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Q&A with Mark Sweeney, Inventor of Aimpoint

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The enigma of “reading greens” has puzzled many players over the years. What was once considered just an art — either you could do it or you couldn’t — has now been made into a science. With the invention of AimPoint by Mark Sweeney, anyone young or old can now read greens with the precision of a Tour caddie.

As someone who’s taught green reading to many golfers, it has never ceased to amaze me how differently some of my students read greens. That’s where AimPoint comes in. It’s a system based on quantifiable numbers that allows all golfers to “see” the correct line. In this Q&A, I’m glad to bring you a brilliant mind and a game changer on the greens, Mark Sweeney.

Tom Stickney: Tell me how Aimpoint was invented?

Mark Sweeney: Aimpoint began as a very complex software program that was designed to accurately predict break on any green, and over about 10 years it evolved into the Express Read that you see now. The first product was actually an app for Palm Pilots in 2004 prior to it being used on Golf Channel.

TS: Is this a system that anyone can use? I have noticed the newer versions are much simpler than the earlier ones.

MS: The Express Read is the fouth version of reads that we have taught, and it was specifically designed for children under 10 years old to be a single-factor read. It can be used by anyone because there are no angles and calculations of any kind; it’s simply assigning a slope value of typically 1-3 for any putt. When you use your fingers to see the Aimpoint, you actually get a mathematically correct read.

TS: You have many top tour professionals using your system. How does this make you feel? 

MS: Tour pros using Aimpoint is a nice validation that the read works and is reliable, something that I always knew but was difficult to convey to people who haven’t used it.

TS: Can reading greens really be broken down into a science? Or is there still some art to it using your system?

MS: The read is definitely a blend, much like getting a yardage. It isn’t as simple as just laser-ing it. Club selection always depends on lie, wind, shot shape, etc. Green reading is the same; there are feel variables like how hard you want to hit it, but the majority of break is dictated by the amount of side slope in the putt.

TS: What was the most amazing thing you have learned about reading greens since inventing Aimpoint?

MS: The most amazing thing I learned is how much geometry there is behind how putts break on a green, more than you would ever see or discover simply by putting. The computer can show you every break on the green simultaneously and those always look like macro-geometric patterns, nothing random. 

TS: Is this system really necessary if you play the same course day in and day out?

MS: I think so. I used to play the same course every week and my green reading was still terrible. (With Aimpoint) I can generally get better reads on a golf course than the local players. Every time the angles and green speeds change all the breaks will change and it’s almost impossible to learn them all by experience.

TS: What is the best green reading tip you can give to the average players?

MS: Green reading is actually very simple if you focus on the amount of side-slope in the putt. When they first see Aimpoint reads, most people can’t believe how much break there actually is until they learn to trust it. After learning breaks, they spend most of their time learning speed control. 

TS: What is the answer you give to the people that say your system is too complex or too technical?

MS: The original system using zero lines were highly complex and impractical. The chart system is the most accurate read, but is still too technical for most people. There is nothing technical whatsoever about the Express Read; it was designed for second-grade aged kids. 

TS: What is your greatest player success story?

MS: For pros, I would say Lydia Ko. She fully committed to learning and using Aimpoint and finished first in both putting categories last year. Her putting consistency while using it has been very strong, especially inside 10 feet. On the amateur side, I have loads of players who have improved as much as five putts per round after learning Aimpoint and reached new scoring and handicap levels.

TS: Thank you for your time, Mark!

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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

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Fat Perez

    Apr 16, 2017 at 4:19 am

    I’m holding up 1 fing’a

  2. Braxton strong

    Apr 14, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Uh.. How about Justin Rose who almost won the masters???I started using aimpoint express and its not perfect but I feel much more confident putting which has led to more holed putts

  3. JIm

    Apr 14, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Having Adam Scott be your poster boy for AimPoint is not good. He is a horrendous putter by tour standards and I saw a stat that he missed 50% of his putts at the Masters from 5-10ft.

    • george

      Apr 14, 2017 at 11:19 am

      I remember a time Adam Scott won the Masters. Good times then.
      A good read does not lead to a good putt (I have to know). Since he isn’t putting with his broomstick anymore, he’s not a great putter anymore. Just proves to me that banning the broomstick technique he used was the right thing to do. It’s just too easy.

    • Richie Hunt

      Apr 14, 2017 at 12:10 pm

      Adam Scott went from 150th in Strokes Gained – Putting to 54th when he started using AimPoint. He struggled in 2015 due to trying to change from an anchored stroke to a non-anchored stroke but is now 78th in Strokes Gained – Putting.

    • Joe

      Apr 14, 2017 at 2:50 pm

      And yet he’s 100 places better in his Total Putting ranking, for the year, then when he was using a long putter and not using Aimpoint.

    • Connor

      Apr 14, 2017 at 4:24 pm

      A very invalid statement. Since we’re talking “tour standards”, why don’t we discuss how far from “tour standard” Augusta’s greens are? A downhill, 7ft slider that breaks a foot and a half and is on a surface that is stimping at 13-14 is different than many “tour standard” surfaces on tour.

      • yttihS

        Apr 15, 2017 at 3:17 am

        Bingo. That’s why you saw Scott and Rose miss those silly shortish putts with the aim point. They didn’t compute the speed enough to their fingers

      • Desmond

        Apr 18, 2017 at 4:37 pm

        There is more to the express read that slope – you also calibrate for speed before, and during the round if the greens are getting softer or harder.

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Davies: The Trail Elbow In The Downswing

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In this video, I discuss the role of the trail elbow in the downswing. I also share some great drills to help golfers deliver the trail elbow correctly, which will help improve distance and contact.

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The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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