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Are you wasting your time on the putting green?

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As a teacher, I’m always investigating ways to help my players become more proficient both on the golf course and within their practice time. That’s why I am so excited to have come across one of the best books ever written on the subject of golf improvement, Mark Broadie’s Every Shot Counts, and if you are serious about moving your game to the next level I highly recommend that you find the time to read it.

Every Shot Counts tells the story of how conventional golf stats that we have all kept at one time or another can be misleading and can hamper your improvement. One of my favorite examples in the book is when Brody discusses the putts per round stat and how it can be flawed. Think about it: putts per round does not take into account the fact that many of a golfer’s putts might come after a chip shot, not an iron shot, and it doesn’t factor in how long or how short a putt is.

Brody suggests many other ways to look at putting in an effort to improve your approach and improve your scores. In this article, I’d like to show you how you might be diligently practicing your putting, but doing it in such a way that you are not improving as fast as you could or not improving at all!

There are two goals that every player should focus on while working on their putting:

  1. One-putting more often from the statistical distances that makes sense to your level of play.
  2. Eliminating three putts from the statistical distances that make sense to your level of play.

Here’s a chart that shows the probability of one-putting from different distances depending on a golfer’s ability level:

One Putting Table

Let’s examine a few of the data points in more detail:

  • For all players, any putt inside 2 feet is almost a guaranteed make.
  • For better players, 3-foot putts are almost a given unless something radical happens.
  • For golfers who shoot in the 90’s, 3-foot putts start to become an issue (84 percent success rate).
  • Between 5 and 8 feet, a tour professional’s proficiency drops off dramatically.
  • Between 5 to 8 feet, scratch golfers begin to show their putting weakness.
  • Outside of 5 feet, 90’s shooters have extreme difficulty one-putting.
  • At 10 feet, tour professional only make 40 percent of their putts.
  • At 20 feet, a 90’s shooter isn’t half as good as a scratch golfer, but the difference between a scratch player and a tour pro is a mere 1 percent.

The numbers show that tour pros should focus their practice on 8-to-10-foot putts and 90’s shooters are better off practicing putts of 4-to-10 feet. 90’s shooters should forget working on longer putts, with one putting short putts being their only goal.

Here’s a chart that shows the probability of golfers of different ability levels three-putting from different distances:

Three Putting Table

Let’s examine the data points in more detail:

  • Lag putting work from 20 feet and in is basically a waste of time for the tour pro and scratch player.
  • The idea of lag putting for 90’s shooters should begin at 20-to-25 feet.
  • For the tour pro and scratch player, the thought of lag putting should begin around 40 feet.
  • 50-to-60-foot putts for the average golfer spell “three putt.”

For the levels we have discussed, here’s the synopsis.

The tour pro does not have much to worry about until he gets to 50 feet, and if he can get the ball inside 8 feet on those putts he has a good chance of converting a two-putt. Secondly, on normal tour greens (a.k.a. not Augusta), a tour pro should not have that much trouble lagging the ball within 8 to 10 feet on even on the most difficult breaking putts, which still gives him a good chance to convert his two-putt.

Based on the data, tour pros should work on putts from 8 to 10 feet as well as those outside of 50 feet to use of their most effectively. .

Again, you can see that beginning around 55 to 60 feet tour pros need to become focused on lagging the ball close. However, these players have a buffer that’s unlike what you will see with the 90’s shooters. The 90’s shooters only make putts that are inside 5 feet 66 percent of the time. That’s why 90’s shooters should focus on becoming better short putters within the 5-to-10-foot range. Those putts will be much more important to their score than the putts they hit from 15-to-45 feet.

The 90’s shooters should instantly go into “lag mode” from 20 feet out, ensuring that they have the proper feel to snuggle the ball close to the hole from longer distances. Remember that the proficiency of the 90’s shooters from shorter distances basically states that until they get the ball within 5 feet, they will miss more than half their second putts.

So the key for the 90’s shooters is to become more proficient from 6-to-10 feet so that they have a better chance from longer ranges. As a 90’s shooter, if you don’t get your putts from 40 feet and out into a 5-foot circle around the hole, your chances of two putting diminishes greatly. That’s the pressure poor short putting puts on the lag putting for average golfers.

