Friday, October 7, 2011

Reading Greens - Three Spots on the Green

We had a great practice session yesterday at the Dallas Athletic Club.  We practiced on the big putting green by the Gold Course first tee, because of the slopes on it.  Our practice was focused on reading the speed of the putt, reading the break of the putt and choosing a break point where we wanted the ball to rely on gravity and momentum to get to the hole.

Felicia is putting to the hole, using the white tee as her break point.  This is a very fast putt and the break point was 10 feet from the hole.  The goal is to aim to the blue tee, die the ball on the white tee and let it feed down the hill to the hole.  (NOTE: by clicking on any of the pictures in this blog, it will get big so you can see it clearly.  After viewing, click the back arrow in your browser.)

The first piece of learning that I witnessed is that a lot of players believe that you should aim at the break point.  If you aim at the break point, you will miss a lot of putts on the low side of the hole.  In other words, you won't be playing enough break.  In order to hit the break point, you usually have to play additional break.  You want to think of the break point as a target, but not necessarily an aim point.

Here is a diagram of the three important points in an uphill putt.   The straight line from the ball to the hole is the line if the putt didn't break and ends in the true center of the hole.  Because your putt breaks left to right, the new center is left of center or about 7 O Clock on a clock face.  Your aim point will start the ball on the arc.  Because the putt is uphill, your break point is very near the hole and the new center is closer to the true center than a fast, downhill putt would present.

Every breaking putt you face has three important spots on the green that should have your attention.  The first is the aim point, the second is the break point and the third is the spot on the hole where the ball will enter.  When you read putts, start at the hole and pick the third spot first.

Here is a diagram of a fast, downhill, breaking putt.  The straight arrow represents your aim point.  The break point is the spot on the putt's line when the ball starts to roll to the hole because of gravity and momentum.  The new center of the hole is the point the ball will enter on the line chosen.  When you putt, look for your center for the putt first, imagine the arc on which the ball will travel and figure out where to aim to get the ball to die on that point.

On the golf hole, there is a point that is the true center.  If the hole is the same as a clock, that point would be 6 O Clock.  If you have a putt that breaks from right to left, your ball will enter the hole on the right side or closer to 4 or 5 O Clock depending on the amount of break.  That point where the ball will enter the hole is the new center for your putt.

Your next job in reading putts is to figure out the break point.  If you lay a stick down on the spot where the ball will enter the hole, that stick will aim at your break point.  If you have a fast, downhill putt, your break point may be 10 feet away from the hole.  If you have a slow putt or an uphill putt, your break point will probably be just a few feet away from the hole, depending on the length of the putt.  The shorter the putt and the slower the putt, the closer the break point will get to the hole.

Here is a youtube video of Nick Faldo using an extreme break point to make a putt at Augusta.

Now that you have chosen the break point, your goal should be to get the ball to roll over that point at a die speed.  From the break point to the hole, the ball should be carried forward by gravity and the momentum of your stroke.  In other words, it should be well beyond the apex of speed and slowing down.  When you figure out how to get the ball to roll over your break point at a die speed, you have figured out where you need to aim.  That is your aim point.

Here is a youtube video of Aaron Baddeley using an aim point to work on a left to right breaking putt.

Taking these three steps is a great exercise for young players.  It clarifies a lot of information for them by clearly breaking down what is important.  Players who grow up playing sloped, quick greens generally do this without a lot of thought.  However, there are a lot of players who grow up playing slow or flat Bermuda greens without a lot of slopes.  For them, this is a new skill and there is a great deal of value in understanding the entire process instead of feeling as though reading greens is a guessing game.  No matter what your age or handicap, if you consistently miss breaking putts on the low side, you need to pay attention to all three important spots on the putting green.  Remember to start at the hole and work your way back to the ball and you will become a much better green reader and you will also understand the importance of speed control in hitting your break points.

The goal of every putt!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Thinking the Right Way on the Putting Green

Over the past few weeks, we have worked hard on our putting at SMU.  The physical practice has shown up in a few player's results, but not all.  After watching great practice and players who know how to putt, it became clear that sometimes a great stroke can be wasted if the player's thoughts are bad. The problem with putting isn't always physical, but is sometimes mental.  Here are some ways poor thinking will effect your putting and good thoughts that will change your approach and make you a better putter.

Put ball here ^.

Does your speed vary based on how you judge the putt?   This is a prevalent problem and you can find support for it from T.V. announcers, scramble partners and even some golf professionals.  Your speed should always match the putt you face and the situation surrounding the putt should never, ever be part of the equation.  There is no such thing as an aggressive putter.  An aggressive putter is simply a putter who is hitting the ball too hard and in effect making the hole a smaller target.  A putt for birdie is not worth more or less than a putt for par.  Both putts are worth one and while all of us would love to make birdie, facing a 4 footer coming back for par isn't what we want after a missed attempt.

