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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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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

27 Comments

27 Comments

  1. Roy

    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    This drill is legit. Sounds crazy to “not think” but that doesn’t mean to not have a plan or try; it means trust yourself and don’t “control”. The brain nows what we’re trying to do… it’ll make the necessary calculations and come up with a firing solution IF you load the correct data (speed in this case). This drill definitely works and’ll will help a player learn to get out of their own way.

  2. Ray Bennett

    Jun 23, 2018 at 9:48 am

    I agree that the eyes organise our body movements. When we turn our head the very first thing to move is our eyes. Try turning your head and moving your eyes in the opposite direction in the one movement. How did you do?
    Our eyes have two different muscles, one set to focus sight and the other set to move the eyes. The latter are directly connected to the shoulders. Therefore, it is important to activate the focus eye muscles and not the eye movement muscles during the putting stroke – putt with still eyes.

  3. millennial82

    Jun 22, 2018 at 10:27 am

    “feel” is lining up to putt and understanding how to get the ball in the hole with 1 stroke.. you only “learn feel” after you hit a million balls.. practice till you “feel”.

    or when you miss your putt blame the putter/ greens/ slope/ sky/ earth/ wind/ government/ tariffs and everything else.. but, not your lack of practice you hacker!

  4. Boyo

    Jun 22, 2018 at 8:16 am

    I know exactly what I’m feelin’
    I’m sorry that I care, care
    It’s really not that fair

  5. JZ

    Jun 21, 2018 at 11:54 am

    Is it just me, or are the majority of courses I play practice greens different than the actual playing greens? The practice greens are usually in pristine condition while the actual greens are slower and not in the shape. The courses want the playing areas around the proshop in perfect shape and don’t put as much time and money into the actualy playing greens.

    Or that’s my excuse for being a streaky putter….

    • etc.

      Jun 21, 2018 at 3:13 pm

      Feel is found between the bedsheets…. or mastergearheadbater’s WITB beauties…

    • Boyo

      Jun 22, 2018 at 7:59 am

      You are absolutely correct. I can’t count how many times I’ve putted on practice greens only to get on the course and they are as similar as cats and dogs….

  6. ~j~

    Jun 21, 2018 at 10:21 am

    Not sure I’d go through all of that above, but my best putts come when I lose all focus on everything except the putting motion. Line up, zone out, putt. On the practice greens before rounds I’ll set up & line up, then close my eyes and make putts a certain distance until I’m comfortable with my motion.

    • lance

      Jun 21, 2018 at 11:45 am

      I just focus on the hole…. my girlfriend’s…. 😮

  7. david

    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:38 am

    very original

  8. GearBoi

    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:13 am

    I get the best feel with my new Scotty Cameron Futura X7 Counter Balance Putter. They are beauties.

    • Realist

      Jun 21, 2018 at 10:04 am

      Subjective and what does using a Scotty have to do with this article.

      • lance

        Jun 21, 2018 at 11:46 am

        He loves his putter…. otherwise his life is lonely….

  9. Jake

    Jun 21, 2018 at 12:02 am

    Putter head weight has increased substantially in the last 10 years. That will obviously deaden “feel” and control of the stroke. What is your take on “heavy” putters and feel? Thanks.

    • Acemandrake

      Jun 21, 2018 at 9:59 am

      This has been my experience. Heavy putters are great for short putts but I struggle to gauge the feel/distance on medium & long putts.

      I’ve gone back to my Odyssey 2-Ball putter after using a Futura 6M and improved my distance control.

      • geoh

        Jun 21, 2018 at 9:42 pm

        Would we have more or less feel using a pen that was 5 times larger in diameter than normal?
        or for an artist to use a brush as large as the latest putter grips?

        The heavier putters and larger grips provide less feel and is an attempt to boil putting down to
        a big muscle movement. Loss of feel ?
        Heavy putter heads and grips, (the placebo effect is true 60% of the time).
        another very costly WOOD

    • geoh

      Jun 21, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Is it a coincidence that heavier and larger grips come with those heavier heads?
      The heavier heads require counter weighting. How much different is he SW in the end?
      its about marketing, and maybe putters are the last frontier for mfg.

  10. K

    Jun 20, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    Think Lee Trevino said something like “You want to get good at this game? Then you gotta move a lot of dirt!” Hogan might have said something similar too…..

    • Aaron

      Jun 21, 2018 at 12:15 am

      So, do you take a divot with your putts?!!

      • Realist

        Jun 21, 2018 at 10:06 am

        This person is saying you have to practice to have feel…

        • lance

          Jun 21, 2018 at 11:47 am

          No, practice will make you numb to feel. You got it or you don’t.

  11. Geohogan

    Jun 20, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    The intent to clear the mind of thought is a thought.
    That thought will be followed by another and another. its how our minds work.

