Friday, November 25, 2011

A Case for Round Grips on Putters.

For more than 50 years having a flat reminder on the grip of your putter has been the accepted standard equipment for putting. With the invention of Science and Motion PuttLab, the ability to measure putting strokes precisely shows some very strong evidence that using a reminder grip or grip with a flat side may be a detriment. The following is an attempt to make my case.

1. We have to realize that in all golf swings, not just putting strokes, the club head moves in a circular motion. To try and do other wise is mechanically very difficult. Shoulders move in a circular motion around the spine, arms and hands move with the shoulders, also around the spine. So unless you can make your arms grow longer during the movement, the putter will move around the spine in a circle defined by the length of your arms. The arc at the bottom of the stroke will be straighter or more curved at varying degrees depending on the tilt of your spine and how far you are from the ball. The closer you are to the ball the more upright the circle and so the arc at the bottom of the circle with appear to move straighter than an arc tilted away from the ball.

2. The vast majority of golfers are more comfortable with the ball away from them when putting rather than close. Due to this set up most players swing the putter on a tilted circle that would create a curved path at the bottom.

3. We have found many of the golfers who mechanically are set up for a curved path try to swing the putter on the straighter line. This is the dilemma for most golfers. Trying to make the circular motion of the putting stoke match the imaginary target line that is straight. We call this steering the putter.

4. The desire to steer the putter is influenced by the references we use. A line on the putter, lines on the ball, and a flat reference on the top of the grip are all guides or aids to help us move the putter on a straight path.

5. It is easier to fix the steer than try to move the path to straight! There are physical reasons we stand off the ball. Vision, comfort and balance are not variables we can easily change to match a desired path. We can make the changes but over time we will regress to original position.

6. To help eliminate the steer it helps to eliminate straight line references. Especially the grip. As the putter swings and moves in the curved motion we still reference the flat portion of the grip to target. This conflict between perception – the straight line and actual path causes us to twist the putter as it moves along the path. The ball goes primarily where the face is pointed at impact as 82 % of the direction the ball leaves the putter is determined by face at impact. The twisting motion of the putter as we try to match curved to straight makes controlling the face of the putter much more difficult than if we simply allowed the putter to swing square to whatever direction the putter is moving during the stroke.

So by replacing the flat with a round reference on the grip we lose some of the urge to twist the putter while in motion. The “feel” reference of the straight line is gone and we are more likely to allow the putter to move freely with the path. Without the steer the results of the stroke become more predictable and our new found consistency makes us a better putter.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Putting - Take Nothing for Granted.

Normally I am not one to suggest changes to the game of golf. The game has been around a great deal longer than I, and all situations of play were long ago hashed over and solved for the best. However, I do believe for the good of the game we should abolish that great destroyer of friendships, the conceded putt. It is the only time your opponent has any influence on your score and therefore the only time you have someone to blame other than yourself for a misplayed shot. After years of experience on both sides of the issue I have concluded that human beings are far too weak to handle the responsibility of conceding a putt or accepting a conceded putt. In either case there are always problems.

Years ago as the professional at the Latrobe Country Club, I was invited to play with Mr. Palmer and two of his guests who worked for the same organization. Mr. Palmer was partnered with the CEO of the company and I played with the other guest. The CEO, feeling he had the better of the game suggested we all play for higher stakes than normal. I knew I was on the bad end of the bet, but unfortunately was in no position to complain. Little did I know it would be worse than I expected. Over the course of the round my partner set some kind of record for conceding putts and all around sucking up to his boss and Mr. Palmer. Every shot that came within 10 feet of the hole was conceded by my partner. “Good shot! Pick it up.” “Great putt, the rest is good” followed what seemed like every shot at the pin. On top of that, when our team rolled one up to the hole our opponents came down with the worst case of lock jaw in history. The only time I heard the words, “that’s good” directed at me was when I suggested the turkey sandwich at the halfway house. Finally I could take it no more. On a par three hole late in the round the CEO hit a shot that rolled off the tee and was still a long from the hole. He began to curse and complain about his misfortune when the frustration of losing took over and I said, “Oh quit complaining, all you have to do is get the next shot on the green somewhere and my partner will give you the putt for a routine par.” I still have nightmares about the looks I got, especially from my boss. Like I said conceded putts are nothing but trouble.

