Friday, February 5, 2016

It's My Putting, Coach!

This is my 20th year as a head coach and this is the 20th year that I've heard this lament when I talk to players about their up and down statistics.  They tell me that their chipping and pitching is pretty good, but they just don't finish it with a made putt.  My question to them is, what is good?  Is a chip to 4 feet good?  Is a chip to 5 feet good?  Start today's blog by reading this article by Mark Broadie and then hop back to the blog, please.

Closer Encounters by Mark Broadie  At the end of the article, putting coach Phil Kenyon offers you tips about your putting practice.  Pay attention to what he wants you to ask yourself.  What questions should be at the end of each putt you roll?

You're back?  Great, now, tell me what you think about your chipping vs. your putting.  If you don't get a chip up and down, should you continue to blame it on your putting?  If you chip it to 4 feet, you have a lot better chance at an up and down than if you chip it to 5 feet.  You shouldn't expect to make every 5 footer or longer, no matter how great the chip was to get it to 5 feet.

Here are Matt Kucher's putting percentages from 2015.  He was chosen, because he was the best on tour at making putts from 5 feet.

Matt Kucher     Putting inside 5 feet = 98.41% (ranked #1)
                         Putting from 5-10 feet = 56.13% (ranked #107, #1 was 65.52%)
                         Putting from 10-15 feet = 31.21% (ranked #72, #1 was 44.81%)

Matt Kucher was #13 in scrambling at 63.78% in 2015.  I'd guess that he got a lot of shots within 5 feet of the hole when scrambling.  If so, he was almost assured of an up and down.  If it was within 10 feet, he had a bit better than a 50-50 chance of an up and down and outside of 10 feet, he had about a 1 in 3 chance of making an up and down.  I'm giving Kucher the benefit of the doubt that he got almost all scrambling shots within 15 feet.  The point of these stats is, if you want to be certain to have a great short game, don't blame a lack of success on your putting.  Get out there and get every tough shot you might face around the green within 5 feet of the hole.

We recently did a really tough practice and the players weren't having the success they expected.  If you want a great short game, it's a challenge I'd put forth to you often.  You can decide the standards you're basing your success upon.  Here is what we decided upon for this week's goal:

Using 5 balls, choose a chip or pitch shot.  Hit all 5 shots and pick up the two best and the two worst.  Your middle or median shot must be within 3 feet to win the hole.  You must get 3 wins to finish the challenge.

That doesn't sound that tough, does it?  But it is.  What it means is, you're getting 3 of 5 shots within 3 feet of the hole, which from a coach's point of view, assures you of an up and down.We often do it with 3 balls and use the middle ball also.  It's a little easier with three balls, because you are required to get two shots close instead of three.  You can stretch it to within 4 feet or even 5 feet to make it easier, but if you want a tough challenge, keep it to 3 and see how long it takes you to get it done.

As for putting practice, here is an excerpt from Broadie's article that was very helpful for our practice designs.

"We worked on some aspects of his technique, and we structured his practice to create more intensity and variability. In the early season, we spent a lot of time doing performance drills in the key areas of five to 15 feet to integrate the skills of aiming, pace control and green reading. It's helped."  Phil Kenyon - Henrik Stenson's Putting Coach on Henrik's improvement of .7 in strokes gained putting stat.

To put Stenson's improvement into perspective for our team; if each player improved her strokes gained putting by just .5 from last semester, that would equal 2 shots per round for our counting scores and 6 shots per tournament.  According to Golfstat, that would raise our national ranking approximately 15 spots.  GAME CHANGER!  