I hope by now you have seen the importance of understanding how to use the stats you can derive from charting your game based on the data provided by Broadie’s book.

The book also goes over stats for all parts of the game that you will find useful, but the one-versus-three-putting stuff hit me like a hammer. I, like you, practiced and wanted to become the best I could be, but it’s data like this that makes me just cringe thinking about how many wasted hours I spent on things that weren’t very statistically relevant to the big picture.

I hope this story saves you an hour or two during your life of golf!

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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

54 Comments

54 Comments

  1. Dave S

    Jul 10, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Great article! I love advanced statistics in golf… very eye-opening.

    As devil’s advocate, couldn’t it also be said that for 90 shooters (who presumably don’t have very much time to dedicate to practice) that their time would be best used practicing their Driving? Every un-biased statisical analysis indicates that poor driving accounts for more strokes lost than poor short game (which runs counter to the old school notion of “Drive for show, putt for dough”), at least with less talented players. Hitting more fairways (i.e. less penalty strokes) is the quickest way to improve your score. That said, I think putting is probably the easiest thing to practice and to improve upon, so if a person has the time available, they should probably spend 75% of it on Driving and 25% on putting from 4-10 feet.

    Do you agree?

    • tom stickney

      Jul 10, 2014 at 3:04 pm

      All depends on the strengths and weaknesses of the player in general…I’d suggest a 90 shooter take a series of lessons on ALL parts of their game

      • Dave S

        Jul 10, 2014 at 3:16 pm

        Fair point… tough to argue that. But if you HAD to choose what to spend your very limited time on, I would probably suggest driving over putting, at least for the 90s shooter. A missed putt will (usually) only costs you one stroke… a wayward drive will cost you two at most decent courses.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 13, 2014 at 1:42 am

      It all depends on the player…but generally speaking you are correct.

      • Robert Erickson

        Jul 21, 2016 at 11:36 am

        I have played golf for most of my life. When I was young, I felt that I had to work on the “big” shots. However, as I have gotten older and have less time to practice and play, I feel that I should spend my practice time on 120 yards and in. You hit the driver 14-15 times a round and long and mid irons about the same. So you have hit 30-40 shots out of ninety or so. Anything you can do to improve on those 40-60 shots remaining will make you a better golfer. The putting message here is spot on.

  2. Rusty Carr

    Jul 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Tom,

    Which would you say wastes more time on the putting green:
    A) Putting from the wrong distances
    or
    B) Putting with one or more of the following flaws
    -using a putter that is not fit for you,
    -putting using a wrong green read,
    -putting generating the wrong speed,
    -putting using flawed swing mechanics,
    -putting using a bad ball position?

    If you’ve got flaws, shouldn’t they be fixed before you try to “practice”? If you can’t read a green accurately, never heard of a lumpy doughnut, think that grain is a type of alcohol, don’t know which eye is dominant, haven’t got a clue whether you’re a screen door or pendulum putter, don’t have a routine, don’t know the difference between feel and method putting, don’t have a putter balanced to match your swing stroke type, start the ball rolling with a bounce and back spin, raise your head on contact, etc. then a lot of practice is a sure way to become a bad putter.

    Another way to interpret the statistics is that the methods they pros use to practice are better. Could it be possible that trying to change what is already working for them could make their statistics worse? Maybe there is a progression of things people should work on where putting from specific distances is the last thing on the list?

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 9, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      I’m always of the opinion that a better fit roller is a necessity but most players never get them fit for reasons I’ll never understand. Great point.

  3. Marc S

    Jul 9, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    Great book. Learn how to apply and lower your stroke ave at our science and stat data driven training center- EBC Elite Training, located at PGA National Resort.
    EveryBallCounts.com

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 9, 2014 at 1:56 pm

      Thx for your comments. Please don’t use this forum to advertise your services.

  4. Stretch

    Jul 9, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    The stat I use for putting efficiency is 2 putts for greens hit in regulation or better and one putt for greens missed. A 24 putt day hitting 6 greens would be the equivalent of 36 putts when all 18 greens are hit. The total putts over are under the day’s putting par is the stat that shows the relationship between the short game and putting as a cohesive unit. Referred stat I call the “Short Game Index” or SGI for shortness.

