Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Learning and Change

After 22 years as a head coach, you'd think I'd have this, right?  Nope, still learning.  We've adopted a new stat program this year and it's been eye-opening to me.  It's causing me to change the way I think about putting.  Before I start, I must apologize to Wanda, who in fact had it right years ago.  Wanda is her nickname, used to protect the righteous.  She often left putts short; lots of putts.  So, being the smart coach I am, I would implore her to get them to the hole.  Now I know that the best putters on tour are the best because they control their speed.  That means that from 30 feet, they will leave almost 30% short.  Why?  If you're great with your speed, that means the ball will finish close to the hole.  From 30 feet, it's pretty tough to be precise.  Leaving yourself one or two feet is the goal.  I know, I know, the goal is making it, right?  Dave Pelz tells us the perfect speed would put the ball 18" past the hole. What I've learned from Scott Fawcett is, 3 putt avoidance is more important to scoring well than making birdies.  The funny thing about that statement is, I knew that fact, but I didn't translate it into the "how" of playing golf, or more specifically, putting.  Check out this blog I wrote in 2014.   If the goal of your putt is to putt the ball 18" past the hole, then your long misses will be 3-5 feet past the hole.  That means you open yourself to a three putt and the possibility of a bogey or more.  Here are three simple drawings I did of bell curves with a hole represented.  The first is with the hole positioned with the ball going 18" past, the second is with the ball going to the back of the hole and the third is with the ball going into the middle of the hole.
This bell curve is with the accepted 18" past speed.  Where will the majority of the putts miss?
This bell curve is with getting the ball to the back of the cup.  This is probably how you would like to putt on putts 10-20 feet.  

Going back to the blog I wrote in 2014, I noted the two obvious keys to winning on each and every tour.  Hit greens and average fewer putts.  Scott Fawcett's game management system advocates the same.  It's one thing for me to notice trends and talk about them, but it's another thing entirely to coach players to do the things needed to avoid mistakes.  I was noticing the right things and coming to the right conclusions, but needed a paradigm shift to make the changes to my coaching.  From here on out, my words will be "control your speed" instead of "get the ball to the hole".  Those are two completely different messages.  

I've already started working on this with some of my students.  One of those students is a great lagger of long putts, but is notorious for banging her shorter putts past the hole.  We worked on controlling the speed by sticking a key in the ground dead center of the hole and forcing her to hit the ball in the sides of the hole.  It worked!  She started by making none.  The balls sailed past the sides of the cup.  As she worked and adjusted her speed, the balls started to get sucked into the hole.  At least that is what seems to happen when the ball hits the hole at the right speed.  The harder you hit putts, the smaller the hole becomes.  In other words, for the ball to fall at a speed too high, it needs to be dead center.  Great players like her are used to getting by with hitting the ball too hard, because they hit most of their putts dead center.  When they don't or when there is a bit of break that comes into play, the ball won't fall.  Here's a graphic from Geoff Mangum's website with this idea broken down.  You can check out his page here.  Good stuff!  I greatly simplified his studies, but go to his website and learn from the best.  Just look at the pictures to imagine the amount of time the ball needs to drop and then picture it off center.  That third ball is the one that's going to miss.  That's the one that the parents see all the time and tell me things like, "she's not getting any to fall," "she's all over the edges," "she keeps lipping out."  It's not bad luck and no amount of patience will fix it.  Instead, the player needs to control her speed.

So, our goal going forward is to continue to build skills to score lower and lower, but we will now be incorporating a new paradigm.  It feels kind of weird to coach in a way to avoid errors; like I'm coaching only defense now.  However, if I look at this as how to form a winning strategy instead, then I'm simply learning and changing.  That's how growth occurs.  

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