As Stenson's coach points out, you must integrate your skills of aiming, pace control and green reading inside 15 feet, so we do a lot of challenging drills that ask for those skills to be accomplished.  My players want to become better at reading greens.  The first step to that skill is controlling your pace.  If you read the green well and choose the correct line, you must then hit the ball at the speed to roll on that line and drop in the hole.  So many putts are hit at too soft a speed and dive low or at too firm a speed and roll right through the break.  This is especially true inside of 15 feet.  So, we are actually back to the title of the blog, "It's My Putting, Coach!"  Our goals in practice are to get it inside 5 feet on our first putt or after a chip shot and if we don't, we need to be great at matching our speed with the proper line and roll the ball in the hole.  Pretty much the same as every other college team in the U.S.

So what will separate us?  The questions we ask!  The trickiest part of this whole equation is what a player chooses to pay attention to during her practice.  If you go into each challenge with a learner's mindset, then you will pay attention to your makes and misses and learn from both.  Your questions will lead to answers that lead to positive changes.  If you go into your practice with a judger's mindset, you will question yourself in a completely different way.  This old coach has been watching body language for over 20 years and I can see the difference between a player missing a 5 footer who steps back and looks at it again versus a player who gets disgusted, rolls her eyes and purses her lips.  The first is thinking about speed or break or perhaps stroke.  The second is questioning why she can't make a stupid 5 footer.  The first is practicing to improve.  The second is practicing judgement.  

The questions you ask yourself and the way you ask them will lead to what you take away from your practice.  According to Marilee Adams, "questions are intrinsically relational."  In other words, if you question yourself in your self-talk after missing a 5 footer, are you doing so as a learner or a judger?  Here is an example of this relationship in a coaching situation.  Think about the relationship you have with your coach and how you view her request.  

Your coach goes through a situation with you and asks you to respond to it differently next time you are faced with it.  She might say, "Jodi, next time you hit it into the woods at this golf course, I want you to look closely at simply punching straight out into the fairway and then continue to play the hole."  

With this request, you ask yourself questions.  Is she giving you this directive because she thinks you're dumb?  Does she think you lack the skill to hit a good punch shot?  Is she still mad about the time last semester when you made triple when you went for a tough shot out of the woods?  Is she angry?  Is she disappointed? Is she controlling?  What is she thinking?  These questions wouldn't lead you to a positive mindset.  

What if your questions were more along the line of, Does coach see something that will make me a better player?  Do I need to work on hitting punch shots so I can get more green lights?  Is this a way to help me make better decisions?

Coaches are just as guilty as players at approaching situations from both a judger's mindset or a learner's mindset, so whenever instruction is given, a good coach will preface it with an attitude of care and deliver the instructions calmly and without negative emotions, tone or facial expressions.  Even so, any instruction can be received as a judgement if the receiver chooses to see it in those terms.  

Imagine if every day you showed up to practice with these questions:

What do I want?
What can I learn from this?  
What is useful or valuable?
What does coach want?
What is the best way forward?
What is possible?

Instead of these questions?
What's wrong with me?
Why can't I make a putt?
Why do I have such bad luck?  Why do my putts lip out?
Why is Coach making me do this stupid drill?
How did she finish so fast?  I wonder if she really did it?  I wonder why she's so much better?
Why can't I read a putt? 
Why is this so hard?

"Do you have questions or do your questions have you?" 

Dr. Marilee Adams

Your attitude is formed by your questions, the tone of your inner voice and your ability to learn instead of judge.

When you have a learner's mindset, you choose to take in information and ask yourself questions that allow you to view the information in a positive and helpful light.  Whether you're being coached or listening to your own self-talk, you have to constantly make the choice of a good mindset.  Dr. Adams does a really nice job of explaining how our mindset shapes our ability to see our world and learn from what we do.  

If you want to learn more from Dr. Marilee Adams, you can check her out on youtube.  It's amazing how much excellent content is free for the watching on youtube and this video is indeed excellent!  Dr. Marilee Adams Defining Mindsets

Now, let's go back to the tough short game drill we did above.  Is your goal to finish it? Or, is your goal to finish it and learn from it?  Time is limited.  How can you get .5 shots better in your putting per round this semester?  Start by asking questions that reflect a learner's mindset instead of a judger's mindset.

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