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When the data says line is more important than speed in putting

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In my recent article, Line vs. speed: What’s really more important in putting?, I pointed out that in my 30-plus years of studying putting performance, I’ve learned that there are two important skills to putting:

  1. Direction (line)
  2. Distance control (speed)

There’s no question that golfers need to possess both these skills, but contrary to popular belief, they are not equally important on all putts. Sometimes, speed should be the primary concern. In other situations, golfers should be focused almost entirely on line. To make this determination, we have to consider the distance range of a putt and a golfer’s putting skill.

In the above referenced article, I showed how important speed is in putting, as well as the distances from which golfers of each handicap level should become more focused on speed. As promised, I’m going to provide some tips on direction (LINE) for golfers of different handicap levels based on the data I’ve gathered over the years through my Strokes Gained analysis software, Shot by Shot.

When PGA Tour players focus on line 

On the PGA Tour, line is more critical than speed from distances inside 20 feet. Obviously, the closer a golfer is to the hole, the more important line becomes and the less need there is to focus on speed. Further, I have found that the six-to-10-foot range is a key distance for Tour players. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Six to 10 feet is one of the most frequently faced putt distances on the PGA Tour. It is the first putt distance on approximately one in every five greens.
  2. Smack in the middle of this range is eight feet, which is the distance from which the average PGA Tour player makes 50 percent of his putts.
  3. In my research, I have consistently found that one-putt success in the six-to-10-foot range separates good putters from the rest on the PGA Tour

What we should do

How does this analysis help the rest of us?  To answer that question, we must first know our one-putt distance.  Just as I showed the two-putt distance by handicap level here, I will now show the 50 percent make distance by handicap level. This is the distance from the hole where players at each handicap level make 50 percent of their putts.

My recommendation is for each of us to recognize exactly what our 50 percent distance is. Maybe you’re a 16 or 17 handicap and putting is one of your strengths. Your 50 percent make distance is six feet. Excellent!  From that distance and closer, you should focus on line and always give the ball a chance to go in the hole.  From distances of seven-plus feet, you should consider the circumstances (up or downhill, amount of break, etc.) and factor in the speed as appropriate. The goal is to make as many of these putts as possible, but more importantly, avoid those heart-breaking and costly three-putts.

For added perspective, I am including the percentage of one putts by distance for the PGA Tour and our average amateur 15-19 handicap. I’m able to offer this data from ShotbyShot.com because it provides golfers with their “relative handicap” in the five critical parts of the game: (1) Driving, (2) Approach Shots, (3) Chip/Pitch Shots, (4) Sand Shots, and (5) Putting.

Line control practice: The star drill 

Looking for a way to practice choosing better lines on the putting green?  Here’s a great exercise known as the “star drill.” Start by selecting a part of your practice green with a slight slope.  Place five tees in the shape of a star on the slope with the top of the star on the top side of the slope.  This will provide an equal share of right to left and left to right breaks.

I recommend starting with a distance of three feet – usually about the length of a standard putter.  See how many you can make out of 10 putts, which is two trips around the star.  Here are a few more helpful tips.

  • Place a ball next to each of the five tees.
  • Use your full pre-shot routine for each attempt.
  • Stay at the three-foot distance until you can make nine of 10. Then, move to four feet, five feet, and six feet as you’re able to make eight from four feet, seven from five feet, and six from six feet.

This drill will give you confidence over these very important short putts. I do not recommend using it for any distance beyond six feet. It’s harder than you think to get there!

 

Exclusive for GolfWRX members: For a free, one-round trial of Shot by Shot, visit www.ShotByShot.com.

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In 1989, Peter Sanders founded Golf Research Associates, LP, creating what is now referred to as Strokes Gained Analysis. His goal was to design and market a new standard of statistically based performance analysis programs using proprietary computer models. A departure from “traditional stats,” the program provided analysis with answers, supported by comparative data. In 2006, the company’s website, ShotByShot.com, was launched. It provides interactive, Strokes Gained analysis for individual golfers and more than 150 instructors and coaches that use the program to build and monitor their player groups. Peter has written, or contributed to, more than 60 articles in major golf publications including Golf Digest, Golf Magazine and Golf for Women. From 2007 through 2013, Peter was an exclusive contributor and Professional Advisor to Golf Digest and GolfDigest.com. Peter also works with PGA Tour players and their coaches to interpret the often confusing ShotLink data. Zach Johnson has been a client for nearly five years. More recently, Peter has teamed up with Smylie Kaufman’s swing coach, Tony Ruggiero, to help guide Smylie’s fast-rising career.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. The Dude

    Apr 20, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Took ya 30 + years to arrive that the 2 important skills in putting are line and speed?? Spoiler alert….there are no other factors in putting.

  2. Jack Nash

    Apr 20, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    Data, Schmata. I’ll listen to the likes of Crenshaw and Faxon. Two of the best putters in the game.

    Einstein’s lesser known equation: 100% of the short ones never go in.

  3. Putt Stuff

    Apr 20, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    In order to choose the proper line of putt one must be able to control distance. Why do amateur players most often leave putts low of the true line.

    If a putt is low of the make line and short it indicates poor distance control while the line could be perfect. “Never Up, Never In” a golfer might say after this putt looking to make a correction.

