A Nice Long Distance Essay
Putting Distance Control (the other stuff later)
A friend recently posted his experiences with putting during his college career, and a workout that he felt improved his distance control to the extent he became a PGA Tour player. As I read what he described as stumbling upon, let’s call it a technique, I found myself smiling and happy at his description. I’m going to take it a few more steps and tell you why what he did works and how you train to maintain that edge of great distance control.
First of all, I trained with whom I consider the best in the world of putting, Phil Kenyon. The information and references I gleaned from him are invaluable as far as Im concerned. One gem was an extensive spreadsheet of maths formulas used to calculate data for backswing length based on length of putt, stimp, and tempo (beats per minute of your stroke). It always reminds me of my days flying F-16’s when we would calculate the precise speed, angle, and altitude to release a bomb on target; unbelievable amounts of data…crunching numbers we called it. Inevitably, when the time came to apply this data you hit an air pocket, get bumped around, drop it anyway, and hope it gets close. That process was referred to as, ‘measuring with a micrometer and cutting with an ax.’ The same can be said for a putt. If your’e focused on a 7.45 inch backstroke to roll a ball 10 feet during your stroke you just hit an air pocket in your head and are focused on an absolutely wrong thing to use when playing! Used as a tool to develop motor control; it’s a good tool, but not a gamer. What I consider the best way is all in our mind, but first we need to be committed (big word without it has ill affects on most everything in life) to what we really want the ball to do.
One of Harold Swash’s Four Fundamentals is ‘every putt is a straight putt.’ So if you ball is ten feet from the 4.25 inch wide hole (or 11cm if you’re from over there) and you stroke it so it rolls within 1 degree of the center; the ball should fall into the cup given the proper speed. Same situation but a breaking putt; is still a straight putt at your target and as the ball slows gravity makes it curve away from you target spot, down the hill into the cup, given the proper speed. So think about it read the putt first (commit to it; zero doubts). Select your start line (commit to it; zero doubts). Set up/stance however you do it to line the putter face square to the start line (commit to it; zero doubts). Do your stroke, roll your ball on your start line, and the ball rolls in the cup given the proper speed. That’s the third and this is the fourth time I’ve written “given the proper speed.” So assuming you do the real aiming at a high level, rolling the ball on speed should get the ball underground at center of the cup, every time!
Stroke control is from the brain (neurons are in the heart and gut too so it’s also from there; you can feel it) It’s physical motion like dancing. It is conscious action that is rhythmic, with proper tempo that transfers energy from the putter to the ball so it rolls the proper distance. Stroking it with arms, shoulders, or hands (your preference) using the proper tempo applied rhythm is the best distance controller on the planet. So how much distance does the putt need to roll? The answer isn’t in feet or inches. The answer is the distance you perceive in your brain not just what you’re looking at with your eyes, from here to there. It can take two to four seconds (ref: Dr. Joan Vickers, Quiet Eye) for what you see with your eyes to marry up with your brains perception. Do you ever have those days when all your putts come up short, and have the urge to just mechanically hit it harder? Don’t do it you know what will happen. My friend and world class putting coach, Dr. Craig Farnsworth has a drill to train and test what I call your eye-brain interconnect. Pick a hole sized target some distance away, don’t stare at it longer than a second. Close your eyes and point your finger at where you think it is. If you’re pointing just short of it, and a theoretical putt stopped there, the roll was perfect. In this case your perfect tempo and rhythm rolled the ball precisely where your brain perceived the target. You can and should practice this anywhere because it is a skill we all need to maintain, and you don’t need a putting green.
Now that we know how far we need the ball to roll how do we actually do it. Sounds simple, but it’s not. Is the green fast or slow (ball rolls fast on slow greens and slow on fast greens). So stand with the ball between your eyes and the ‘target.’ Mentally see it roll along your start line, if it curves let it curve, right to the hole with enough speed to get captured. Think about other sports, a baseball pitcher doing the routine before a fast ball doesn’t imagine a slow changeup; he sees it screaming!
The motion of the putter head in rhythm moves at a 2:1 ratio. Think of it as, for instance, x distance backstroke and 2x forward stroke. The time is the same for each direction. Pretty much a half second back and a half second forward is enough to roll the ball the distance based on the data logged on your brain. Assuming a square putter to your committed start line, with a balanced stance, I ask you turn you head so both eyes are on the target and to focus on where you want the ball to roll and stop for four seconds (or two breaths…yes do that!). Bring your gaze back to the back of the ball where the sweet spot of the putter is going to make contact, and sing! You know where the start line is because you’re committed to it. Be committed to your rhythm and one second tempo; it’s just like walking. You can say, ‘one thousand one’ or anything! Even jelly donut! Just consciously do something other than purposefully moving the putter. Let it dance. Your commitment is to the rhythmic distance; be committed to it, and accept what happens. (Grober)
Acceptance can, and in my opinion should, be meditative. You probably should make it an addition to every golf shot. One of the biggest negative influencers to staying committed is result anxiety. I really need this putt to shot this score! So now I’m focused on the future score and not what is going on right now. Now is all that matters in performance sport, but the hard part is training our mind to not wonder into the past or future. One of the easiest was to adjust your mind-set just before you putt is to see the ball roll into the hole and mentally add, “and I’ll accept it if it’s left, right, long , or short, but I still want it in.” Settle over your putt and do the dance. Smile no mater what.
Practice rhythmic distance control by doing things with a four second gaze and putting with your eyes closed, toss a hackie sack to different spots (be judgmental), roll a ball with your hands, toss clothes in a hamper, shoot baskets. Anything you can do that lets your brain exercise distance control.
This essay on distance sits at around 1400 words right now and I’m sure is fairly complicated for some. There is a tremendous amount of data on this subject and it can easily become mind boggling. My goal with this paper is to give you enough information to trust the process and remove doubts that can interfere with commitment. Commit to the process so you don’t have to think of all the why’s.
So let’s summarize to make it seem simple. You’re committed to the start line you figured during the read. You have your target in sight. Assume you have a grip, aim, stance, and posture all ready to go. You look at the target and see the ball roll in the hole, practice acceptance, but it’s going in! Both eyes on target for four seconds, eyes on the contact spot on the back or the ball; one thousand one, and ball rolls along the start line into the hole. Your gaze is still where the back of the ball used to be simply focused on the grass (don’t follow the putter head). My friend said he kept looking at the spot of grass behind the ball after he rolled the putt. Who knew? Have fun! Ask questions and make mistakes!
Grober, Robert D., Resonance in Putting. Department of Applied Physics, Yale University New Haven, CT 06520
Vickers, J.N. (2009). Advances in coupling perception and action: the quiet eye as a bidirectional link between gaze, attention, and action. Prog. Brain Res. 174, 279-28810.1016/S0079-6123(09)01322-3