Before we take the eyes out of putting, let’s take a quick eye test. Look at this picture below and answer this question: Which looks longer, A or B?
The correct answer is C!
I know you just read the question again and are screaming, “There is no C!”
That’s because like any great illusion, it’s a trick. The cards you see are EXACTLY the same. Our eyes are just lousy at seeing curves.
Which brings us to green reading in the modern game. Think about golf course architecture — specifically green construction. Courses are now built with modern capabilities, no bare hands and mules dragging soil. So what are some things that happen that upset our eyes’ ability to read greens?
No. 1 is that the architect can tilt the green away from natural drainage patterns. The old saying “it breaks toward the water” actually can be 100 percent wrong because the architect can move the dirt to make it go the other way.
When the PGA Tour was at Torrey Pines recently for the Farmers Insurance Open, I heard the announcers say too many times to count that the players need to take into account the ocean when reading the break for a putt. Lunacy! When the South Course was redone before the 2008 U.S. Open, modern equipment was brought in to move the ground around, and man determined the slopes on the greens — NOT NATURE. It would be very easy for me to build a green that broke completely away from the water, agreed?
Secondly, man-made drainage patterns allow for run off in a minimum of three directions for most greens. So you can have lots of opposite movement on greens that mess with your eyes, also going away from the natural lay of the land. So in Phoenix, putts are not necessarily biased to break toward “The Valley,” and in Palm Springs, they all don’t break toward Indio!
That is why eyesight can be so misleading. There has to be a better way to read greens that does not fool you and make you guess as to what you are seeing?
That brings me to last May when I was hanging around the putting green at The Memorial Tournament. Adam Scott had just won the previous week and made lots of putts including two in a playoff. Before each putt, he held up several fingers and then lined up and hit the putt. It was the first time I had seen Aimpoint Express. I had read about it, but now it was live fire with the No. 1 player in the world at that time. Now here I was watching it up close at The Memorial. I soaked it all in as Hunter Mahan worked the green with his caddy. Then Adam arrived and worked it.
I noticed two things immediately:
- They made lots of putts…and they made the reads quickly in doing so.
- When they missed, they were burning the edge every time.
In fact, you might already be doing Aimpoint Express and not even know it! Have you ever gotten over a putt and felt like it might break more/less than you saw? That is because your feet are feeling the incline and sending your body an adjustment to calibrate to so you stand in balance. That is exactly what Express does.
This gets me to the point of needing to bring clarity to Aimpoint Express for players confused by what they are seeing and hearing on TV. Just last week, Jerry Foltz and Judy Rankin on The Golf Channel LPGA Tour telecast from Ocala had an Aimpoint Express discussion that was full of errors that left the viewer confused and badly misinformed.
So let me give you some facts about green reading with Aimpoint Express. We are going to hit these 3 points:
- Aimpoint Express is quick.
- Aimpoint Express is NOT technical.
- The best players are using it.
Take the last point first because all you have to do is read the list of names that use Aimpoint Express: Adam Scott, Anna Nordqvist, Stacey Lewis, Ian Poulter, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan and Lydia Ko, the new No. 1-ranked female golfer in the world.
Also, Aimpoint Express is not technical. When you can learn it in less than an hour and immediately make putts from all over the green, that is in no way technical. Quantum Physics or String Theory is technical. Taking apart my computer and putting it back together (and having it work again) is technical!
Here is how non-technical it is.
I had a tour player recently ask me what we do about grain and if I can adjust to play more or less break if I want to with Aimpoint Express? He had been told there is no adjustment for it because it is too technical. Well, that is another false statement and goes to how not technical it is. Aimpoint Express is accurate to 95 percent of the read, while the other 5 percent of the putt is your experience and athleticism, adjusting for things like grain and how hard to strike the ball. It’s literally as easy as that!
The last comment I hear a lot is that Aimpoint takes too long. On the contrary, it’s so fast that if every player on the Ryder Cup teams last year knew how to do it, they could play the event in two days instead of three. I can get the read and have the putt on the way a lot faster with Aimpoint Express than when I read it with my eyes after walking all over the place. My eyes are nowhere near accurate enough for me to get the read quickly!
I prefer to be 95 percent accurate as opposed to just going with my best guess and reading putts with my eyes. Remember the test above, with the curved cards, if you want to trust your eyes.
Our feet are like a pair of highly sensitive levels. They are always seeking dynamic balance to keep us safe by making minute adjustments and sending that message to our brain. So they are very effective at feeling slope because they have been doing that since we started to walk in order to keep us upright and out of harm’s way.
So after learning Aimpoint Express and teaching it to my players and watching them win tournaments, I can clearly see the future of green reading. If you do not want more precision, then keep guessing with your eyes. If you want to get your read faster and make more putts, then find a certified instructor near you and check out Aimpoint Express.
An open letter to golf
I know it has been some time since we last spoke, but I need you to know I miss you, and I can’t wait to see you again.