    On the next hole the amateur might still miss the putt low of the make line but hits it past the hole. “I tried to take the break out of that one”

    The player that controls distance in the way Pelz described, where a miss ends up 18″ past the hole, is more equipped to read a true line that makes the cup wide. Players should read maximum break from 6 feet and longer and control speed as prescribed. This is what most consider ‘touch’! From closer break can be eliminated because it is easier to have ‘touch’ from these distances regardless of skill level. This improved distance control as we get closer to the hole allows players to focus on a smaller target eliminating the need to use the entire width of the hole.

    If a player cannot control distance can they understand true line and aim point?

    My 2 cents. Cheers

  4. joro

    Apr 20, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Why does everything have to be anal-yzed today. If you can putt you can putt, if not you can’t, it is that simple. Just knock it in and suck it up. And these “Gurus” add nothing but confusion and slow play. BAH HUMBUG

  5. Bruce Rearick

    Apr 20, 2019 at 12:51 pm

    Since you cannot chose a line without knowing speed I have a hard time with that conclusion. If you are saying that determining speed is easier the closer you get to the hole, then I can’t argue. But it still has to be the first consideration.

  6. Psg

    Apr 20, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    This article makes a great case to not care at all about putting skill.

    If I become a tour pro caliber putter my reward is being 50/50 at 8 feet instead of 5?!? That’s pretty silly and doesn’t really matter.

    Imagine if I got another skill (like irons or driver or wedge) to your level.

    You should rename this article “you’re closer to a your pro in putting than anything else. Go work on another skill.”

    • dj

      Apr 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Quote “This article makes a great case to not care at all about putting skill.

      If I become a tour pro caliber putter my reward is being 50/50 at 8 feet instead of 5?!? That’s pretty silly and doesn’t really matter.

      Imagine if I got another skill (like irons or driver or wedge) to your level.

      You should rename this article “you’re closer to a your pro in putting than anything else. Go work on another skill.”

      +1

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Opinion & Analysis

A day at the CP Women’s Open

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It’s another beautiful summer day in August. Just like any other pro-am at a professional tour event, amateurs are nervously warming up on the driving range and on the putting green next to their pros. As they make their way to the opening tees, they pose for their pictures, hear their names called, and watch their marque player stripe one down the fairway. But instead of walking up 50 yards to the “am tees,” they get to tee it up from where the pros play—because this is different: this is the LPGA Tour!

I’m just going to get right to it, if you haven’t been to an LPGA Tour event you NEED to GO! I’ve been to a lot of golf events as both a spectator and as media member, and I can say an LPGA Tour event is probably the most fun you can have watching professional golf.

The CP Women’s Open is one of the biggest non-majors in women’s golf. 96 of the top 100 players in the world are in the field, and attendance numbers for this stop on the schedule are some of the highest on tour. The 2019 edition it is being held at exclusive Magna Golf Club in Aurora, Ontario, which is about an hour north of downtown Toronto and designed by noted Canadian architect Doug Carrick. The defending Champion is none other than 21-year-old Canadian phenom Brooke Henderson, who won in emotional fashion last year.

From a fan’s perspective, there are some notable differences at an LPGA Tour event, and as a true “golf fan,” not just men’s golf fan, there are some big parts of the experience that I believe everyone can enjoy:

  • Access: It is certainly a refreshing and laidback vibe around the golf course. It’s easy to find great vantage points around the range and practice facility to watch the players go through their routines—a popular watching spot. Smaller infrastructure doesn’t mean a smaller footprint, and there is still a lot to see, plus with few large multi-story grandstands around some of the finishing holes, getting up close to watch shots is easier for everyone.
  • Relatability: This is a big one, and something I think most golfers don’t consider when they choose to watch professional golf. Just like with the men’s game there are obviously outliers when it comes to distance on the LPGA Tour but average distances are more in line with better club players than club players are to PGA Tour Pros. The game is less about power and more about placement. Watching players hit hybrids as accurately as wedges is amazing to watch. Every player from a scratch to a higher handicap can learn a great deal from watching the throwback style of actually hitting fairways and greens vs. modern bomb and gouge.
  • Crowds: (I don’t believe this is just a “Canadian Thing”) It was refreshing to spend an entire day on the course and never hear a “mashed potatoes” or “get in the hole” yelled on the tee of a par 5. The LPGA Tour offers an extremely family-friendly atmosphere, with a lot more young kids, especially young girls out to watch their idols play. This for me is a huge takeaway. So much of professional sports is focused on the men, and with that you often see crowds reflect that. As a father to a young daughter, if she decides to play golf, I love the fact that she can watch people like her play the game at a high level.

There is a lot of talk about the difference between men’s and women’s professional sports, but as far as “the product” goes, I believe that LPGA Tour offers one of the best in professional sports, including value. With a great forecast, a great course, and essentially every top player in the field, this week’s CP Women’s Open is destined to be another great event. If you get the chance to attend this or any LPGA Tour event, I can’t encourage you enough to go!

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Podcasts

TG2: New podcaster Larry D on his show “Bogey Golf”

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GolfWRX Radio welcomes a new podcast, Bogey Golf with Larry D and we talk to Larry. He lets us in on his show, who he is, why he loves the game, and even what’s in his bag! Rob missed his member-guest and Knudson got a new driver.

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

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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