All kidding aside, the most important reason to eliminate “gimmes” is simply that they hurt your putting. They of course have a role in match play events as part of the team strategy, as long as your teammate is truly on your side. But in everyday play it is much better to putt them all in, especially this time of year when the greens are not as true. Make yourself putt the short ones. You putting will be better for it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Learning from a Master.

When I worked for Arnold Palmer in the late 80’s and early 90’s I watched his practice sessions as often as I could. I spent hours asking questions, trying to understand his methods and how he became so successful. It is a testament to what a great guy he is that he never showed the slightest impatience at what I am sure he considered routine inquiries. It was during this time video was just becoming an integral part of golf instruction and in the hopes of being ahead of the trend, I bought a state of the art system. Totally portable, with a huge battery so I could take the technology with me on the practice tee. I couldn’t wait until I could use it with Mr. Palmer.

On the first available day, I had the system setup on the practice tee at Latrobe CC. When he arrived he asked, “What is that?” I explained and went into a long explanation about what it could do. In response I got a simple “Oh”. Turns out he never really looked at his swing on film much or thought much of its use. His explanation to me was that his swing never appeared on film like it felt to him. Over time he used the video, but he only watched his swing in real time. He never stopped the action and watched frame by frame the way we so often do today. It took me a while, but I came to understand why. He taught me that a golf swing is not an accumulation of positions, it is a movement done in sequence. He also taught me that bad swings are really swings out of sequence. When Mr. Palmer saw the frame by frame pictures of the movement, he lost the sense of sequence or feel he had for his swing. In other words he couldn’t translate real (the video) to feel (his swing). Even now, 20 years later I am convinced that understanding the sequence of your swing is the best way to learn a consistent efficient golf swing.

So in an analysis of your own golf swing, a good goal for the winter is to figure out what moves first, what happens next, and so on until the club gets back to the ball. The easiest way I have found to do this is to try and verbally describe your golf swing. For example, the sequence of Mr. Palmer’s swing could be described like this: The left arm swings back as the right hip turns to clear the way. The shoulders then turn to take the club to the top of the back swing. As the shoulders finish, the knees start the downswing by shifting toward the target and after the knees get moving, he swings the club to the ball with his hands. Left arm back, right hip clears. Turn to the top; Knees to the target; hands to the ball. That sequence produced the best results for him. Your sequence might be different, but you can build a better swing by simply describing how you move as you swing the club. Memorize the sequence and you will learn how to repeat your swing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Using the Offseason to Improve your Putting

At a golf show a couple of years ago I took some time way from our booth to listen to a local instructor discuss his theories on the golf swing. He spoke for over an hour on the subtle details of hitting a golf ball. After all of that analysis and expertise he opened the floor to questions. The first questioner acknowledged the instructors knowledge of the golf swing and then said, “I struggle with my putting, do you have any advice to help me putt better?” The instructor smiled and said, “Putting is an individual thing, best advice I can give you is to go practice.” This guy could write volumes on his opinion of full swing technique, but one sentence for the other half of the game. I shouldn’t fault this instructor; he is no different than the rest of the industry. Do an internet search on golf instruction and see how hard you have to dig to find advice on putting.

Our instructor is no different than the average golfer. We all have a tendency to credit our putting success to luck and superstition rather than knowledge and skill. I personally believe this is the one reason golfers don’t see the improvement in their games they would like. In every lesson I give I inquire to the player’s perceived weaknesses and more often than I care to count they tell me putting is the problem when they have come to see me for help with their full swing.

Winter is the perfect time to work on your putting skills. It requires a little time and a surface to roll a ball. Let me start by saying that all we can work on in the winter is mechanics. I will often have people build indoor putting greens with a straight putt of about 10 – 15 feet. They will then brag about heir ability to make 50 or 100 in a row on that surface. Then start the season and miss the first putt they hit. The reason is while they have learned how to make the indoor putt they have only developed the skill to start the ball in the correct direction at one speed. This doesn’t address the task when you play. Every putt you hit when you play has different requirements of speed and direction. We need a way to learn to control direction at a variety of speeds.

Try this simple drill. On a flat surface put a dime about 18 inches in front of your ball. Now roll the ball over the dime, each time using a different length stroke. Focus on the length of stroke you make and do it in a similar timing and tempo. Slow for the short strokes and faster for the longer strokes. Don’t worry about the results or that you don’t have a target down the line. This practice is about controlling what you can control, the initial direction the ball starts and learning how to develop the proper speed.