When you face a putt, you need to set aside your judgment of the putt itself and of the situation you face.  All putts are makeable if you hit it on the correct line with the correct speed.  There are putts that are very challenging and can get away from you if you don't pay attention.  However, it still holds true that if you do a great job of controlling the speed and hitting the ball on the correct line, you can make challenging putts, too.  If you approach every putt the same and have the two goals of rolling it at the correct speed and starting it on the correct line instead of how easy or tough the putt is, you will make a lot more putts.

This is one time that judgment might be an appropriate response.

Judgment of the situation can also be a problem.  "Needing" to make a putt often leads to forgetting about speed and running the ball past the hole.  If you truly need a putt, give yourself a chance to make it by rolling it at the right speed.  Some players feel a lot of pressure over birdie putts while others feel it over par putts.  Others want to cover mistakes on the hole with made putts.  Whatever your poison, the sooner you can get the idea planted in your mind that every putt is important and should be approached the same way every time, the better you will be on the greens.

Another thing that gets players in trouble on the putting green is analyzing each and every stroke during a round.  Don't worry about being perfect on the greens.  Greens aren't perfect and neither are you.  A good stroke coupled with good focus and preparation will allow you to make a lot of putts.  If your focus is on the wrong thing or if you fail to see slopes or grain, a perfect putting stroke won't help you a bit.  Don't allow yourself to think about putting mechanics during a round.

Don't venture down this lane!

The last way of thinking that often separates great putters from poor putters is the importance of results.  If you have practiced and prepared for a round, you have done all you can to be a great putter that day.  You might miss a few putts, but those putts don't mean a thing, unless you allow them to get in your head.  The missed putts could easily be followed by many made putts if you continue to rely upon your preparation and trust yourself.  However, if you focus on the misses and allow it to change your approach, you will have a rough day ahead of you.  Consistent effort and focus are keys to great putting.  Never let one shot or putt effect any other shot or putt.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

What Do I See When I Recruit?

Many players and parents ask, "what are coaches looking for when they watch golf?"  I can only speak for myself and what I hope to see in young players.  If you want to get my attention, hit it long.  That will make me follow along for at least a few holes.  If you want to keep my attention, roll the ball well on the greens.  By that I mean, control the speed of your putts and if you don't make everything, look as though you would on another day.  If you do those things well, and have a great attitude, you will hook me.

This is my favorite comic of all time.  If I could print it and hand it to junior golfers, I think it might bring a smile and better body language.  Fake it 'til you make it means act like you want to feel.

What makes a great attitude?  I like it when you respect your opponents, no matter how they are playing.  I like to see you smile and look as though you are enjoying yourself.  I like it when you have a quick pace of play.  I like it when you celebrate good things and let go of mistakes.  I like it when a big number is followed by a small number.  I like it when you are respectful to your parents, even when you just made a triple on the final hole.  I like it when you look like a confident player and not a drama queen.  I like it when you work hard before, during and after a round.

Finally, and most importantly, I like winners.  If you are the best player in a high school event, you should win the event.  As you challenge yourself with tougher fields on a regional or national level, you should figure out how to win at that level.  The way to do that is to embrace your strengths, never compare yourself to others and work on getting rid of your weaknesses.  In other words, figure out who you are, what you want your game to look like and work on it every day.  One mistake that young players make when they move from one level of competition to another is to believe they have to change their game to be successful.  These changes usually come at a vulnerable time when good results will already be tough to come by because of the better competition.  I have seen great, young players so shaken by the combination of changes and tough competition that their confidence never fully recovers.  Timing is everything as you are learning the game and how to compete. 

Here are some things that I want to see as a coach:

Forget putting notes on your reports of tournament rounds, such as windy or rainy.  We want players who score no matter what, so your note alerts me to the fact that you have excuses at the ready.

Put your most recent scores at the top.  Don't make me figure out what you are doing now by sorting through four years of scores.

If you want to play college golf, you should be the person communicating with me.   I can tell when emails are written by your parents and their phone calls don't mean as much as if you called me.

Improvement is important, but it doesn't mean as much as current results.  Don't put all your eggs in the improvement basket when you write a letter.  It is my job to judge your potential and your job to fulfill it.  Does your potential as a player mean more if you have further to go to win on the college level?

What is Lexi Thompson's potential? 

Here is some advice as you go through the process:

Talk to current players on as many teams as you can about all teams for whom you might play.  Players know the inside scoop and will share if asked.

Look at the recruiting process as a long one.  Have patience, gather information, don't panic when a few people commit and find the right fit for you.  If you are a good player, it will work out.

Play a lot.  Play in tournaments you can win.  Don't get so focused on national tours that you forget to play local stuff where you can dominate.

Have fun!  Golf is a game you should play for itself, not to get a scholarship.  If you keep that attitude, the scholarship will be a great bonus for loving a game you can play the rest of your life.


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