Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matching Speed with Break

Today, we spent some time on the putting green talking through the process of reading putts.  I have seen players approach this skill as though it is a mystery, something quite complicated or a process that also involves some luck.  It is none of those.  It is a skill just as all things in golf are skills.  It is best approached as a systematic series of steps to avoid having it feel mysterious.  It is best to keep the steps simple and limited to keep it from getting too complicated.  It is something that doesn't involve luck or guessing, but instead requires awareness, feel and good vision.  Here is a series of steps you can use to get started or to evaluate your approach.

1.  Take a look at the green from 50 yards away and figure out the high and low points of the green. From this far away, you can also see features such as ridges.  Give a quick thought to where the water flows from the green.

This view of the practice green at Dallas Athletic Club gives a clear look at water and where the water on the green will flow. The overall topography of the green will have a low side that favors water and its your job to be aware of the general direction of flow.  You can check for hills, slopes, thick vegetation or actual streams and lakes.

2.  When you get to the green, take note of the green itself.  Are there ridges, slopes, bunkers, mounds, wet spots, dry spots or grain?  You are still in the big picture mode, but now you are paying attention to what the green looks like in areas that will have a direct effect on the roll of your putt.  You can also think of them on your approach shot to get some help from the terrain.  When will a backstop help you?  Which ridge or slope will carry your ball to the hole?  Is the green dry and firm?  Should you choose an aiming point 10-15 yards short of the hole?  I'm digressing a bit from green reading to using the terrain to hit shots, but the point is, be aware of the terrain and the conditions and use them in your favor instead of not paying attention or fighting against them.

This is the hole location sheet for #16 at Ballyneal.  Ballyneal is a gem of a Tom Doak course nestled in the northeast corner of Colorado along with nothing but wind and horizon.  This is taken from a great blog:  ballynealcaddy.blogspot.com by C. Mulligan.  What a great golf name. 


"This is a picture of the 16th green viewed from the right side of the fairway. The flag is in the "B" pin position. Use the ridge to the left of the green to bring a shot into this pin."  Mr. Mulligan's words describing Ballyneal #16.  Notice, he is asking the player to aim off the green to get close to this pin.  When I played Ballyneal, I relied on my caddy to give me aim points.  It was often far from the hole due to the hills, high winds and ridges on the greens.  Sometimes its better to be 15 feet from the hole than to risk a shot that is 5 feet or 50 feet if you catch the wrong ridge.  Take another look at the green.  The high spot is clearly to the right and behind, but that isn't consistent on the green.  The designer creates different high spots to funnel water and offset nature.  The mound in front of the front bunker is important to keep water from running straight into the bunker.  This is a consistent feature of all greens and will influence your putts if they roll near bunker complexes. 

3.  Read your putt.  You should take a quick peek from the side to see if you have an uphill or downhill putt.  From behind, first pick out the center of the cup for your putt.  This is very important because it will help you establish the break point and it will also increase the odds of your putt falling.  If you have a putt that breaks from right to left a lot, your center might be 4 O'Clock.  If you choose that as your center, you can drop a putt into the hole at 3 O'Clock or 5 O'Clock if the speed is good.  If you choose a center that is too low for the break, you have chosen your low side as the center and that gives you very little hole to work with to make your putt.  Now, see the path of the ball as though you were rewinding a tape; from the hole back to your putter face.  Pause at the spot you want to roll it over.  Now, at the ball, figure out if you need to play break to get the ball to roll over that spot.  Visualize the putt from the ball to the hole.  Work on your visualization until you can do this in real time.  This is very helpful for putting with mounds or tiers in between you and the hole.  It helps you break the putt into portions and find the speed needed at each juncture.  

Now, you are ready to aim.  Your aim is responsible for the first 6" of the putt, but no more!  You want to roll the ball on the path you just visualized at the speed you need to roll it in the hole.  If you are still thinking of the line of the entire putt, you are not going to have good speed control.  Let go of the line as soon as you aim and roll the ball freely.

That is your process for reading greens.  First, see the green from 50 yards away.  Next, see the greens terrain.  Finally, read the line of the putt.  

We had a few good drills today that might help you, too.  
One drill we did that aids in visualization is putting balls from 4 feet back to 30 feet along the same line.  We did it with breakers and double breakers and learned what to look for along the way.  This is Casey Grice working on matching her read with the correct speed.  
 Another drill we did that was good was to put a ball down at the middle of the hole as chosen for a breaking putt.  The goal was to hit a putt and knock the ball in.  It is good because it gives you a good sense of the proper speed and if you hit the ball low or high side, it deflects to the sides of the cup.  It really helped cement the fact that the center of the hole isn't always the closest point to you as you putt.

Finally, we talked through putts and put balls down at important points to reflect points the ball would go over in its path to the hole.  
This was a tricky little double breaker.  The ball in front of the first ball is the aim point.  The mound causes the putt to fall right in the first third.  It then straightened out and went a bit left off of another mound.  At the end, as the putt slows down, it goes to the right, because that is the low spot on the green.  The tee behind the hole signifies 1 foot behind the hole or the speed that we would like the putt to be traveling when it reaches the hole.  
Finally, we spent some time today talking about the speed you want to carry to the hole.  On uphill putts, on bumpy greens and on wet greens, you can hit the ball a foot past the hole.  You can stretch that to 18 inches if any of the above are severe.  Just remember to read less break at the end of the putt.  On downhill putts, slick greens or big breakers, roll the ball to end 6 inches to a foot past the hole.  As you become good at controlling your speed, you will begin to naturally see when to give the putt a run and when to die it in the cup.  I agree with many of the experts that there is one speed for a putt to have the maximum chance to roll in, but I also know that sometimes a little more speed is helpful in overcoming bumpiness or to hold the line on uphill putts.  I also believe that slick greens call for balls to die, especially when there is a lot of break around the hole.  If you misread a putt with a lot of break on slick greens, chances are it will begin to work away from the hole very early after you hit it and give you a testy putt to finish up. 

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