Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Important, Direction or Speed?

A ball goes into the hole because two requirements have been achieved. First, the ball is traveling in the correct direction. Second, it is moving at the proper speed. The speed and direction the ball travels is determined in that fraction of a second the ball is on the face as the putter collides with the ball. At that brief moment all the other concepts used to describe the putting motion are of little importance unless they deal directly with the moment of impact. So to create our own strategy we must focus on those two factors, Direction and Distance and the parameters at impact that influence them.

A constant topic of discussion at the United States Golf Academy is from a strategic standpoint when putting, what is more important? Distance or Direction. A quick search on the internet will produce all the opinions you could ever want on the subject and all are valid points of view. However, for a player trying to develop a method or technique, it is very important you start with controlling direction.
There are a number of myths and legends about how the ball comes off the putter. These are mostly created by product marketing. Golfer's have a tendency to romanticize putting, when it simply is a collision of a moving object with a stationary one. Since the ball is on the face for such a limited time there isn’t much that happens. The ball moves from the impact depending on where the face of the putter was pointed and how fast it was moving. If the direction or speed changes after impact it is totally due to forces beyond the player’s control. So it is imperative that we control what we can.

When building a putting stroke we have to start with the issues dealing with direction. Controlling direction requires an understanding of the mechanics of the stroke. As you build your method, it is much more efficient to address the two issues in this order, direction first, and then speed. Why? Because how fast the putter is moving has no influence on direction the ball leaves the putter. However, how the face is delivered to the ball has a large influence on how fast the ball leaves the putter. Our putting study has shown clearly that with the putter moving at the same exact speed, how far the ball rolls will vary depending on other variables to impact. The primary factor is the vertical angle of the face at impact, or the loft. The loft is influenced by a number of factors, how much on the putter to start with, and have you done something to alter that number at impact. This can be done by changing the angle of the shaft at impact. Toward the target reduces loft, away from the target increases the loft. Another influence is where the face is pointed relative to the direction their putter is moving. As always the explanation is complicated, but for the player, we have learned if we can control these variables to control direction, the adjustments needed for speed are much easier to learn.

The moral to the story is this. If you are a winter practicer, work as hard as you can to understand what makes the ball start on line. Spend no time worrying about speed. Feel for speed is a constant adjustment because conditions change on a daily basis, but if we understand direction we are prepared to make the adjustments.

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