Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mysteries of Putting

My first winter as the head golf professional of Arnold Palmer’s Latrobe Country Club was spent counting, cleaning and categorizing the golf clubs Mr. Palmer had collected over the years. As I sorted and researched the thousands of golf clubs , I was particularly drawn to the collection of putters. We located over 1000 putters that winter of all types, shapes and sizes. Each came with a story as many of them were either given to Mr. Palmer by a manufacturer, a fellow player or a friend. The rest came in the mail. Sent by adoring fans who thought their gift was the solution whenever they felt his putting was not up to standard. Doc Giffin, Mr. Palmer’s administrative assistant and long time friend told me they would come by the dozens if Arnold missed an important putt during a tour event, especially if that event was on television. This all seems silly until you realize that Arnold tried every one of them. Laughing on the outside, but secretly hoping there was some special magic in one of them that might help him collect one more winner’s trophy.
At the United States Golf Academy, in an attempt to separate the science from the superstition, we use an analysis system for putting, called PuttLab. This system measures 28 parameters of an individual putting stroke, accurate to 1/1000 of a second in time, a millimeter in distance, and 1/10th of a degree in rotation. We have measured over 8000 strokes in the past 3 years and what we have learned might surprise you.
There is no perfect method. We have worked with hundreds of players who are very good putters and the only thing they have in common is the task itself. What each does have is a personal strategy on how they strike the ball that they repeat exactly with every stroke. Simplicity and consistency seems to be the most common trait.
Perception is not Reality. While we all “see” the same, how each of us interprets what we see is drastically different. During my lessons I often use a laser reference line, a line on the ball and the site lines on a putter to help aid in a player’s aim and alignment. For more times than I can even count, when I ask the player to judge my success at getting everything lined up, even though they watched me measure each aspect of the process, they will swear on a stack of Bibles the lines are not aimed at the target. We call the resulting confusion, visual interference and I am convinced it is the reason for most missed putts.
Next week we will talk in more detail about what we have learned about putting at the Academy and how you can begin to create our own “putting strategy”.

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