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?

Friday, April 8, 2016

A letter to Ernie Els.

Dear Mr. Els,
I watched, with the rest of the golf world, your troubles on the putting green on Thursday.  I want you to know I am sympathetic to your issues, but before you jump on the fear of impact, putt with your eyes closed, it is all in your head, rhetoric flying around, please consider another line of thought.
For as long as I have watched you play, I have always thought the source and sequence of your putting stroke started with your right hand. At Oakmont, it was obvious to me (yes I was in the gallery) and from a closer view, at the practice round I watched you play at the Field Club.
So I believe Thursday, on that first putt, you simply tried to hit it with your right hand, like you have done millions of times before, but your left hand got in the way. I would suggest that for as long as you putt left hand low, you might have to remind yourself that your stroke is now left side dominant instead of right.
I have had some success with nervous strokes by identifying the motion sequence and asking the player to repeat it before they try and hit a putt. With a left hand low set up, it might be left shoulder back, left hand past the ball.  The words don't matter as long as they remind your brain what you are trying to do.
I hope you will accept this with the sincerity it is offered, I don't think you have the yips, I think you just forgot how to make your stroke. Huge difference.
With sincere best wishes from a big fan,

P.S. If you want to remember what your old stroke felt like, put your left hand on your right shoulder, let the putter swing inside then release down the line. Trying to take the putter straight back with your right hand is problematic at best.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Thoughts on Golf Specific Technology

I learned how to hit a golf ball as a young man. Now 50 years later, I will tell you that even though I can hit a golf ball, I am still trying to learn to play golf. For too long a time I believed if I could hit optimal golf shots, I could shoot lower scores. I spent too much time trying to hit my clubs farther or “better”, rather than working on my ability to hit them the distance I needed for the shot required.  I didn’t figure out until it was too late that I could be a great striker of the ball and shoot lousy scores. Most golf instruction today speaks to the concept of hitting the ball. Most golf measurement technology is created to define hitting the ball. Valuable information, but it does not teach you how to navigate the ball around the golf course.

With the advent of ball flight measurement and video technology, we now have the feedback required to build a swing that achieves the optimal numbers for each club. Every time I visit the indoor center where my colleagues teach, someone asks me what the optimal numbers are for a certain club in their bag. I try to tell them they will find that optimal ball flight does not always produce optimal results on the golf course. Also that you can hit a solid golf shot and not get the required results. Most of the shots you face on the golf course will require something in-between the optimal results. So as a player you have to ask yourself. Are you building a swing for optimal situations or one that can handle all situations?

What separates the skilled players from the optimal ball strikers is the ability to play those “tweeners”, the shots in between the optimal results. The great players of the generation prior to mine never worried about optimal results. Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino, would be two examples of players with golf swings that would not produce optimal numbers on a launch monitor, but produce wonderful results on the golf course.  As a former employee of Mr. Palmer, I often wonder how he would have utilized the technology available today. After many hours of watching him practice, I think it would be an educated guess to say if he executed the shot he wanted, like one he liked to hit I call a punch 9 iron, he would then turn to me and say, “How far did I hit that shot”. Then he would try to repeat the results, building a feel for the swing that produced that shot and that distance.  

Winter is the time when many avid players spend time indoors, utilizing launch monitors or simulators. Don’t make my mistake, looking for better numbers.  Spend your time like AP would, developing consistency, and predictability in your golf swing, building something of value to be used on the golf course and not as a goal to be achieved.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Using Ball Flight Technology

I learned how to hit a golf ball as a young man. That said, I am still learning to play the game of golf. If you wish to shoot lower scores it is important to realize the difference between the two. It has become a common practice to include ball flight and video technology in all club fitting and golf instruction. Ball flight and video technology measure how you "hit" the golf ball. They do not teach you how to navigate the golf course.

Many instructors and players use ball flight technology to identify the optimal ball flight for each club. In my opinion this is the wrong plan. The search for optimal ball flight is an inefficient goal in your endeavor to become a better player. The problem is that optimal ball flight doesn't always produce optimal results on the golf course.  There is only one optimal shot per golf club. With the exception of maybe your driver, it is unlikely you can go an entire round and have every shot require the optimal results for the club you have chosen.

What separates the really skilled players from the hitters, is the ability to play the shots in between the optimal numbers for each club. Ball flight and video technology can be quite valuable in learning these shots as well. You have to have knowledge of what measureable parameters a particular shot requires and what combination of club and technique produces the proper "math". In other words the true optimal numbers are determined by the shot shape and distance required, not by the maximum effort with each club.

As an old guy, I am concerned we are taking the information provided by technology too far. I got on the tech bandwagon pretty early. The thing I have learned is that feedback is a great thing, but  it doesn't define the result and more importantly it doesn't define the technique. The target is the goal, and the important numbers are the ones that get you there.