by preference of guess.
When it comes to fitting putters, over the course of accumulating 10 years’ worth of Puttlab data, it is clear that the more offset a putter has, the more likely it will be in a closed position relative to the path the putter swings. In other words, it is a safe bet that for a right handed player the more offset the more left the ball will launch. Remember this is relative to path and not target line!

In our observation of Player Red, it was apparent that he had a tendency to miss left. The compensation for the miss was to block right. He recently admitted as much in his explanation of why he changed his stroke. The following pictures are exaggerated in appearance. The actual difference is more subtle and would be difficult to portrait in this format.

The blue line is a depiction of the stroke path along a tilted plane. The red line shows the target line. So if the model matches reality, and the putter swung in a position along the path true to predictions, the following describes why he misses left. Face closed to a square to left path.
Player Blue alters his path to match his release and putter position relative to the path. So if both players have a face 1° closed to the path. Red is left at impact while Blue is square.

There are any number of solutions to Red’s problem. You could change the set up to a closed shoulder alignment to move the path to an inside to down the line pattern. This explains the left hand low set up from earlier in the year. However, this stroke, at times, has been very successful. So it seemed foolish to try a wholescale change.  You could put the grip on 2 degrees open to counter the closed tendency from the offset. While you might think that is silly, for year’s it has been a common fix for tour level players. One manufacturer has done it on purpose, because it suited so many of their staff players and allowed them to use the model that looked best to them and what would sell best for the company.

In this case, Red had a history of using a putter with limited offset. In fact, prior to the Method he used a no offset mallet. My suggestion was to eliminate the offset on his current model. According to our model, the putter would be positioned more open to the path than the original. This would allow him to modify his exaggerated release, help reduce the tendency of the left miss, yet still use the fundamentals he had used with some success in that past.

So why didn't he make the switch? I guess I will never know for sure. My best guess is that a traditional model design that was already in the product line would be easier to sell. In the Pro/Endorsement business as much as we want to think that player's use what is best for their games, it doesn't always work that way.
One thing I find interesting in the interview. He blamed his path and what he saw on Puttlab for his two way miss. He is making the same mistake that many do when confronted with the reality of the measurements. Instead of looking to what actually causes the problem, they focus on what is easiest to see. The math is pretty simple 83% face 17% path. Why fix the 17% when the 83% is the problem? Especially when the path is consistent?