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Charting the putting stroke differences in different handicap golfers

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One of the most troubling parts of putting for many golfers has been the relationship between line and speed. Most golfers know that the proper line is determined by the speed at which a putt is hit, but how do golfers know how hard to hit the ball? How can one really understand “what to feel” without doing it correctly first? Isn’t there a more scientific way to audit feel and help people to become better at hitting the ball the same distance when they want to over and over?

In my putting academy I use several tools. For this article, I will use Advanced Motion Measurement’s 3D Motion Analysis System and the SAM Puttlab created by Science & Motion Sports to help you understand “feel.” These two high-tech systems will be used to correlate the data contained below.

Using the SAM, I will correlate the “time signatures” and “stroke lengths” of 10 putts in succession charting the backswing speed, forward swing speed, time to impact and overall putter-head acceleration for players of varying levels.

Hypothesis

The more rudimentary a player’s proficiency level, the less consistency we should see in the player’s length of stroke back and through as well as their control of the putter head’s speed and acceleration on the way back and through.

photo 04

We will focus on a few things on this page in regards to the “Putter Path:”

  • The overall length and consistency of the backstroke (shown by the dotted line).
  • The overall length and consistency of the forward stroke (shown by the solid line).
  • The amount of “loops” or “loose motions” going back and/or through.
  • The amount of “curly-Q’s” at the end of the forward swing.

PHOTO 05

The top left time graph pertains to putter head speed on the way back. It shows just how fast the putter is moving in milliseconds. The tour average is around 650 ms.

The top right time graph shows the speed of the putter into the forward swing, through impact, and into the finish. The tour average is around 300 ms.

The bottom left time graph is the acceleration of the putter from address to the top of the backstroke. A flat line shows that acceleration is constant, thus, the speed of the putter head at this point is neither accelerating nor decelerating.

The bottom right time graph shows the transitional acceleration of the putter into the forward swing and on to the finish. The steeper the line moves up the more putter acceleration a golfer has and the faster the putter is moving in milliseconds. If the line descends then the putter acceleration is slowing and its speed is diminishing.

One note regarding “stroke length” and “timing signatures.” It is very easy to repeat a stroke that is consistent in length, acceleration and timing if and only if a golfer’s impact alignments are sound and solid. In this study we understand that the more basic the player’s skills, the greater the chance there is of an impact alignment breakdown. That will make the post-impact putter path data look very inconsistent. This action will be shown by the excessive “curly-Q’s” at the end of the forward stroke graph. It is my thought within this study to test my hypothesis above, showing that stroke length and timing signatures should correlate and do so as players become more proficient.

PHOTO06

The 3D Analysis of the Professional used in the “correct” putting sample graphs above shows that at impact the forward wrist and rear wrists are in solid alignments as the shaft is leaning 0.1 of a degree forward. This is the most consistent impact position that a golfer can have. Whenever the forward wrist “breaks down” and the club shaft leans back through impact a golfer has added loft to the putter face, which makes “feel” almost impossible to have when a golfer needs it.

The Tour Professional Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 07

As stated earlier, each professional player was asked to hit the same 15-foot putt 10 times without being able to see to the ball’s finish position while the data was taken. As you could imagine, the backswing length and forward swing length are symmetrical indicating consistency within the length of stroke on the same flat 15-foot putt.

The Tour Professional Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 08

The timing signatures of the above putts show a very consistent motion in regards to speed and acceleration. As you can see, the timing signature on all of the lines on the four graphs are not jagged during the backswing and/or forward swing. This shows consistency within this player’s putter head speed and putter head acceleration back and through.

The Scratch Player Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 09

In viewing the overall length of the stroke from the above graph, you will see that the backswing length of the stroke is very consistent, however, there are some issues in regards to the follow-through length of the stroke itself. Whenever you see disruptions in the finish length of the stroke, this is an indication of improper backswing length, speed and acceleration. The overall backswing shape looks reasonable, but in viewing this on a closer scale you will see that the direction of the backswing (shown by the dotted line) and the subsequent “loop” of the transition shows some inconsistencies, thus the overall lack of general consistency in the follow-through length, shape and direction.