It was just a few months ago I walked crowded isles, stood shoulder to shoulder, and talked endlessly with likeminded individuals about you and your promising future in 2020 at the PGA Show. At that time, the biggest concern in my life was whether I had packed the perfect dress-to-casual pant ratio and enough polos to get through the mayhem of six days in Orlando. Oh, how the times have changed.
On a professional level, what started with the LPGA Tour a few weeks prior progressed quickly at The Players Championship, when you ground to a complete halt within days. As much as it was a tough decision, it was the right decision, and I admire the judgment made by your leaders. Soon after, outside of the professional ranks followed suit and courses everywhere began shutting doors and asked golfers to keep away.
This is the right decision. For now and for the foreseeable future, as much as I don’t like it, I understand how important it is we let experienced health medical professionals make choices and craft policies for the wellbeing of people everywhere. Although, judging by the indoor short game trickery I have witnessed over the last 10 days, handicaps could be dropping when you finally return.
As a game, you are over 200 years old. You have survived pandemics, wars, depression, drought, and everything else that has been thrown at you. Much like the human spirit, you will continue on thanks to the stories and experiences others passed down and enjoyed.
I know you will survive because I also plan on surviving. As long as there are people willing to tend to your grounds and maintain your existence, I will also exist ready to take on your challenge.
When you are able to return in full, I will be here.
Ryan Barath (on behalf of golfers everywhere)
The Wedge Guy: Improving your short iron and wedge impact
One of my most appreciated aspects of this nearly 40 years in the golf equipment industry is the practically endless stream of “ah ha” moments that I have experienced. One that I want to share with you today will–I hope–give you a similar “ah ha moment” and help you improve your ball striking with your high lofted short irons and wedges.
As I was growing up, we always heard the phrase, “thin to win” anytime we hit an iron shot a little on the skinny side (not a complete skull, mind you). When you caught that short iron or wedge shot a bit thin, it seemed you always got added distance, a lower trajectory and plenty of spin. It was in a testing session back in the early 2000s when this observation met with some prior learning, hence the “ah ha moment” for me.
I was in Fredericksburg, Virginia, testing some wedge prototypes with a fitter there who was one of the first to have a TrackMan to measure shot data. I had hit about two dozen full pitching wedges for him to get a base of data for me to work from. The average distance was 114 yards, with my typical higher ball flight than I like, generating an average of about 7,000 rpms of spin. What I noticed, however, was those few shots that I hit thin were launching noticeably lower, flying further and had considerably more spin. Hmmm.
So, I then started to intentionally try to pick the ball off the turf, my swing thought being to actually try to almost “blade” the shot. As I began to somewhat “perfect” this, I saw trajectories come down to where I’d really like them, distance increased to 118-120 and spin rates actually increased to about 8,000 rpms! I was taking no divot, or just brushing the grass after impact, but producing outstanding spin. On my very best couple of swings, distance with my pitching wedge was 120-122 with almost 10,000 rpms of spin! And a great trajectory.
So, I began to put two and two together, drawing on the lessons about gear effect that I had learned back in the 1980s when working with Joe Powell in the marketing of his awesome persimmon drivers. You all know that gear effect is what makes a heel hit curve/fade back toward the centerline, and a heel hit curves/draws back as well. The “ah ha” moment was realizing that this gear effect also worked vertically, so shots hit that low on the face “had no choice” but to fly lower, and take on more spin.
I had always noticed that tour players’ and better amateurs’ face wear pattern was much lower on the face than that of recreational golfers I had observed, so this helped explain the quality of ball flight and spin these elite players get with their wedges and short irons.
I share this with you because I know we all often misinterpret the snippets of advice we get from friends and other instructional content that is out there. To me, one of the most damaging is “hit down on the ball”. That is a relative truth, of course, but in my observation it has too many golfers attacking the ball with their short irons and wedges with a very steep angle of attack and gouging huge divots. The facts are that if the club is moving only slightly downward at impact, you will get the spin you want, and if the clubhead is moving on a rather shallow path, you will get a more direct blow to the back of the ball, better trajectory, more distance and improved spin. Besides, shallow divots are easier on the hands and joints.
If this is interesting to you, I suggest you go to the range and actually try to blade some wedge shots until you somewhat groove this shallower path through impact and a lower impact point on your clubface. As you learn to do this, you will be able to zero in on the proper impact that produces a very shallow divot, and a great looking shot.
[TIP: If you will focus on the front edge of the ball – the side closest to the target – it will help you achieve this kind of impact.]
It will take some time, but I believe this little “experiment” will give the same kind of “ah ha moment” it gave me.
On Spec: Interview with Trevor Immelman, 2008 Masters champion
In this episode, host Ryan speaks with Trevor Immelman about his career, what it was like growing up around the game as a competitive amateur in South Africa, and what it’s like being a Masters champion.
Topics also include his experiences working with the design team at Nike Golf as well as his current “What’s in the Bag” which includes equipment from Titleist and the process he went through to get it dialed in.
Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below.
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