    We need the proper intent for every endeavor. That doesnt mean to consciously
    try to direct each body part. That would be internal focus.
    Proven most effective (ref Gabrielle Wulf) is external focus.(a thought)

    • Jake

      Jun 21, 2018 at 12:10 am

      Correct. You can increase the accuracy of your golf shots with an external focus of attention. Concentrating on body movements (internal focus of attention) generally results in non-optimal performance and learning, whereas an external focus enhances automaticity and leads to better movement outcomes. Most golfer’s focus is in limbo.

      • lance

        Jun 21, 2018 at 11:50 am

        Most golfers feel nothing but confusion during their insecure golfswing…. they think “feel” is impact and nothing else. Oh, then their is their “feel” for their lovely clubs… aka romantic attachment.

  12. Paul

    Jun 20, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Definitely a good idea.
    My method works and is for people with less time. First find a level area on the practice green with a hole about 6′ away. Make 5 putts and just focus on stopping the ball in the hole or a few inches past. Next move back to 15-20′ and repeat. Then take some putts at the farthest holes on the practice green and then done. Takes less then 3 minutes.

    • etc.

      Jun 21, 2018 at 3:15 pm

      Feel is fleeting and you most certainly cannot carry it from the practice green to the course greens… because what you call ‘feel’ is only feeeelings …

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Opinion & Analysis

Tiger Woods completes arguably the greatest comeback story in sports history

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Sports have an uncanny way of teaching us about life. And there’s no greater life lesson than the athlete and the man who goes by Tiger Woods.

I first fell in love with golf while watching Tiger play the 1997 Masters with my father. Tiger is the reason that I, like millions of golfers throughout the world, including some of his professional contemporaries today, started playing and loving the game.

For basically his entire life, from the moment he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show at 2-years-old, until his world came infamously crashing down on Thanksgiving 2009, he was “perfect.” He was dominant, impactful, charismatic and invincible — what the world uncovered, however, was that his persona was a carefully crafted facade.

While he continued to play great golf despite injuries and surgeries through 2014, his Superman cape was tarnished, and his respect as a man was all but diminished.

From 2014 until 2017, the world watched Tiger Woods the athlete decay. He’d make minor comebacks after major back surgeries, but the letters “WD” replaced the number “1” next to Tiger’s name on leaderboards for years. And he also developed what was either the chipping yips, or an utter breakdown in his once-superior chipping technique. To all observers, aside from Tiger apologists, it seemed his golf career was likely over.

What was tragic for Tiger the athlete looked as though it’d turn into a tragedy for Tiger the man after his very public DUI in 2017 following his spine fusion surgery earlier that year. Tiger was completely vulnerable, and seemingly, completely broken. He was whatever the opposite is of his former self. Had he faded into oblivion after that, it would have been understandable, if not recommended.

But that’s not what happened. Despite every talking head in sports media saying Tiger was done (not that I didn’t agree at the time), Tiger waited for his back to heal upon doctors orders, then began his comeback to golf. It started with videos on social media of him chipping, then hitting irons, then his patented stinger.

In December of 2017, Tiger finished T9 in the 18-player field at his Hero World Challenge… a respectable finish considering what he had been through. As the season continued, he pieced together 4 consecutive rounds on many occasions, actually giving himself a few chances to win tournaments (the Valspar, Arnold Palmer, Quicken Loans and the Open come to mind). But his late-tournament confidence was clearly shaken; he was struggling to close the deal.

At the 2018 PGA Championship, Tiger had the attention of the entire sporting world when it looked that he had a serious chance to win his 15th major. But ultimately, he finished runner-up to a superior golfer that week in Brooks Koepka. All things considered, the week was a win for Tiger and his confidence… but it wasn’t a win.

The questions changed after the PGA Championship from “Can Tiger win again?” to “When will Tiger win again?”

Well, that question has been answered. Tiger Woods won the 2018 Tour Championship. Is it a major? No, it’s not. Some say the event itself is essentially just a money grab for the best 30 players of the season. But that’s the thing; the tournament hosts the best 30 players of the season all competing for big money. And you can bet it matters to the players on top of the leaderboard.

Tiger’s Tour Championship victory doesn’t mean he’s going to beat Jack’s record. Because he probably won’t. And maybe he won’t even win another major, although he’ll surely be the betting favorite at the 2019 Masters now. But, to me at least, his win marks the completion of the greatest comeback story in all of sports. And not only that, the conclusion to an important life lesson — don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

No athlete has been written off more than Tiger Woods, especially in the era of social media that gives every critic in the world a microphone. No athlete has reached a higher high, and a relatively lower low than Tiger Woods. He went through it all — a broken marriage, public shaming, legal issues, a deteriorated skill set, surgeries, injuries, and arguably most impactful of all, humanization.

