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Does the Golf Ball Go Too Far?

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Recently we have heard everyone discussing whether or not PGA Tour players hit the golf ball too far. Everyone from Tiger Woods to Brad Faxon, Brandel Chamblee, Mike Davis, and Wally Uihlein have weighed in with their thoughts. I myself have struggled with what side of the fence I should be on, so I wanted to learn more about it before I made a judgement.

Because I am a golf nerd, I decided to do a little digging.

My first question in all of this is, what is too far? How do we judge that the golf ball or distance has reached a point where it is diminishing the product for our viewing pleasure? How do we know if technology and distance have effected the integrity of the game? Too far is a statement of relativity. One-hundred years ago, it could have taken you 12 hours to travel 200 miles. Now you can fly Los Angeles to Sydney in that same amount of time.

When Harry Vardon was winning championships early in his career, he and every other competitor exclusively used the gutta percha golf ball with his name on it, “The Vardon Flyer.” The gutta percha was invented in 1848 and used until a new ball came into play in the early 1900’s. This new ball was the Haskell Rubber ball invented by Coburn Haskell and Betrum Work. It was the first rubber ball that was a complete game changer. Despite is obvious performance enhancements and distance gained, however, many of the top players were slow to begin to play the new ball. In fact, it took Harry Vardon almost 10 years to make the switch. I can imagine they were having the same conversations back then that we are having today.

There are tons of examples of this throughout golf history, and although there have been limitations on technology there has never been a roll back in the golf ball. The ball has always won out. So I ask myself and you why now are we claiming that the ball is going too far? I decided to compare scoring average on the PGA Tour to driving distance and golf course length. Below in the graphs you will see what I found.

First, I must say it is very difficult to find accurate data on driving distance and scoring average before 1980. From 1980 to present time, this information has been tracked by the PGA Tour, so I decided to only look at the past 37 years for an example. Since 1980, the PGA Tour median scoring average has gone from 72.3 to 70.995 in 2016. That is a difference of 1.305 shots or a change of 1.8 percent over 37 years. The lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour has gone from 69.73 to 69.17. That is a difference of o.56 strokes or an 0.8 percent of change. So yes, scoring average has gotten better. Is this because the golf ball is going farther?

Let’s now look at driving distance on the PGA Tour since 1980 in the chart below.

In 1980, the median driving distance on the PGA Tour was 256.7 yards. In 2016, it was 290.1 yards. That is a gain of 33.4 yards over 37 years, or about 1 yard per year. This is a percentage change of 13 percent. The longest hitter in 1980 averaged 274.3 yards. In 2016, the longest hitter averaged 314.5 yards, an improvement of 40.2 yards. That’s a percentage change of 14.6 percent. PGA Tour players in 2016 hit it a lot farther than they did in 1980, yet scoring averages haven’t changed much. Is this because golf course length has kept up with distance gained?

Finding course length information since 1980 was difficult. I decided to only look at the majors championships as examples, where data is more plentiful. From here, I made the decision to only use the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Unlike the Masters, they are played on a different course every year. As for The Open Championship, it’s generally a different kind of golf where distance and strategy can hinge on the elements. I felt as though this was the best representation for all courses on the PGA Tour. In the chart below, you will find the average course length of the U.S. Open and PGA Championship from 1980-2016.

As you can see, golf courses have absolutely gotten longer. For this chart, I will compare the shortest average length (1981) to the longest average course length (2015). I am doing this because of the smaller data sample size and I believe this would more correctly illustrate the average of all PGA Tour courses. From 1981 to 2015 the golf course length increased by 791 yards (6807 yards to 7598 yards). That’s an increase of 11.6 percent.

For review, we have seen scoring average decrease by 1.8 percent, driving distance increase by 13 percent and course length increase by 11.6 percent. The difficult part about looking at this much data is always trying to interpret it. How is the data helpful, and what story does it tell?

Let’s revisit the driving distance chart one more time with some timeline reference points to paint the picture in a clearer way. These are some of the biggest technological advances in golf since 1980, and they tell a fantastic story of why we saw certain leaps in distance over a short amount of time.