    No matter what level of swing ability and physical talent, golfers all can learn how to score better by learning how to hit the short game shots as close as possible and then rely on the flat stick when not possible.

  5. Ben Peters

    Jul 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Great piece. This was an eye opener for me. I’m a 12 handicap whose favorite thing on the practice green is to go out 20-30 feet and roll a few balls at the hole. My hope being that by the third ball seeing the read I might be able to knock one down. The reality is when I walk up to my three misses my two putt conversion rate is poor. I will still practice lag putts from time to time obviously, but this piece has convinced me that it makes way more sense for me to stay in that 5-10 foot range for the lions share of my practice time and increase my success rate there.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 9, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Thx Ben

    • Fred

      Jul 12, 2014 at 2:03 pm

      Excellent article, Tom, and I’ll be sure to check out Mark Broadie’s book.

      A while back, I was listening to Lee Trevenio talk about putting, and he mentioned how Ben Hogan never put too much emphases on that part of the game. Believe he said Snead was the same way. Hogan believed that what transpired on the fairway to be of more importance; he figured it didn’t matter how good you were with a putter if you couldn’t get the ball on the green in a timely manner. Of course, that will never keep me from the putting green.

      On another note: for those golfers who like to take two or three balls on the putting green, here’s something I learned from Ben Crenshaw during a Pro-Am at the AT&T championship in San Antonio. When you practice putting, only use one ball. Anyone can make puts after watching what the first ball does. But when you’re actually playing, you only have one chance. Go with what you feel is the correct read and see if you’re right.

  6. John J

    Jul 9, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Hi Tom,

    Interesting piece, however I would like to present a counter point / caveat to this analysis.

    To say that putting inside 5 feet is not a worthwhile exercise for the scratch or tour player is, in my opinion, not accurate. Your analysis falls short in that it does not take into account the total number of attempts from those distances. Based on the total number of attempts that actually occur within 5 feet of the hole, becoming extremely proficient in this area will absolutely help lower score. To present my case with data, the average PGA Tour player attempts about 11 putts per round inside 5 feet of the hole, however they only attempt about 3 putts in the 5 to 10 foot range. If you take the difference between the best and worst player statistically on tour in each of these two ranges, the difference is the same, about 0.85 strokes gained / lost per round. So they are identical in importance to score, and in fact I would argue that if I were to choose one, I’d rather practice those putts inside 5 feet because more is left up to my stroke than the rub of the green.

    If we take this out and compare an average scratch player to an average Tour player, the difference inside 5 feet is 1.06 strokes lost per round, whereas the 5 to 10 foot range is only a 0.49 strokes lost per round.

    One more analysis comparing the 90’s player to a scratch player, the difference inside 5 feet is 1.17 strokes per round, and the 5 to 10 foot range is only .46 strokes lost per round.

    The big caveat here is the number of attempts per round, and this is where this analysis fails in my opinion. Putts inside 5 feet happens so much more frequently that it becomes critically important to improving score.

    There is a saying “there are liars, there are damn liars, and then there are statistics!” I love the data driven direction that golf has taken but I would just caution players to sit down and analyze where their game falls short and set out a plan of action that involves reducing the absolute value of their score, not improving some percentage because we feel like its too low and can be improved easily.

    Hope this was helpful to everyone!

    • Stevo212

      Jul 9, 2014 at 10:10 am

      I completely agree, if a scratch golfer falls below the tour benchmark then they will lose a hell of a lot if they miss within 5 foot. Therefore it is definately beneficial to practice that length. Be aware that this is also only an average number, if you look at the guys making money on the PGA Tour with sub 105mph driver speeds (almost all amateur club golfers) there putts within the range of 3-5 feet are around 90-95% as this is the only area that can make up there score purely down to physical differences. Practising long distance putting is an area that will bring little benefit to your scores but if you can get 90%+ on 3-5 foot putts you will definately improve your scores, plus this will take a lot of pressure off chipping and pitching

      • Tom Stickney

        Jul 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        Agree to a point. Thx for your thoughts sir.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 9, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      Couldn’t agree more but if a tour player has 11 five footers they better hit more greens 🙂

      • John J

        Jul 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm

        Tom, I think you may have missed part of my point here. According to PGAtour.com stats, the average tour player in 2014 takes 11 shots per round inside of 5 feet. They only take an average of 3 shots per round in the 5 to 10 foot range. Think about it this way, if you were to create a scatter plot of your putts in a round, the data points (each putt taken) would get much more dense and concentrated as you get nearer to the hole. To demonstrate this point, according to PGAtour.com, an average tour player is just as likely to have a 3 to 5 footer as a 5 to 10 footer.