The Scratch Player Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 10

Above we stated that the backswing length and shape was reasonable (this player is a scratch player), but it is not at all close to the forward and backswing graphs of the tour player. As noted, the real issues were shown in the follow-through stroke lengths and this was mainly due to poor consistency of the backswing length and acceleration. In fact, if you look at the backswing acceleration graph on the bottom right you will see that the lines are “tight” but do not appear as “one” as shown by the tour professional. Subsequently, there was a lack of overall consistency in forward swing length. These issues and player compensations are shown very dramatically in the forward swing speed and acceleration graphs above. This scratch player fights his backswing acceleration consistency and the forward swing speed and acceleration graphs are greatly compromised as a result

10-Handicap Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 11

In a 10-handicap player, the inconsistencies within the backstroke length, follow-through direction and length start to become obvious. This is easily shown through examining the backswing lengths on the right of the graph above as well as the symmetries and overall direction of the follow-through lines to the left of the dots. The “curly-Q’s” show the excessive hand action of this player trying to make up for the improper motion of the stroke he perceived internally as he putted and saw the previous ball’s reactions.

10-Handicap Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 12

Now that we have seen that the normal 10-handicap player has some type of swing length issues, it is interesting to note that, yes, the timing graphs become more inconsistent as well but do not indicate the brutal inconsistencies we saw above in stroke length. This helps us to understand that one’s stroke can vary in length and timing, but if there was one part to this equation that overcomes another it would be the fact that golfers can still putt to a relatively successful level if their timing signatures are not grossly out of sync. There is not much difference between a 10-handicap and a scratch player on the putting green except a few three-putts and a few missed up and downs with some being contributed to leaving the ball on the incorrect side of the hole.

20-Handicap Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 13

As we examine the difference between the 10- and 20-handicap player, you will see a huge difference between the levels of these types of putters. As seen in the above graph, this player has trouble controlling the length of his stroke back and through, providing general inconsistency on putts of any distance or shape. Remember that this mid-handicap player was asked to hit the SAME length putt over and over (15 feet) and this lack of consistently shows that his player cannot control the overall feel and putting stroke length from stroke to stroke. This is where all the three putts come to light. And as you can tell, this would make it very hard for this player to develop a consistent “feel” on the greens because nothing is constant from putt to putt and stroke to stroke.

20-Handicap Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 14

Examining the four graphs above helps us to see that each of these strokes had a very different “timing signature” and logically, if golfers cannot move the putter back and through the same speed on the same length putt they are going to have problems with pace.

Something interesting to see: The backswing timing graphs do not show that big of difference between the 10- and 20-handicap player, but the swing length and forward swing speed and acceleration graphs are very, very inconsistent. This is the biggest difference between these two players. As stated earlier, golfers MUST control their swing length and forward swing speed and acceleration.

Did this player have trouble with his speed because his swing length was off or did he have trouble with his swing length because his speed was off? I believe that it can happen either way. If you watch players who take the putter back super slow, they will adjust and move through much faster when they have allowed the backswing tempo to become too slow. The opposite argument can be made, however, when this player takes the club back too long or too short. His subconscious takes over and he adjusts his swing length through the ball to accommodate. When this reaction occurs, his timing signatures become grossly inconsistent.

36-Handicap Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 15

It is not very surprising to see that a 36 handicapper has little “feel” in backswing shape, direction, or length, thus he will have no control of the putter head in general.

36-Handicap Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 16

You will also find that the timing graphs are all over the board as well. This player has no idea what to “feel,” thus he will have a hard time with any outcome driven type of practice. The key for this player would be to help understand how to FEEL the proper length stroke for putts of differing lengths and then to associate the proper speed and acceleration required to make this happen with the proper putting stroke length.

The Beginner Stroke Length Graph

PHOTO 17

The Beginner Time Signature Graph

PHOTO 18

Just for fun, we also tested several players who have never played golf and this is what we saw as a sample graph for length and timing. There is no consistency in stroke length, stroke direction, backswing/forward swing consistency in speed and acceleration. These strokes, however, are “natural” and have no conscious thought in them unlike the 36 handicapper above. The 36-handicap player has more evidence of curly-Q’s due to his hands taking over in order to try and force the ball where he wanted it to go. But the total beginner has no evidence of controlling the ball with his hands. He simply moves the putter and just see where it goes. Thus, the point must be made that the only real difference between a total neophyte and 36 handicappers is that the more experienced player has learned to better manipulate his hands, but he has NOT improved his stroke or timing in general.

The Mechanical Conclusion: The SAM proves that in order to have “feel and control” on the greens, golfers must do several things at once in order to reproduce the same stroke:

  • They must control the overall length of their backstroke and follow-through on putts with the same general length.

PHOTO 19

They must control not only the overall speed of their overall stroke, but its acceleration as well; thus, all the lines on each graphs will almost appear as “one.”

