Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Pendulum Stroke

It's recruiting season and I've already had the opportunity to watch a lot of junior golf.  One skill that always stands out as an area of separation is speed control in putting.  If you put the top putters on tour at 10 on a scale of 1-10, even the best juniors are roughly around 6. If you give a top junior a fairly flat 35 feet putt, she will probably roll it within 2-4 feet.  However, if you add tiers, big slopes, bumps and rolls, the distance left will go up with each feature.  Here are the reasons why and some ways you can accelerate your progress and move up the scale to putt like the pros.  I included a few videos about putting that I hope you find helpful!

  • Lag putting - The goal is to take your practice to the golf course.  Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:
    • Use one ball.  Give yourself one shot to get it right at practice just as you do in tournament play.
      • In practice, slow down your pre-shot routine and identify each feature that could effect your putt's break or speed.
        • Here are some possibilities:  slopes, tiers, bunker complexes, grain, wind
        • Look around for drains or signs of water flow to understand how the green was built to rid itself of water.  It will be faster toward the water.
      • Play games that use closest putt as the way to get points.  
        • Move around, choose tough putts, make if fun.
        • Compete with another player or compete against yourself.
    • At practice, find some big slopes or tiers.  Put some tees down to give yourself targets. 
      • Pay attention to how long it takes for a ball to go up sharp hills.  This will help you visualize and also understand where balls break when you have to give them some speed to get up the hill.
      • Now do the same on downhill putts.  Count out how many seconds it will take for the ball to go down the hill.  This is once again for your ability to visualize.  If you can see the speed it will travel, you will be able to start rolling the ball to match your visualization.
    • On the golf course, divide your putts into halves or thirds.  This will help you identify what will happen on long putts.  
      • Start at the hole and visualize where the ball needs to fall in and the direction it will have to travel to get there.  The speed will be the slowest here, so the break will be important
      • Figure out how to get to that point halfway there.  When you get better at this or on super long putts, break it into thirds.  
      • Know that your ball will begin breaking as soon as you hit it, so make sure you aim above your "break point".  Many of the putts I see when I recruit never get high enough to go in.  Think high side and slow at the hole.
    • Don't be typical.
      • This is something I say to my players.  If you stand on one hole for four or five groups, you'll notice that most players will have the same reactions to certain putts.  If the hole is guarded by a bump or tier, most players will roll the ball to the bump and then the ball will work away from the hole.  Occasionally, a player will see what needs to happen and get the ball above the bump so it works toward the hole at the end of the putt.  Figure out how to be THAT player.  
      • To be better than typical, you have to be better at paying attention.  I see a lot of aimpoint happening, but that is only a part of the equation. Your eyes need to be active from 50 yards out and looking for big picture features.  Then you need to look around your putt's path and figure out what effect anything on the path will have on your ball.  Sometimes it will be a bunp from a bunker complex or a drain just past the hole on the left.  Everything will have an effect.  
      • When you visualize, make it vivid and fun.  If you see a drain left of the hole, imagine it's a magnet and your ball is attracted to it.  Or, see your path with different colors.  Blue is fast and grey is slower.  You can see whatever you want to see!
  • Putts inside 15 feet - The goal is to match your speed with your break.  We all know these putts are the ones that give us momentum or take it away.  They are the birdie putts resultant from good shots or the par saves after tough up and down shots.
    • Matching your speed to your break is once again pretty easy on straightforward putts, but add grain, wind, speed or geographical features and they become tough.  Practice when it's windy!  If you aren't used to grain and will compete on a grainy course, go out in the evening when the grain is the most pronounced and spend a lot of time learning how to let your ball ride the grain. 
    • Get great at controlling your speed inside 15 feet.  This is about a combination of mindset and rhythm.  Great putters have great rhythm and a pendulum stroke.  That doesn't mean your stroke needs to be fast or slow, but in rhythm.  In other words, the putter's swing has a center and the transition is smooth and the same no matter the length of the stroke.  As for mindset, the best stroke in the world won't help you if you get squinty-eyed whenever you have a 10 footer for birdie and then 4 or 5 feet coming back.  Every putt is worth one shot and the ability to make the next one is the key to low scores.  If you could play a round of golf with no 3 putts, how many shots would you save?  Roll the ball with nice rhythm to within 1 foot and you'll make fewer mistakes.
    • Reading greens is reliant upon speed control.  Put a quarter on the green and putt to it from 2-15 feet until you can get the ball within a putter head on each putt.  When you can do that, your green reading will improve.  The reason for that is, your feedback will be good.  When you miss a putt, but you've putted it with the right speed, you know why you missed it.  It was too high or too low.  Breaking the putt down to missing only one factor is a huge step for most junior golfers and an outstanding goal.
    • Your tempo is the pace of your stroke.  Brandt Snedeker has a quick tempo and Jordan Speith has a slower tempo.  Rhythm is your sequencing of movements.  Your rhythm controls your mechanics and the roll of your ball.  It should remain the same on all putts.  Ask yourself these questions:  Does your putter always have the same feel in transition?  Do you keep your hands moving through the putt?  In many cases, I watch juniors change their rhythm if putts are uphill or downhill.  That means the sequence gets off.  You simply don't have time to overcome a mistake in your putting stroke.  Rhythm mistakes show up in poor distance control as well as starting your ball off line.  Practice in different conditions to assure that your rhythm is maintained.
      • If you release the putter on a quick downhill putt, that is a rhythm problem.  It also adds speed to the roll.  Fear or cautiousness can't effect your sequence of motion on the greens.  
      • If you have a quick transition because a putt is sharply uphill, that is a rhythm problem.  Quick transitions can cause a lot of mistakes, including hitting down on the ball and causing it to pop up.  This bleeds speed off of your roll and you will come up short.
    • Once again, think high and slow on your putts that break.  So many putts never have a chance to go in.  They are below the break point right off of the putter face.  The ball will begin breaking immediately!
      • Set up a gate drill on a 10 footer that has a lot of break and you'll get the idea very quickly that you're aimed well off of the hole.
      • See where the ball will enter the hole and draw a big thick line back to your ball.  Then start your ball on that line.
I hope this helps you as you work to improve your scoring.  Putting has become more of a science lately with great systems in place such as Strackaline and Aimpoint, but before you can truly use the science, you have to be great at awareness, visualization and vision.  You have to see enough putts to anticipate what any putt will do when you compete.  Even the pros are occasionally fooled, but not too often.  They and their caddies are the very best at paying attention to what's important and using the information to read greens.  I'll finish by saying if you have a habit of blaming your misses on your stroke and dropping your head down to think about what you're doing, you're losing ground and will quickly become "typical".  Most misses aren't stroke related.  Instead, they are related to speed control, poor green reading and poor awareness.  Thinking about your mechanics during a round reduces your ability to pay attention to what is around you.  If you get nothing else from today's blog, get this:  PAY ATTENTION!

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