        Practicing 5 to 10 footers is just as important as the 3 to 5 footers, it just may seem that you miss more 5 to 10 footers but that’s because they are in fact harder to make! Luke Donald putts the lights out and he leads the tour at 68% of putts made in that range. The reason those putts are so much harder is that more is left up to variability in the greens, your read of the break, putt speed starts to become a factor and the fact that there is less room for error when hitting the putt (i.e. 1 degree of mis-hit gets larger as you get further away from the putter blade).

        • Gerald

          Jul 16, 2014 at 7:49 pm

          But many of those 11 shots inside of 5 feet are actually in tap-in range. And they are probably already very good at that range hence they are tour players. If they can make 1 more of those 5-10 footers each round they can gain much more on their competitors.

          In ESC Brodie points out that even though 50% of your shots come on the green (theoretically) many are tap-ins others are from such a long distance that making them is very unlikely so putting really makes up only about 15% of the game.

          Also the article is arguing that to become better than a 90-golfer then one ahould practices putts of distance that they can reasonably improve upon. Especially given the limited practice time for most recreational golfers.

  7. Dennis Clark

    Jul 8, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    Tom Nieporte, great pro and player at the Winged Foot Club for many years,(and a wonderful man) believed that the most important shots in the round were the 18 first putts! An interesting way to think about it. He won on Tour so I listened 🙂

  8. Putting Pro

    Jul 8, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    Good artcile

    Practice short putts, medium putts and long putts. Keep it simple.

    Place an alignment stick behind the hole and try not to hit the stick. This teaches pace and speed.

    • tom stickney

      Jul 8, 2014 at 8:02 pm

      Simple is usually better when working on feel for sure…

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  10. RobG

    Jul 8, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Back in college me and a buddy couldn’t afford to play but we would go to the nearest course and spend hours on the practice area. We would play a game where we would each take turns picking a spot around the practice green to hit from (different thickness of grass, different lies)and picking which hole we would play to sometimes we even took it a step further and we stipulated which club we had to use and the idea was to get up and down in the fewest strokes possible.

    Being in college the going rate was a beer a hole.

    My short game, especially my putting, was always my weakness and when we first started practicing together it wasn’t pretty. Eric was a good hockey player with great hands and even though he didn’t play nearly as much as I did he had me down a couple of cases of beer in no time.

    Being broke college students, playing for beer definitely cranked up the pressure (especially when I pressed) and it made those putts inside 12 feet so much harder to make. They say you have to practice like you play, and practicing the way we did definitely mimicked true play on the golf course. Now when I’m faced with a tough up and down or a 12 footer for par I imagine I’m playing against Eric and I’ve pressed twice and I need to make it or I’m down a case of beer.

    No amount of time aimlessly slapping putt after putt on the practice green can prepare you for those types of situations.

  11. AJ Jensen

    Jul 8, 2014 at 11:09 am

    How many times have you heard ‘I read a break that just wasn’t there?’ Overanalysis. And I have never ONCE seen a plumb-bobber sink one from twenty feet or further. Overthinking. The only thing that ever made a difference in my putting was to go with my first instinct and just hit the ball, trusting my eyes to read the breaks. If anything I’ve learned that people overcompensate for breaks more than they underestimate breaks.

    In every scramble I’ve ever played I’m the best putter, and everyone is mystified at why I want to have the first whack at every putt. I have learned that my brain works against me on putts for the longer I think them over, and I second-guess good decisions.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 8, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      You must gravitate to what works best for you under the gun

    • 8802

      Jul 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Ben Crenshaw plumb bobbed.