  • From 1991 to 2000, the decade of the introduction of bigger metal woods from the 190-cubic-centimeter Big Bertha to the 300-cubic-centimeter Titleist 975D, there was median distance increase of 4.7 percent (12.3 yards).
  • Just in the year from 2000–2001, which saw the solid-core Titleist Pro V1 introduced in October of 2000, there was a median distance increase in 2.3 percent (6.3 yards).
  • From 2002–2003 (TaylorMade introduced the adjustable-weight R7 driver on Tour in 2004), there was a median distance increase of 2.4 percent (6.6 yards).

In just 4 short years (2000–2003), the median distance on the PGA Tour increased by a whopping 4.9 percent (13.4 yards). Of course, there was a necessary and actionable reaction to this by the USGA when it limited the driver to 460 cubic centimeters following the 2003 season and finalized the COR limit. Since 2003, we have only seen a change in median distance of 1.2 percent, or 3.5 yards. I believe this gain in distance can be explained by better fitting and the presence of launch monitors like TrackMan on tour. There has also been more adjustability added to drivers and several upgrades in shaft technology.

What I don’t understand when looking at this data is why are we just now saying the golf ball is going too far. It seems to me we are 15 years too late in noticing.

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PGA Member and Golf Professional at Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville, NC. Former PGA Tour and Regional Representative for TrackMan Golf. Graduate of Campbell University's PGM Program with 12 years of experience in the golf industry. My passion for knowledge and application of instruction in golf is what drives me everyday.

25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. GolfCodeWeekly.com

    Dec 8, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Yup the increases in the last 10 to 15 years are almost nil, i really do not get the problem, golf is fine, the ball is fine

  2. HDTVMAN

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:49 am

    When I play, the ball doesn’t go both far enough & straight enough! I’d also like to see a chip which incorporates my watch to find the ball when it goes anywhere but the fairway, which it tends to do!

  3. Rich

    Dec 8, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Let the Ball fly.. I like distance and to see it fly far is exciting.. The course design should be made narrower deeper ruff more trees and sandtraps and more water . Make it more of a gambler course.I don’t like these -21 under scores .What ever happened to these under -10 course score total for the event? That’s why most people love the OPEN (US,British) because they are low scoring and a test of the skill of a player to play the course where does the risk worth the reward ! The tougher the better with some RISK/REWARD when ever available . I like to see the distance but also I want to see accuracy with the yardage.

  4. Mark

    Dec 8, 2017 at 8:59 am

    The most interesting part of this to me is the distance gains prior to the introduction of the Pro V1. Looking at the chart it appears there is about a 20 yard gain from 93-00. There is another increase after the introduction of the Pro V1. To me this speaks to the complexity of the distance discussion. It can’t be reduced to only the ball. There are a lot of other factors involved.

    Think about how much more advanced we are in all the different areas like driver tech, shafts, athletics and power generation, biomechanics, launch conditions, etc. Sure rolling the ball back could reduce median distance, but it’s far from the only factor.

  5. RJM

    Dec 7, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    They have also talked about lowering the speeds in auto racing (granted, for primarily safety reasons) but how many fans would the sport lose, say, for the Indy 500, if the top speeds were limited to 180 or 200. People go to golf tournaments to watch PGA players hit the snot out of a golf ball. Knowing that DJ, Jason, or Rickie is somehow going to be “limited” off the tee or from the fairway takes a boatload of interest out of the game.

  6. jeff

    Dec 7, 2017 at 8:30 pm

    #Whocares?

    The longest hitters aren’t the only ones winning…

    Sounds like a bunch of old codgers irritated their old antiquated records could one day be broken, and the golf channel stirring up something to talk about during the off months. Get over it. The game SHOULD be made easier, not harder, want the game to stick around a while longer and grow? Although data shows its hardly been made easier…. The game needs to progress, I understand keeping the integrity of the game, but there is a fine line of overdoing that to the point of people just saying “forget it, golf is too hard, too expensive, and way to much trouble to deal with, i just want to have fun with my buddies”

    The tour players are better athletes now, the equipment is better, the ball is better, the courses are longer, firmer, and harder faster greens. Swings technique is better, availability to data and what ACTUALLY makes the ball go further or roll longer is easier to get and more readily available. It all adds up to hitting the ball further. Again, why is this a bad thing? To say they used to be hitting 3-4 irons and now wedges? Thats not a diff of 33 yards, its a diff of 100 yards. 33 yards is a 1-2 clubs max. Not to mention todays “5” iron is actually a 3 or 4 iron loft of old… its like the 30 handicapper saying he hit is 8iron 180 yards, well maybe? But more then likely its actually a juiced up 5-6 iron… but who cares? Ain’t no tour pro hitting a wedge in from 215 yards when he used to have to use a 3 wood from 250 because of a ball.

