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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

How-to Series: How to move your hips on the backswing

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Lucas Wald How To Series: How to move your hips on the backswing

This is the first installment in our How To Series — follow this plan to master the movements of the hips on the backswing!


Watch the series introduction here

This new series is all about helping you improve your golf swing quickly. We’re going to break the swing down into its component parts and give you specific practice direction — master these key elements of the swing and you’ll see improvement fast!

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How “long arms” at the top of the backswing can help you hit the ball farther

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One of the hardest things to do as we get older is to make a big shoulder turn with extended arms at the top. It’s the swing of a younger golfer! However, every one of us can add width at the top so we can hit it further, but few know how to actually do so. In this article, I will use MySwing 3D Motion Analysis to help you understand how beneficial long arms are at the top.

As you examine the swing of this particular player, you will notice that the lead arm is “soft” and the hands are close to this player’s head at the top. This is the classic narrow armswing to the top that most older players employ. And as we all know this position leaves yardage in the bag!

Now let’s look at the data so we can see what is actually happening…

At the top you can see that the shoulders have turned 100 degrees which is more than enough, but the arms look jammed and narrow at the top. Why?

The answer lies within the actions of the rear arm, the lead arm is only REACTING to the over-bending of the rear elbow. As you can see at the top the rear elbow is bent 60 degrees. In a perfect world, when the rear elbow is at 90 degrees (a right angle) or more, the lead arm will be mostly straight — depending on how you’re built.

Something to note…in this position the hands are just past the chest and the shoulders have turned almost 90 degrees. However, when this player finished his backswing, he added 30 more degrees of rear elbow bend and only 11 more degrees of shoulder turn! What this means is that for the last quarter of the backswing, all this player did is allow the hands to basically collapse to the top of the backswing. This move is less than efficient and will cause major issues in your downswing sequencing, as well as, your transitional action.

As stated when your trail elbow stays at 90 degrees or wider in route to the top, you will have a much straighter lead arm.

One last thing to note when comparing these two players is that this player two had a shorter backswing length but a BIGGER shoulder turn with WIDER arms at the top, giving this player a short compact motion that resembles Adam Scott — which seems to work for he and Butch!

Therefore, the thing to remember is that if your lead arm is soft at the top and your arms look crowded at the top, then you must fix the over-bending of the rear elbow on the backswing. And if you have wider arms you will have a more solid “package” to become a ballstriking machine!

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Champ or choker? 5 ways to keep from being the latter

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Golf can be a lonely game. Rarely in sports are you more on an island while battling fears, doubts, and inner demons in the effort not to choke — especially on the biggest stages. But even if we’ve never been a champ, or played in a major championship, we’ve all been there, battling those same demons, and that’s why most of us can relate so well with some of golf’s most infamous chokes.

The pinnacle of these ignoble events was likely on the final hole at Carnoustie, in the ‘99 British Open, when Jean Van de Velde gave up a three-shot lead in a tragic comedy of bad shots (and even worse judgment), a scene that saw him take off his shoes and socks and wade deep into the Barry Burn before finally coming to his senses. Van de Velde ultimately lost in a playoff to Paul Lawrie, earning his place in golfing infamy, but when it comes to choking away victory on the biggest stage, he certainly wasn’t alone.

In the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic Club, Arnold Palmer lost a seven-shot lead to Billy Casper on the final nine holes. Ed Sneed blew a five-shot lead on the final day of the ’79 Masters that was a three-shot lead with three to play by missing very short putts on each of the last three holes. Greg Norman’s infamous collapse at the 1996 Masters should be counted as well, when he threw away a six-shot lead with an atrocious 78 on the final day, allowing Nick Faldo to win.

And the champions of this generation haven’t proven immune either. Rory McIlroy coughed up a four-shot lead on the final day at Augusta in the 2011 Masters, ultimately carding an 80. And Dustin Johnson has a hat trick of tight-collar escapades in majors, losing the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by shooting a final-round 78 after starting with a three-shot lead, and the 2010 PGA by committing a rules violation when he had the lead on the final hole, and the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth when he three-putted the final hole from just 15 feet. And speaking of Spieth, his final round collapse at Amen Corner on the back nine at the 2016 Masters, when he gave up a five-shot lead by going bogey-bogey-quadruple-bogey after putting two balls in the water at the dreaded 12th, is how that year’s event will forever be remembered.

Now golfers aren’t alone when it comes to choking. Athletes in nearly every sport fear it, suffer from it, and work their entire careers to avoid being associated with it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to say that a large percentage of athletes would rather be known as a cheat, a thief, and a liar before being known as a choker. Our sports culture reveres the clutch athlete, the player who can handle the biggest moments on the biggest stage and rise to the occasion time and again. And possibly because most of us can’t, we look up to those who can handle those pressure-packed situations like almost no other. And we cast aspersions upon those who can’t, labeling some who’ve done it even once as chokers, and those who have a habit of self-sabotage as choke artists. We are fascinated by those who can succeed in the spotlight, and, as sports fans, frustrated by those who wither when the lights are brightest. And the awareness of this is so pervasive that avoiding having to wear the choker label can arguably be in and of itself the greatest pressure.