  12. Tom

    Jul 8, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Thanks for the article Tom. It confirms how i’ve been practicing is correct.
    I’m pretty mechanical and my practice is the same way, for lag putting I have target distances that I take the putter back a certain length for. Walk off 12yards (36feet) it gets a certain length backstroke. Walk of 18yards (54feet) and that gets a certain length backstroke. As long as my tempo and contact is consistent the putts roll out consistently the same. I can adjust from there for in between distances.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Nice to have the data to back it up…great work.

  13. Mike

    Jul 8, 2014 at 9:13 am

    There is a book out called “Lowest Score Wins” that goes over this too. I am so glad that guys like you and others are bringing this to our attention to help us practice better.

    I’m a 5 and rarely putt from 3-20ft instead focusing on putting 3ft putts and 20’+. Guess how well I get up and down?! I have to chip it to 3′ every time to get up and down and so I focus on chipping it closer which isn’t bad, but you can’t get it to 3′ every time and being better inside 10′ will alleviate the stress on your round. This reminds me of someone asking Harvey Penick for help putting and he told them to go grab their 7i and come with him. When the person reiterated that he needed help with his putting Penick told him that his problem was he wasn’t hitting it close enough to the hole!

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 8, 2014 at 10:06 am

      Mike– I have not seen that one; I’ll pick it up. Thx

      • snowman

        Jul 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm

        Lowest Score Wins is a great book; the authors cite a few of Broadies findings, but they have a lot of original stats and thoughts as well.. Website Below:
        http://lowestscorewins.com

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  15. Justin

    Jul 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    Great article!! Always nice to get some stats to help practice more efficiently.

  16. Matt

    Jul 7, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Tour players but in perfect greens every week

    Scratch players put on perfect greens a couple times of year unless they belong to an elite club

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 8, 2014 at 12:02 am

      Agree but the same general ideas still work.

    • MHendon

      Jul 8, 2014 at 12:05 am

      Definitely makes a difference especially on short putts.

      • Tom Stickney

        Jul 8, 2014 at 1:09 am

        MH- sometimes shorter putts are easier if the greens are slower. Bang it in there.

  17. Philip

    Jul 7, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Thanks, I guess I have been too hard on myself as I was putting 90-95% from 5 feet for the first month of the season and felt I should have been able to maintain it.

  18. Jeremy

    Jul 7, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Rancho Park, woo!

    I always wondered about this kind of thing. Not long ago decided my time would best be spent ensuring that I convert those rare birdie chances from close range, and doing my best to two-putt from long range. Putts in that middle range sort of take care of themselves; either I two-putt without much difficulty or I get lucky and sink it. Nice to see that data backs this up.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 7, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      The data is solid for sure. Great book

  19. Dan P

    Jul 7, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I read the book earlier this year and took the same thing away. Altered my practice routine on the green to focus on putts 6-10 feet (I’m a 5 handicap) as increasing my make percentage here is huge. I used to focus on 3-5 foot range almost exclusively outside of lag putting. His drills for lag putting are great too! Can’t recommend it enough, nice article.

    • Tom Stickney

      Jul 7, 2014 at 8:24 pm

      Thx.

      • John

        Jul 7, 2014 at 9:54 pm

        If you watch your average amateur golf on the practice green, you will see 99% of them practicing 20 footers because that’s how the holes are spaced on the green. This gets people nowhere, and maybe even worse than than that because they are using three balls most of the time. If their first putt isn’t effective they compensate who know’s how, alter stroke, unknowingly change their stance, some sort of instant compensation. I never see anyone read a putt. They are basically just slapping it around.
        I quit doing this a few years ago because it didn’t make any sense to me. Now I take 5 balls and throw them down just off the fringe and use a variety of clubs to bump and run them up to the various holes, and then grab my putter and carefully try and putt them in. I keep track of my “ups and downs”. I do this 50 times, i.e. 5 balls x 10. I am a single digit and these approaches are not difficult shots so I end up with a lot of 6 foot and in putts. This has really helped my scoring.Now my course allows this sort of low impact chipping, but others may not, but it’s a great drill to do that seems to be backed up by the research in this book reinforced by Tom’s article.
        This is an excellent piece, Tom, and can lead to substantial improvement for many golfers. You can’t say that about too many instructional articles in my opinion.