    I sure hope the people complaining about the ball going to far and the game becoming too easy, are the same people still riding a horse to work, and going to the haberdashery to get a new button for their will jacket they made themselves… They better not be using Amazon, or Nordstrom.com to buy their suits…. You all better not be using any form of technology to make things easier and better.

    Get over it, it doesn’t matter, the game is hard enough. Every sport progresses, the athletes become stronger, faster, smarter. Its called evolution, and with out it, the game dies.

  7. Carl

    Dec 7, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    It seems like many people are opposed to the ball going too far because it benefits the longer hitters. But restricting the ball isn’t going to take that advantage away. If anything, they will still be hitting mid-long irons where shorter players will be hitting hybrids or woods.

    To me, the underlying problem for many people calling for ball rollbacks is that they don’t see length as equivalent skill-wise to a great short game or solid putting. I’m not sure why though because the tolerances for mis-hits and clubface to club-path are smaller when you are swinging at higher speeds. There is inherently skill involved to hit it long AND straight, just as there is skill involved in bunker shots or putting.

    • henry

      Dec 9, 2017 at 11:55 pm

      this is spot on. should Rickie or Jordan be penalized bc they putt too well? Distance is a skill. Let the ones who can hit it far keep it that way. And the funny thing is, DJs skill would be even more celebrated bc hed be hitting 7 irons while other guys are hitting 5 woods.

  8. Terry Medlar

    Dec 7, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    I’m not really concerned about the distance the pros are hitting, but if you want to make a change, instead of changing/restricting the ball, why not just tell the pros they can’t use their drivers?

  9. Jon

    Dec 7, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Much ado about nothing.

  10. Prime21

    Dec 7, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Cigarettes & Alcohol have killed people for a long time, but they still exist. $ is the answer you are looking for, plain & simple.

  11. Antoine Steeghs

    Dec 7, 2017 at 2:56 pm

    I think youcanlook at the masters. What clubs are used to the green? Are the using 4 irons 40 years ago and now 8 irons?

  12. chinchbugs

    Dec 7, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Can you make a shoe stink?

    Genuine question…

  13. Uhit

    Dec 7, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    …and you have to remember, that driving distance is in this case carry and roll.

    Latter is strongly correlated to the course conditions and setup – fast and firm fairways.

    The recorded carry distances show no increase in distance since more than a decade.

  14. CB

    Dec 7, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    It’s not that the ball goes too far – it goes too straight. Because they have been designed so well aerodynamically, they tend to not bend as much as the old Balata and wound type balls – which is what Johnny Miller has been saying, as opposed to just calling out the problem of the ball flying too far. With forgiving heads and forgiving balls – the modern players are getting away with a lot of mis-hits that the old ball would not do as well, that you had to be a much better ball striker back then. But this current ball technology is part and parcel of all this tech of heads, shafts and balls, and to talk about rolling it back now, after Eldrick made all his money and success during his career from 2000 on – with the very balls that he wants repealed – is a joke.

    • Hunter Brown

      Dec 7, 2017 at 1:38 pm

      Great point here and I agree with you to a point however if it were a problem I think we would see scoring average dramatically drop. If you look at swimming when the “shark suit” was introduced 49 world records were broken in 18 months. This is a dramatic drop and why they are now banned. We have not yet seen that kind of drop in scoring avg or records to suggest a ban is needed in my opinion

    • Andrew Cooper

      Dec 7, 2017 at 2:15 pm

      I agree 100%, how much straighter the new equipment goes is every bit as important. This is rarely spoken about. Courses have been lengthened proportionately with the new equipment, but have they been tightened up proportionately? I would imagine with measuring technology we could get a fairly good number on how much straighter the ball flies now. And let’s say we find it’s around 10% straighter (to pick a number) then bring in tour fairways by a similar amount.