If they are “swing” putters like Ben Crenshaw, golfers must accelerate into the impact zone and maintain a constant velocity through impact in order to control the ball’s reaction (shown below). This is shown on the bottom right graph by the “table-top” looking acceleration curve. Impact occurs at the point where the “table-top” falls off on the right side. This is the acceleration signature of a player who plays on fast greens.

PHOTO 20

As a “hit” putter like Nick Price, golfers must accelerate off the beginning of the backstroke and into to the ball with a “popping” type of action (shown below). This is shown on the bottom right graph as acceleration begins, table-tops just before impact and then accelerates once again into the ball (shown by the steep peak) and then drops off rapidly. The second acceleration is the “pop” through impact seen by Price and is usually a mark of someone who has grown up on slower greens.

Photo-111

During the forward swing and into and through impact, a golfers wrists should remain as solid as possible allowing the club shaft to return to the golf ball in a position that will allow it to propel the ball as consistently as possible.

Read More Tom Stickney II : What Flightscope and Trackman can tell you (and me)

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction and Business Development at Punta Mita, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (www.puntamita.com) He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 15 people in the world. Punta Mita is a 1500 acre Golf and Beach Resort located just 45 minuted from Puerto Vallarta on a beautiful peninsula surrounded by the Bay of Banderas on three sides. Amenities include two Nicklaus Signature Golf Courses- with 14 holes directly on the water, a Golf Academy, four private Beach Clubs, a Four Seasons Hotel, a St. Regis Hotel, as well as, multiple private Villas and Homesites available. For more information regarding Punta Mita, golf outings, golf schools and private lessons, please email: tom.stickney@puntamita.com

29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. rob campbell

    Mar 22, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    dear moderator
    please delete my second post. I thought the first was lost. Thanks

  2. rob campbell

    Mar 22, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    I think I’ve been using the pendulum stroke. I think it’s different from either of your example strokes. Am I correct?
    BTW I recall a passage in a book by a putting teacher about the summer he really practiced hard on his putting (college golf team) and got worse.

  3. rob campbell

    Mar 22, 2014 at 8:50 am

    Pelz talks about a pendulum stroke that would seem to me to be different than the types you mention. True?
    (Aside for West) He also describes the summer in college when he really really practiced his putting, keeping track of his results, and found that he got worse.

  4. Turner

    Mar 19, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Tom – perhaps this comment is more applicable to your recent post on the putting grip, but I figured I’d ask it here on your most recent post.

    Have you done any analysis on the impact (positive/negative)”oversize” putting grips have had? For example, grips offered by SuperStroke.

    Considering these grips have become a recent “trend” in putting on tour, I’m interested to see if you’re able to measure any sizeable gains.

    Thnx,
    Turner

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Sadly I have not. People seem to love the bigger grips though.

  5. Sean

    Mar 18, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Isn’t it amazing what the brain can comprehend in such a short period of seconds. I’m a very good putter and take very little time to put. Usually a very open stance, which free’s my shoulders and allows me to make an upward contact to the ball with a straight path to my line. It’s nice to see all your data because it let’s me know that putting is a gift. Cramming all that information in first observation looks and pinning up and sinking a putt makes me feel great. I’ve never put that much thought to anything. I’m blessed.

    • Sean

      Mar 18, 2014 at 12:42 am

      One thing. The art vs science thing. We are not science. We are art. Science is something that is compiled and analyzed like a post market report vs competition for evaluation. The actual put is art, then when the act is finished you can then and only after can you evaluate data to comprise what is considered science. Which is a full conclusion of an event. So putting is an art. What results is science.

      • Tom Stickney

        Mar 18, 2014 at 9:55 am

        Thanks. We’ll agree to disagree on how to teach putting more effectively.

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

      Couldn’t agree more. It’s an amazing thing.

    • west

      Mar 18, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      Exactly!

  6. Dave

    Mar 17, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Tom, good article.
    To those that think it is too data driven, I believe that was the point and would have been obvious if you scrolled quickly before jumping into the article.

  7. ryan k

    Mar 17, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Lots of technical info here. I’d be interested to know one thing: you mentioned the”swing” putter and the”pop”putter and their typical acceleration signatures correlating with a certain putting surface. Do you mean those putting styles tend to perform or prefer one surface versus another? I think of myself to be more of the”swing”type and putt better and am much more comfortable on fast greens over slow ones. I’m looking forward to your response!

    • Tom Stickney

      Mar 18, 2014 at 9:53 am

      You are correct. Swing putters like fast. Pop like slower speed greens.