        • paul

          Jul 7, 2014 at 10:40 pm

          I do something similar. I use one ball at a time and try and get up and down to each hole on the practice green. Once I make it up and down to each hole I move my bag and clubs 5-8 steps around the green clockwise. Takes an hour to go all the way around the green. Lots of variety.

          • Tom Stickney

            Jul 8, 2014 at 12:03 am

            Keeping things fun is the key

          • John

            Jul 8, 2014 at 2:26 am

            Paul, I like your routine better than mine, and I’m going to do that myself. It simulates “on the course golf” better than my approach. I mean, how many times do you hit 5 chips in a row in actual play?

            Thanks for the suggestion.

        • Tom Stickney

          Jul 8, 2014 at 12:02 am

          Thx!!

        • Tom Stickney

          Jul 8, 2014 at 12:03 am

          Thx John!

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Instruction

Faults & Fixes: Losing height in your swing

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In this week’s Fault and Fixes Series, we are going to examine the issues that come with losing your height during the swing and its effect on your low point as well as your extension through and beyond impact.

When a professional player swings, there is usually very little downward motion through the ball. Some is OK, but if you look at this amateur player you will see too much. When the head drops downward too much something, has to give and it’s usually the shortening of the swing arc. This will cause issues with the release of the club.

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Instruction

Dangers of overspeed training revealed: What to do and what not to do

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Speed: a key factor to more money on tour. The key component sought after by many amateur golfers to lower their scores. The focus of many infographics on social media this past PGA Tour season. A lot of people say speed matters more than putting when it comes to keeping your tour card and making millions.  

Overspeed Training: the focus on tons of training aids as a result of the buzz the pursuit of speed has created. The “holy grail” for the aging senior golfer to extend their years on the course. The “must do” training thousands of junior golfers think will bring them closer to playing college golf and beyond.  

Unfortunately, overspeed training is the most misunderstood and improperly implemented training tool I see used for speed in the industry. Based on the over 50 phone calls I’ve fielded from golfers around the world who have injured themselves trying it, it is leading to more overuse injuries in a sport where we certainly don’t need any help creating more than we already have. Luckily, these injuries are 100 percent preventable if you follow the few steps outlined below.

Don’t let your rush to swing faster get you hurt. Take five minutes to read on and see what the industry has not been forthcoming with until now.  

Understanding how to increase your speed safely and with as little work possible is the path to longevity without injury. If you could train 75 percent less (to the tune of about 8,000 fewer reps a year) and still see statistically comparable results, would you rather that? 

I would.

Would it make sense to you that swinging 8,000 times fewer (low volume protocols versus high volume protocols) would probably decrease your risk of overuse injuries (the most common injury for golfers)?  

I think so.

But I’ll let you draw your own conclusions after you finish reading.   

Your Challenge

Your biggest challenge is that the answer to more speed for you is not the same as it is for your friends. It differs depending on many factors, but there are four main ones that you can start with. Those four are 

  1. Your equipment
  2. Your technical prowess
  3. Your joint mobility at your rotary centers (neck, shoulders, spine, and hips) 
  4. Your ability to physically produce power  

If you are not totally clear on these, I’d recommend checking out the earlier article I wrote for GolfWRX titled Swing speed: How do you compare? Go through the testing as outlined and you’ll know the answer to these four areas in five minutes.

Basically, you have the potential to pick up speed by optimizing your equipment (ie. find the right shaft, etc), optimizing the technical element of your swing for optimal performance (ie. launch angles, etc) or by optimizing your body for the golf swing. Understanding how to best gain speed without putting your body at risk both in the short and long term is what 95 percent of golfers have no idea about. It is the single biggest opportunity golfers have to make lasting improvements to not only their golf game but their overall health.

Are You a Ticking Time Bomb?

In my earlier article (link above), I described three main categories when it came to physical factors. Step one is to determine what category you are in.

The first option is that you might be swinging faster than your body is able to control. In this case, you are a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode in injury. We all know that friend who just has a year-round membership to the local physio or chiro because they are always hurt. If this is you, DO NOT try overspeed training, it will only make your visits to the physio or chiro more frequent. There are much better areas to spend your time on.