  15. Barry Martin

    Dec 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, we are about 15 years too late, but there were guys – like Nicklaus, Geoff Shackelford, etc. – who were calling it out back then. But there were a chorus of people, led by Uncle Wally at Titleist who said “Nothing to see here kids, everything’s fine, stop whining.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog

    • Hunter Brown

      Dec 7, 2017 at 1:41 pm

      You are definitely right I remember Nicklaus talking about this a long time ago and that was kind of my point that it has always been a topic of conversation and why the USGA puts limits on how much it can improve. If we really do want to take away distance on the PGA Tour I think there is a lot easier and more simple way to do it. Just take away the tee. It would force players to use higher lofted “drivers” and would take away the advantage of hitting up on it. Now the unfortunate part about most of these solutions is that it will actually give the longer hitters even more of an advantage

  16. Greg V

    Dec 7, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Hunter, you stated that there has never been a ball roll-back, but you are mistaken.

    For 1931, the USGA reduced the maximum weight of the ball from 1.62 ounces to 1.55 ounces. The players didn’t like it, as the ball didn’t go as far, and it was more affected by wind. They called it the ‘floater.”

    It might be time to look at a reduction in the weight of the ball again, as today’s ball and club technology afford much more control in the wind. If the USGA could roll back the ball in 1931, they can certainly do it again soon to keep course lengths for elite golfers from approaching 8,000 yards.

    • Hunter Brown

      Dec 7, 2017 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks Greg I was unaware of this for sure so I appreciate you pointing it out. However it seems as though it only lasted a year so I would still contend the ball won out. Also what are your hindrances to 8,000 yard courses for pros? Also I have seen plenty of “shorter” courses hold the test of the pros. See Oakmont, Merion, Riviera, Shinnecock, etc. All of those cut lines in US Opens were significantly over par.

  17. Andrew Cooper

    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:55 am

    Good work Hunter. The stats show that the limits on balls and clubs have worked since the early 2000s, so it’s strange to be having this debate now. An unspectacular 3.5 paces forward over the last 15 years-not what the industry would want the golfing public to know maybe, but there it is. So if the rules are working why change?

  18. dat

    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:44 am

    I think it goes too far, and nothing can be done to stop it. If in 15 years the ball goes 15 yards further, that will continue to make the game less exciting to watch. Driver, wedge into every hole is just boring.

  19. Drew Boggs

    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:26 am

    You can make great short par 4s like everyone wants to see and just make them absolutely brutal. Risk/Reward holes get the most attention out of any course or PGA Tour venue. Example, #10 at Riviera. Arguably the greatest short par 4 on tour, and everyone watches it. If you roll back the ball, you are hurting the game of golf. Juniors will not be as involved, and everyone wants and chases the 300+ yard drives. It’s our game today and what it will continue to be.

  20. Bob Jacobs

    Dec 7, 2017 at 11:05 am

    I think we need 10 more articles on ball go too far!!

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Opinion & Analysis

A new NCAA transfer rule gets passed… and college coaches are NOT happy

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New rules just keep on coming from the NCAA; college coaches are not happy about this one.

In a summer of block buster coaching changes, the NCAA has done its best to stay atop the news cycle by making some significant changes, which will impact the recruitment process. In an article two months ago entitled “The effect the NCAA’s new recruiting rules will have on college golf,” I spoke to college coaches about a new rule, which will not allow unofficial or official visits until September 1 of the players Junior Year. To go along with this rule, the NCAA has also put in place a new recruiting calendar which will limit the sum of the days of off campus recruiting between a head and assistant coach to 45 days starting August 1, 2018.

The 45-day rule will have several potential impacts for both recruits and assistant coaches. For recruits, it is likely that after a couple (2-3) evaluations, coaches will make offers and ask for speed responses to ensure they are not missing out on other options. I also think you will see far less assistant coaches recruiting, which ultimately hurts their opportunities to learn the art of recruitment.

The new transfer rule

In the past, players were subject to asking their present institution for either permission to contact other schools regarding transfer, or a full release.