As a result of this preoccupation with choking, scientists have studied it quite a bit. And some are finally beginning to identify its causes and how to avoid it. And while it sounds like a gross oversimplification, much of this study seems to conclude that choking ultimately comes down to simply this… Thinking too much. When athletes get nervous about their performance they stop doing whatever it is they do instinctively and essentially fall into the trap of trying not to make mistakes. They begin to desperately try and control whatever the necessary motions they need to make to a higher degree than normal and, in the process, the fluidity of those motions is lost along with their grace and talent.

Now that’s a layman’s description of what happens, but let’s use putting to explain what’s going on a little more scientifically. When people first learn to putt, they have numerous things to consider. They need to assess the break of the green, what line they will use, and at what speed they will need to roll the ball in order for it follow their intended path. They must also ensure their stroke is not only straight enough to send the ball upon the intended line, but the right size so that it rolls it at the intended speed. For a new golfer, this is more than challenging enough to require the majority of their focus and attention, and at first this necessary. By focusing on their stroke mechanics, as well as the other necessary elements they are trying accomplish, they can avoid mistakes and make better putts.

Once they’ve played for a while, though, and possess the requisite skill to putt, everything changes. Analyzing the stroke at this point is wasted mental energy as the brain almost automatically computes the necessary break and speed needed for a successful putt. Complex learned motor skills like putting are controlled by the cerebellum, and trying to consciously control these skills shifts control to the slower, more deliberate prefrontal cortex, causing a performance drop. If you look at the brain waves of athletes during performance, those of beginners tend to have erratic dips and spikes as well as wildly inconsistent rhythm, the neural signature of a mind engaging in conscious thought. By contrast, expert athletes’ minds look almost eerily serene, showcasing a mental tranquility that ignores disruption or interruption from the outside world, highlighting the fact that in optimal performance those who succeed essentially don’t think, they just do.

This is why studies show that experienced golfers who are forced to think about technique hit significantly worse shots. Once our technique is embedded we instead want to rely on the automatic brain. Conscious thought essentially erases years of practice, and this is what often happens when athletes start to choke. They begin to second-guess their skill, and the part of the brain that monitors their behavior begins to interfere with the types of actions that are normally made without thinking. Before long, performance spirals, as failures mount and increasing doubt about the ability to perform begin to rise.

So why are golfers so much more apt to choke than other athletes? Well, unlike most reactionary sports, we’ve unfortunately got a lot of available time to engage in all that unnecessary thinking. This means we have a proverbial minefield of potential mind-traps out there waiting for us to step on. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take cues from the available research, we can devise habits, routines, and strategies to help short-circuit the choking phenomenon, and potentially avoid becoming another Van de Velde the next time the chips are down.

  1. Practice Desired Outcome Focus – It’s essentially impossible (and a bad habit) to try and not do something. Telling yourself not to hit it left in the hazard, or to stay away from the bunker right is a really bad idea, and there are studies backing that up. Shift your focus instead to what your desired outcome is.
  2. Practice Positive Visualization – Positive visualization is a great tactic to use to avoid choking. Get in the habit of mentally rehearsing a positive image of the skill you want to perform, or better yet, a successful image of the shot you want to make like a high fade towards the tallest pine at the corner of the dogleg.
  3. Practice Implicit Learning – This is learning through observation, rather than the step-by-step instruction manual approach, and its practitioners have been observed in studies to be much less susceptible to choking than their overly analytical counterparts.
  4. Practice a Pre-Shot Routine – Players who have a disciplined performance routine that allows them to become engrossed in the process, shifting their mind away from too much outcome thinking, have also proven to be much less susceptible to choking.
  5. Embrace Distraction – Athletes asked to listen to sounds or words unrelated to the actions they are performing rarely show the type of drop-off in performance in high pressure situations than those who are actually focused on what they are doing. So, next time listen close to all those birds chirping, partners yakking, or clubs jangling with a welcoming ear, instead of an instinctive complaint.

While these practices can really help you start understanding what to do if you want to become an actual champ, learning a few lessons from the foibles of some of those would-be champs can be helpful as well. When Palmer melted down in ’66, it was because he got over-confident and began firing at pins in an attempt to break Ben Hogan’s Open scoring record. As things started to unravel, though, he got tight, surly, and uncharacteristically dour in the effort to get things under control.

When Norman’s bid for his first green jacket began to fall apart like the proverbial cheap suit, he too got tight, making one uncharacteristically poor decision (and swing) after another in attempt to get things under control. When Rory McIlroy collapsed, he approached the entire day of the final round differently then he did typically, thinking he needed to be more serious and stoic in his quest to nail down his first ever major and it backfired.

And for Van de Velde, the succession of agonizingly poor decisions, beginning essentially on the 18th tee of the final hole, was actually his attempt to not do anything different when common sense dictated he should have. When asked about it in an interview fifteen years later he said,

“What do you want me to say? I should have played it differently? I believe that…with what I do and the way that I do it, day in, day out… that I played it correctly. I hope that people learned that it’s a game and there’s bigger things in life. Winning with grace is pretty easy. Losing with it is a lot harder.”

Quite a profound statement form someone nearly unequally qualified in the game to make it. Bravo Jean. You may not have ended up a champ, but you certainly won’t find me calling you a choker.

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