      • ryan k

        Mar 19, 2014 at 9:08 pm

        Ok more questions…have you found these different putting styles do better with certain putter types, ie mallet versus blade, or tend to putt with a certain stroke type, ie straight versus in to out or “gate” as I’ve heard it called? Sorry if I busted your next article!

  8. tom stickney

    Mar 17, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    West–
    This is a research article; thus the detail. I disagree with you on your art vs. science comment…yes putting has some art to it, but it does have science as well. This argument was the same when launch monitors first came out. All the best

  9. 8thehardway

    Mar 17, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    Great article, but when conveying lots of detailed info to a more casual audience it’s best to begin with your conclusion, i.e., “The Mechanical Conclusion” and use the data to support and reinforce it.

    • tom stickney

      Mar 17, 2014 at 6:30 pm

      I’ll forward your comments to Zac, the editor of this site…thanks

  10. paul

    Mar 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    When are people going to understand that having accurate numbers helps you find feel faster? I was shooting over 100 two years ago and regularly shoot in the low 80s thanks to virtual golf practice in the winter and a couple lessons. Keep up the good work Tom, love the articles. Btw, would have been nice to see something about ball contact on the face. I put some stuff on my putter to see impact location and was surprised that I had 1 heel miss, 1 toe miss and 28 in a dot about half the size of a dime after 30 putts about 15′ long. Which I think is fine for a 12. I read your articles because I want to get to a 7 this year.

    • Philip

      Mar 17, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      Totally agree! I have been going to VGolf since the first of February twice a week and the progress I am making in creating a better swing which is becoming part of my natural feel swing is amazing. I am excited for this season. Without the numbers from VGolf, I would be shooting in the dark.

  11. Tom

    Mar 17, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Some useful information here, unfortunately it was a two cup of coffee read and I had to use the facilities before I could finish.

    • tom stickney

      Mar 17, 2014 at 6:35 pm

      You should have been writing it! A few trips to the bathroom for me a well…

  12. west

    Mar 17, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Waaaaaaaaay too much techno babble here…Every golfer, pro or amateur has a unique putting stroke, each course, each hole, different times of day a green can differ tremendously. Putting is no science. It’s an art. The more you practice under different conditions on different greens, the better you will get. It’s a “feel” thing, that only comes with practice and experience. You can aid your putting technique with science and technology, but at the end of the day its all about practice, learning your stroke and learning how to read greens. Pros are not where they are at today because they didn’t spend thousands of hours homing their “feel” for putting, THEY DID AND THE DO!!!

    • Philip

      Mar 17, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Have to agree with this – I prefer cause and effect. I do something (cause) and observe the ball reaction (effect). Trackman/FlightScope are good to see the final distance and curvature of hit balls, which we cannot determine so easily.

      I’ll try to read this and see what I can gleam from it, but it is a bit much.

      Also, totally disagree with the continued relating of ability of one part of a golf game to handicap. You remove context when you try to do that. A person could put like a scratch golfer, chip/pitch like an average 10 handicap and have a long game like an average 20-30 handicapper. I find a lot of PGA professionals like to classify student’s ability based on handicap; it’s convenient, but doesn’t make sense.

      • tom stickney

        Mar 17, 2014 at 6:34 pm

        Agree…but most players want to see how they stack up against their own group.

      • paul

        Mar 18, 2014 at 9:19 am

        Jeez, do you follow me around the course? I strike like an 8, putt like a 12, and short game is like a 20.

    • tom stickney

      Mar 17, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      This is a research article; thus the detail. I disagree with you on your art vs. science comment…yes putting has some art to it, but it does have science as well. This argument was the same when launch monitors first came out. All the best

      • Philip

        Mar 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm

        Thinking more about it, I guess you are right in the science part. For instance, I find it useful to know the loft of my putter, as well as whether it is open or closed when I make my stroke. Being able to guage the smoothness of my stroke would be helpful as well and I see where in your article that is being given.

        I’ll give it a thorough read before I make any more observations. Respect the part of it being a research article. Maybe you should mention it at the beginning so that people know it isn’t neccessarily for the layman while playing a game.

    • derek

      Mar 21, 2014 at 11:10 am

      I read somewhere that most pros aim left because after years of putting they “know” their miss(?), aka their alignment is actually open on contact.
      This machine would help years of trial and error to know that if your real direction of your avg flat, 10 foot putt is short and left, your gonna aim right and hit the putt with a bit more umph to MAKE more putts all year.

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