Now, starting October 15, players can simply inform their institution of their intensions to leave and then start contacting other schools to find an opportunity. This is a drastic shift in policy, so I decided to poll college coaches to get their reactions.

The poll was conducted anonymously via Survey Monkey. Participation was optional and included 6 questions:

  1. New NCAA Legislation will allow players to transfer without a release starting October 2018. Do you support this rule change?
  2. Do you believe that this rule will have APR implications?
  3. Who do you think will benefit most from this rule?
  4. What are the benefits of allowing students to transfer without a release? What are the potential harms?
  5. New NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?
  6. What implications do you see for this rule?

In all, 62 Division I golf coaches responded, or about 10 percent of all Division I coaches in Men’s and Women’s Golf. The results show that 81.25 percent of DI coaches said that they do NOT support the rule change for transfers.

Also, 90 percent of coaches polled believe that the rule will have APR implications. APR is Academic Progress Rate which holds institutions accountable for the academic progress of their student-athletes through a team-based metric that accounts for the eligibility and retention of each student-athlete for each academic term.

The APR is calculated as follows:

  • Each student-athlete receiving athletically related financial aid earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible.
  • A team’s total points are divided by points possible and then multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate.
  • In addition to a team’s current-year APR, its rolling four-year APR is also used to determine accountability.

Teams must earn a four-year average APR of 930 to compete in championships.

While the APR is intended as an incentive-based approach, it does come with a progression of penalties for teams that under-perform academically over time.

The first penalty level limits teams to 16 hours of practice per week over five days (as opposed to 20 over six days), with the lost four hours to be replaced with academic activities.

A second level adds additional practice and competition reductions, either in the traditional or non-championship season, to the first-level penalties. The third level, where teams could remain until their rate improves, includes a menu of possible penalties, including coaching suspensions, financial aid reductions and restricted NCAA membership.

Clearly coaches are not happy about the move and feel that the rule unfairly benefits both the student athletes and major conference schools, who may have a swell of calls around middle of October as Student athletes play great fall golf and look to transfer. Although coaches are unhappy about the new rule, it is very difficult to predict what direct impact the rule will have on teams; coaches are extremely smart and understand recruiting and development within the frame work of college better than anyone can imagine. As a result, I think coaches will react in many ways which are impossible to predict.

The survey also asked, “new NCAA Legislation will make December a dead period for recruiting off campus. Do you support this legislation?” For this, coaches were more divided with 45 percent in favor of the rule, and 55 percent not.

Although coaches supported the legislation, many (41/62) suggested that it would potentially hurt international recruiting at tournaments like Doral and the Orange Bowl and they had, in the past, used December as a time to recruit.

As we move forward with these changes, here are some potential things that recruits, and their families should consider, including consequences of the rules:

  1. With a limit of 45 days and these transfer rules, it is likely that coaches will be doing significantly more investigation into a player’s personalities and family situation to make sure they know what they are getting.
  2. Coaches may also start skipping over better players in favor of kids they think will be a good fit and are likely to stay
  3. Rosters may get bigger, as coaches are trying to have larger numbers to potentially offset transfers

Unfortunately, we enter a new era of rules at the worst time; we have never had a more competent and deep group of college coaches, the clear majority of whom are tremendous stewards of the game. Hopefully this rule will have insignificant effect on the continued growth of college golf but only time will tell.

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Is golf actually a team sport?

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Do a little research on the top PGA Tour players, and what you’ll see is that most (if not all of them) employ a team of diverse professionals that support their efforts to perform on the golf course. Take two-time major champion Zach Johnson; he has a team that includes a caddie, a swing instructor, a sports psychologist, a physiotherapist, an agent, a statistician, a spiritual mentor, a financial adviser… and of course his wife.

“I know this seems like a lot, and maybe even too much,” Johnson readily admitted. “But each individual has their place. Each place is different in its role and capacity. In order for me to practice, work out and just play golf, I need these individuals along the way. There is a freedom that comes with having such a great group that allows me to just play.”

My best guess is that Zach Johnson commits hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to this team, and I assume most players on the leading professional tours are making significant investments in their “teams.” There are three questions that jump out at this point. First, is a team necessary? Second, how can anyone compete without one? And third, how to pay for it?