The second situation might be the rare, sought-after balanced golfer. You might have great mobility in the four main rotary centers (hips, spine, shoulders, and neck) and your swing speed matches your physical power output abilities. It should be noted that based on our mobility research of almost 1,000 golfers, 75 percent of golfers over the age of 40 don’t have full rotary mobility in at least one of the four centers. When you age past 50, that 75 percent now applies to at least two rotary centers. Hence why “the balanced golfer” category is elusive to most golfers.

The final option is the sexy, exciting one; the “more RPMs under the hood” golfer. This is the one where overspeed training is your fountain of youth and you can pick up 10, 15, even 20 yards in a matter of weeks. You might have more RPM’s under your hood right now. Being in this category means you physically are able to produce way more power athletically than you are doing in your golf swing currently.  

The Good News

The “more RPMs under the hood” golfer describes over 50 percent of amateur golfers. Most of you sit at work and don’t train your body to move at maximal speeds outside of when you swing the golf club. The number of adults and senior golfers who train maximal speed at the gym, run sprints and train with plyometrics (correctly) is under five percent.

Why is this good news?

Because if you don’t move fast at any point in your life other than on the golf course right now, doing pretty much anything fast repetitively will make you faster. For instance, you can jump up and down three times before you hit a drive and your speed will increase by 2-3 mph (6-9 yards) just from that according to a research study.

This means that for the average amateur, adult golfer in this category, picking up 5-8 mph (12- 20-plus yards) almost immediately (it won’t stick unless you keep training in though) is incredibly simple.

The Bad News & The Fine Print

Remember earlier when I mentioned you needed to “also have full mobility in the four main rotary centers” and that “75 percent of adults over the age of 50 lack mobility in at least two rotary centers?” 

That’s the bad news.

Most golfers will get faster by simply swinging as hard as they can. Unfortunately, most golfers also will get hurt swinging maximally repeatedly because they have to compensate for the lack of rotational mobility in those rotary centers. 

This should be a big bold disclaimer, but is often not. This is the fine print no one tells you about. This is where the rubber meets the road and the sexiness of overspeed training crashes and burns into the traffic jam of joints that don’t move well for most amateur golfers.  

Your Solution

The first step to your solution is to make sure you have full rotational mobility and figure out what category of golfer your body puts you in. As a thanks for being a WRX reader, here is a special link to the entire assessment tool for free. 

After you determine if you have the mobility to do overspeed training safely and you know if you are even in the category that would make it worthwhile, the second and final step is to figure out how many swings you need to do.

How Many Swings are too Many?

Concisely, you don’t need more than 30 swings two times per week. Anything more than that is unnecessary based on the available research.  

As you digest all of the research on overspeed training, it is clear that the fastest swing speeds tend to occur with the stronger and more powerful players. This means that first, you need to become strong and be able to generate power through intelligent workout plans to maximize performance, longevity and reduce injury likelihood. From here, overspeed training can become an amazing tool to layer on top of a strong foundation and implement at different times during the year.

To be clear, based on the two randomized overspeed studies that Par4Success completed and my experience of training thousands of golfers, it is my opinion that overspeed training works in both high volume (100s of swings per session) and low volume protocol (30 swings per session) formats exactly the same. With this being the case, why would you want to swing 8,000 more times if you don’t have to? 

The research shows statistically no difference in speed gained by golfers between high-volume overspeed protocols compared to low volume ones. Because of this, in my opinion, high volume protocols are unnecessary and place golfers at unnecessary risk for overuse injury. This is especially true when they are carried out in the absence of a customized strength and conditioning program for golf.     

Rest Matters

In order to combat low-quality reps and maximize results with fewer swings, it is necessary to take rest breaks of 2-3 minutes after every 10 swings. Anything less is not enough to allow the energy systems to recover and diminishes your returns on your effort. If these rests are not adhered to, you will fatigue quickly, negatively impacting quality and increasing your risk of injury.  

Rest time is another reason why low volume protocols are preferable to high volume ones. To take the necessary rests, a high volume protocol would take more than an hour to complete. With the lower volume protocols you can still keep the work time to 10 minutes.   