Tiger Woods came back from not just a 28-3 deficit on the scoreboard (Patriots-Falcons reference), and he didn’t score eight points in 9 seconds (Reggie Miller reference, sorry Knicks fans and sorry Dad), and he didn’t get hit by a bus (Ben Hogan), but he got hit hard by the bus of life, and he now stands tall in the winner’s circle.

Maybe that’s why sports teaches us so much about life; because sports is life. Not in the way that nothing else matters except sports, but in the way that sports is played by imperfect humans. When the ball goes in the air, or onto to the tee, or the starting bell rings, nothing is certain and nothing is given. And when things are looking bad, like really really bad, it’s how you respond that truly matters. Isn’t that what life is?

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Courses

Ari’s Course Reviews: Sand Hills Golf Club in Nebraska

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There are so many fantastic golf courses throughout the world, and it’s all of the incredibly varied fields of play that make the game so great to me. The most random places in the world can be home to some of the best golf courses. When deciding which course to write about next, it seemed natural to write about my personal favorite course in the world., which happens to be in a very unexpected place.

If you told me I could go anywhere in the world for a round of golf tomorrow, I would be blazing a trail to the area just south of Mullen, Nebraska and playing Sand Hills Golf Club. Sand Hills opened for play on June 23, 1995 and is one of the most natural golf courses you can find anywhere in the world. There was very little dirt moved and most of the money spent building the course was spent on installing irrigation. The course is built entirely on sand, and was designed by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Bill Coore speaks on the design here.

For a bit more background, here’s an old CBS Sunday Morning segment on Sand Hills…

The course lies in the middle of the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, which makes up about one-third of the state. The area has huge, natural dunes everywhere that are much more reminiscent of Scotland or Ireland than the flat part of Nebraska along I-80 that most people associate with the state. Because of the firm, mostly fescue, sand-based fairways at Sand Hills, and the ever-present wind, the course plays like a links course though the bent grass greens rival any top country club for speed and purity. In fact, the fastest greens I have ever seen in person were at Sand Hills in late September.

The course has a tasteful amount of variety and challenge. The three par 5s are of the best sets in the world and include 1) a fantastic mid-length par 5 starting hole that is one of the best starting holes in golf, 2) a very reachable but exacting hole in the 14th, and 3) in my opinion, the best long par 5 in golf, the 613 yard 16th.

The par 4s vary from the long uphill 485-yard monster 18th, to the 7th, which at less than 300 yards still sees a lot more 5s and 6s than 3s. The par 3s are masterful starting with the 3rd playing a little over 200 yards downhill to a sprawling side hill green where you can hit driver one day and 7 iron the next. The 6th is 185 yards slightly downhill to maybe my favorite green on the course with definitely my favorite hole location in the front left of the green to a semi-blind spot in a little bowl.  The 13th is a 215-yard uphill monster that can be the hardest hole in relation to par on the course. Lastly the 17th is a 150-yard work of art to a little triangle shaped green and is definitely in the discussion for best short par 3 in the world.

Aside from a great variety in distance of the holes, the topography also presents an amazing amount of variety on the ground. Due to the random nature of the bounce of the ball, the undulating and random fairway contours, and the wind that can blow in literally any direction, the course never plays the same twice. There are just so many great holes out there that I really wouldn’t argue with any of the 18 holes being someone’s favorite. Personally, I can’t name a favorite as it seems to change every time I think about it. The routing is fantastic with both 9s returning to Ben’s Porch, which serves as the home base for the course where people eat lunch, have a post-round drink and generally enjoy one of the best views in all of golf. The course has a good amount of elevation change but is a dream to walk with very short green to tee transitions. It simply is as close to perfect as you can get in my mind.

While the focus of my reviews are on the golf course and not the amenities, I would be remiss if I did not mention the down-to-earth, welcoming people that make up the staff at Sand Hills. Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be at the club I have felt more like I was visiting family and friends than a golf club. When you combine the welcoming and friendly atmosphere of the club, some of the best food in the world and my personal favorite golf course to play anywhere in the world, you have an experience so special its hard to put into words.

Enjoy the collection of photos below from Dan Moore, and make sure to check out my other reviews in the links at the bottom of the page!

Hole No. 1

Hole No. 2

Hole No. 4

Hole No. 8

Hole No. 9

Hole No. 13

Hole No. 14

Hole No. 16

Hole No. 18

Ari’s Other Course Reviews

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The 19th Hole (Ep. 51): Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella on why Phil shoots guns to improve his golf game

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Golf Channel’s Matt Ginella joins host Michael Williams to talk about Phil Mickelson using shooting sports to prepare for the Ryder Cup, and the crop of golf destinations that include 5-star golf and outdoor sports facilities. Also featured are Jason Gilbertson of Winchester and Justin Jones of Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds at Reynolds Lake Oconee (GA).

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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19th Hole

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