From the club player to the collegiate player to the aspiring/touring professional, everyone can benefit from a team that offers individual instruction, support, guidance, and encouragement. Such a team, however, needs to be credible, timely, beneficial and affordable.

To be affordable, serious golfers should build their team one piece at a time. The obvious first choice is a swing coach. Golf swing coaches charge from $100-$1,500 per hour. The cost explains why players have historically been responsible for their own practice. The next piece, which is a newly developing trend, should be a performance coach who specializes in the supervision of practice, training and tournament preparation. Performance coaching on-site fees range from $200 to $3,000 per day.

So is team support essential for a player to be as good as he/she can be? My research says it is. When a player schedules a practice session, that session is usually based on what the player likes to do or wants to do. “Best Practices” utilized by world-class athletes suggest strongly that great progress in training always occurs when someone other than the player writes, administers and supervises the programs and sessions. The team approach says the player should focus on what needs to be done. Sometimes what the player wants to do and the things needed to be done are the same thing; sometimes they aren’t.

Now for the question of how to pay for it all. Wealthy players, or those with substantial or institutional support, have access to what they need or want… whatever the cost. If you use an on-site coach, teacher or other professional you will be paying for blocks of time. Fees can be hourly, weekly, monthly, yearly or lifetime arrangements based upon several factors. If your coach of choice is not local, you can also incur travel and per diem expenses. The process of paying for someone’s time can really add up. You can review what I charge for various services that require my attendance at edmyersgolf.com.

For those of you who don’t have easy access to on-site expertise or don’t want to incur the expense, I want to offer an approach that business, industry, colleges/universities and entrepreneurs are turning to: “Distance Coaching.” Distance learning is made possible through modern technology. In today’s world, expertise can be delivered using FaceTime, Skype, texting, email and (old fashion) phone calls. Textbooks, videos, specific programs and workbooks can be accessed from anywhere at any time by anyone with a desire to do so… and who knows what’s coming in the future. Through Distance Coaching, individuals can employ professional expertise on an as-needed basis without incurring huge costs or expenses.

The primary team expenses that can be avoided are those associated with face-to-face, on-site visits or experiences. Distance Coaching brings whatever any player needs, wants or desires within financial reach. For example, a player in Australia can walk onto the practice ground and have that day’s practice schedule delivered to a personal device by his/her performance coach. The player then forwards the results of that session back to the coach — let’s say in Memphis, Tennessee. The player is then free to move onto other activities knowing that the performance, training and preparation process is engaged and functioning. In the same vein, that same player in Australia may have moved into learning mode and he/she is now recording the golf swing and is sending it to the swing teacher of choice for analysis and comment.

So what is the cost of Distance Coaching? Teachers, trainers and coaches set their own fees based upon their business plan. Some require membership, partnership or some other form of commitment. For example, I offer free performance coaching with the purchase of one of my books or programs, as do others. Where face-to-face, on-site fees for performance coaching is available for $200 a day, the same expertise from the same coach can cost as little as $50 a month using the distance format, tools and technology. I highly recommend that players responsibly research the options available to them and then build the best team that fits their games, desires and goals. I’m happy to forward a guide of what to look for in a performance coach; just ask for it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Back to Zach Johnson; he recently admitted that his lack of recent success could be traced to his lack of focus and practice discipline. Additional, he concedes that he has been practicing the wrong things. “It goes back to the basics,” he said. “I have to do what I do well. Truth be told, what I’m practicing now is more on my strengths than my weaknesses.”

Zach Johnson has a great team, but as he concedes, he still needs to put in the work.

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What is “feel” in putting… and how do you get it?

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You’re playing a course for the first time, so you arrive an hour early to warm-up. You make your way toward the practice green and you see a sign at the first tee that reads, “GREEN SPEED TODAY 11.”  That brings up two issues:

  1. How did they arrive at that number?
  2. How is that information valuable to me?

How did they arrive at that number?

They used what’s known as a stimpmeter — a device that’s used to measure the speed of a green. With a stimpmeter, the green’s surface is tested by rolling a ball down the 30-inch ramp that is tilted downward at a 20-degree angle. The number of feet the ball rolls after leaving the ramp is an indication of the green’s speed. The green-speed test is conducted on a flat surface. A total of three balls are rolled in three different directions. The three balls must then finish within eight inches of each other for the test to be valid.