The Low Volume Overspeed Protocol

You can see the full protocol in the full study reports here. It is critical you pass the first step first, however before implementing either protocol, and it is strongly recommended not to do the overspeed protocol without a solid golf performance plan in place as well in order to maximize results and reduce risk of injury.

This is just the first version of this protocol as we are currently looking at the possibility of eliminating kneeling as well as some other variables that are showing promising in our ongoing research. Be sure to check back often for updates!

Commonly asked questions about overspeed training…

Once initial adaptations have occurred, is there any merit to overspeed training long term?  

None of the studies that I was able to find discussed longitudinal improvements or causation of those improvements. This is the hardest type of research to do which speaks to the lack of evidence. No one actually knows the answer to these questions. Anyone saying they do is guessing.

Do the initial gains of overspeed training outperform those of traditional strength and conditioning?  

There appears to be a bigger jump with the addition of overspeed training than solely strength and conditioning, by almost threefold.  In 6 and 8 weeks respectively, the average gain was just around 3 mph, which is three times the average gain for adult golfers over a 12 weeks period with just traditional strength and conditioning. 

Can we use overspeed training as a substitute for traditional strength and conditioning?

No. Emphatically no. It would be irresponsible to use overspeed in isolation to train golfers for increased speed. First off, increasing how fast someone can swing without making sure they have the strength to control that speed is a means to set someone up for injury and failure. Secondly, if they are appropriate and you increase someone’s speed, you also need to increase their strength as well so that it keeps up with the demands the new speed is putting on their body.   

Are long term results (1 year+) optimized if overspeed training is combined with traditional strength and conditioning vs in isolation or not at all?  

It would appear, based off our longitudinal programs that using overspeed training periodized in conjunction with an athlete-specific strength and conditioning program and sport-specific training (ie. technical lessons, equipment, etc—not medicine ball throws or cable chops) in a periodized yearly plan maximizes results year to year.  

In order to keep decreases in club speed to no more than three-to-five percent during the competitive season (as is the normal amount in our data), it is imperative to keep golfers engaged in an in-season strength and conditioning program focused on maximal force and power outputs. By minimizing this in-season loss, it assures that we see gains year over year.  

It is unclear if overspeed training in conjunction with strength and conditioning during the season further decreases this standard loss due to nervous system fatigue, but this would be a great area for future research.  

What sort of frequency, protocols or volume should one utilize for maximal benefit and minimal risk of injury?  

Most of the studies that I was able to find specifically on swinging looked at about 100 swings three times per (baseball). The Superspeed protocols which are the most popular in the golf world, follow a similar volume recommendation after an initial ramp up period. It is a concern, especially with untrained individuals, that adding more than 11,000 maximal effort swings over the course of year might increase risk for injury due to the incredible increase in load. Especially for the amatuer golfer who only plays on the weekends and does not engage in a strength and conditioning program, this is a significant volume increase from their baseline.

The Par4Success studies in 2018-19 found no significant difference in swing speed gains between high volume protocols and a lower volume protocol which required only 30 swings, 2x/week but required a 2 minute rest between every 10 swings.

More studies beyond these two need to be done looking at this, but it would be my recommendation, specifically in golf, not to engage in the high volume protocols as it does not appear to increase speed gains while also increasing load on the athlete significantly.  

Do any potential gains of overspeed training outperform the traditional methods that are proven to transfer to sport?

It does not appear that overspeed training is superior to any one training method, but rather a tool to use in conjunction with other proven methods. The key here is to assess yourself and look to implement this type of training when mobility is not an issue and the physical ability to produce power is higher than the ability to generate club speed. In the right scenario, overspeed training can be a game-changing tool. In the wrong scenario, it can be a nail in a golfer’s coffin.

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Instruction

Faults and Fixes: Arms too far behind body at the top

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In this week’s Faults and Fixes, we’ll look at the issue of the older player getting the arms too far behind the body at the top. When this happens, the clubhead speed is compromised, and the ability to create height, spin, and distance is diminished. For older players, Brandel Chamblee has the right idea by wanting the left heel to raise and the arms to work themselves into a more upright position.

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