For example, if the ball is rolled down the ramp and were to stop at 8 feet, the green would be running at an “8.” Were the ball to roll down the ramp and stop at 12 feet, the green would be running at a “12.”

Stimpmeter history

The stimpmeter was invented by Edward S. Stimpson, Sr., a Massachusetts State Amateur Champion and former Harvard Golf Team Captain. After attending the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont, he saw the need for a universal testing device after watching Gene Sarazen, who was at the top of his game, putt a ball off the green. He was of the opinion that the greens were unreasonably fast, but he had no way to prove it — thus the motivation for creating the invention.

The device is now used by superintendents to make sure all of their greens are rolling close to the same speed. This ensures that golfers are not guessing from one putt to another if a green is fast or slow based on the way it is maintained. The device is also used by tournament officials who want to make sure that green speed is not too severe.

Do Stimp readings matter for my game?

Not very much. That piece of abstract knowledge is of little value until you can translate it into your own personal feel for the speed of the putt. There is a method that will allow you to turn green speed into a legitimate feel, however, and you don’t even need a stimpmeter or a stimp reading to do it. I call it “Setting Your Own Stimpmeter.”

Before we get to how to do it, the first step is to determine if the putting green is the same speed as the greens on the course. The best source of information in this regard are the professionals working in the golf shop. They will be happy to share this information with you. You only need to ask. Assuming that the speed of the putting green is close to the speed of the greens on the course, you are ready to begin setting your own stimpmeter. This is done by inputting data into your neuromuscular system by rolling putts and visually observing the outcome.

Contrary to what most golfers believe, a golfer’s feel for distance is based in the eyes — not in the hands, which only records tactile information. It’s just like basketball. On the court, you look at the distance to the hoop and respond accordingly. While you would feel the ball in your hands, it doesn’t play a role in determining the proper distance to the hoop. Based on what you saw with your eyes, you would access the data that had been previously inputted through shooting practice.

Setting your own Stimpmeter

  1. Start by finding a location on the putting green that is flat and roughly 15 feet away from the fringe.
  2. Using five balls, start rolling putts one at a time toward the fringe. The objective is to roll them just hard enough for them to finish against the edge.
  3. You may be short of the fringe or long, but it is important that you do not judge the outcome— just observe, because the feel for distance is visually based.
  4. You should not try and judge the feel of the putt with your hands or any other part of your body. You can only process information in one sensory system at a time — that should be the eyes.
  5. You should continue to roll balls until you’ve reach the point that most of them are consistently finishing against the fringe. Once you can do that, you have successfully set you stimpmeter.

The key to the entire process is allowing yourself to make a subconscious connection between what your eyes have observed and the associated outcome. You must then trust what you have learned at a sub-conscious level. A conscious attempt to produce a given outcome will short-circuit the system. When it comes to judging speed, you must be prepared to surrender your conscious mind to your sub-conscious mind, which is infinitely wiser and more capable of calculating speed. Want proof? Work through the steps I’ve outlined below. .

  1. After having loaded the data as described in the exercise above, pace off a 25-foot putt.
  2. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole as you would normally using your conscious mind to control the outcome.
  3. Mark the location of the five balls with a tee pushing them down until they are level with the surface of the green.
  4. Allow your eyes to work slowly from the ball to the hole while clearing your conscious mind of any thought.
  5. Using the same five balls, putt to the hole allowing your subconscious mind to control the outcome.
  6. Compare the proximity of the five putts that you just hit to those marked with a tee. What do you observe?

Did you have trouble clearing your mind of any conscious thought? Assuming that your conscious mind intruded at any point, the outcome would be negatively affected. You should then repeat the exercise but this time, emptying your mind of any thought. You will have mastered the technique when you are able to quiet your conscious mind and allow your subconscious to take over.

This technique will improve your proximity to the hole on longer putts. And you know what that means? Fewer three-putts!

Editor’s Note: Rod Lindenberg has authored a book entitled “The Three-Putt Solution”  that is now available through Amazon. 

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