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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 5: Putting

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Editor’s note: Denny McCarthy (pictured) is the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained: putting picking up an average of .973 strokes on the field this season. 

As we all know, putting is a part of the game far removed from the physical actions required to hit good drives, irons, and even pitch and chip shots. It should be simple, but my experience and feedback reveal that this might be the part of the game that drives more golfers batty than any other. I believe that is because it looks SO SIMPLE, but in fact, is not.

Adding to the “pressure” of putting is that success and failure is so abundantly clear. The balls goes in—SUCCESS. It doesn’t—FAILURE. With all other shots we hit, success is a matter of relativity, isn’t it? But with putting, your “failures” are right out in the open for all to see. And that implies an element of pressure that we don’t really appreciate.

Most of you don’t know that I began my golf club design career back in the early 1980s with a putter design called “Destiny.” It was the culmination of a lifetime of being a mediocre putter at best, and the result of very focused and dedicated research into the mechanics and mental aspect of putting. I read every putting book I could find and watched numerous videos to try to understand this aspect of the game that had been my glaring weakness. The Destiny was the first of over 100 putter designs and three putter patents before I became fixated on wedges and wedge design in about 1990.

In 2008, I actually wrote a book manuscript titled “The Natural Approach to Better Putting,” which I recently revisited and hope to have published by next spring. What this book attempts to do is show you how to optimize your own eye-hand coordination to make you into a better putter of the ball. I am 100 percent convinced that most golfers who struggle on the greens do so because they have allowed a preoccupation on the mechanics to dull their natural eye/hand coordination. And even a brief history of failures (i.e. short misses) makes being “natural” even more difficult.

Obviously, I cannot deliver an entire treatise on putting in a single blog post, and I have a virtual library of putting articles I wrote as “The Wedge Guy” back in the early 2000s; I will revive some of those that are just as relevant today. But what I can do here is give you a few basic tips that should help you improve your fortunes on the greens, regardless of your putting technique or equipment choice.

So here goes:

  1. It’s all about the target. Putting requires optimizing your eye/hand coordination, so that begins with an acute focus on the target itself. I have proven with my own research that having the hole painted all the way to the surface like they do for PGA Tour events allows your eyes to receive—and your mind to process—a much more vivid impression of the target. While you can’t get your course superintendent to do that, you can pick out a very small point to aim at and focus on for the stroke. All putts are straight. You can only affect the starting line of the putt, not its full curvature, so therefore, all putts must be hit at a specific point, right. And that means…
  2. The target is rarely the hole. I’m convinced most putts are missed to the low side because it is hard NOT to allow your visual focus to shift from your intended line on the high side back to the hole as the last thing before you make your stroke. But unless the putt is dead straight, you are always putting toward a specific point either right or left of the hole. Once you pick out that spot, if you will try to remove the hole itself from your focus and intently zero in on that spot that represents the starting line, you will find your success rate improving.
  3. All putts are “speed putts.” That just makes sense, right? One tip that I find very helpful after you have assessed the speed of the putt you have, is to “reset” your target spot to be either well short of the hole for what you believe will be a fast putt, to beyond the hole for those you think will be slower. But that spot has to always be on the starting line you have chosen not directly at the hole.
  4. The hands have different roles. I am firmly convinced that you putt from your shoulders but with the fingertips and thumb of your master hand. We simply do not do enough things in our lives to have a great feel “backhanding” the putt. But we do countless things every day that require eye/hand coordination with our master hand. And the most sensitive and “connected” nerve endings on your master hand are on the inside of your thumb and your forefinger. (See how those two surfaces connect when you touch them together – that’s by design.) This is where your “touch” is centered, so fully engage them. I believe the lead hand controls the putter, and the master fingertips control the path and speed.
  5. Finally, it’s about grip pressure. I worked with Ben Crenshaw for a few years and was amazed to see how lightly he held the putter. I believe you cannot hold the putter light enough, and the lighter you hold it, the better your touch.

Those are what I consider the basics, regardless of your putter choice or putting style—left-hand low, claw, conventional—it doesn’t matter as long as you employ these basic concepts. I look forward to your feedback, and let me know if you are interested in having me share more of my insights into putting, putter design, and selection.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, SCOR, or his leadership of the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2014. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have stimulated other companies to slightly raise the CG and improve wedge performance. He has just announced the formation of Edison Golf Company and the new Edison Forged wedges, which have been robotically proven to significantly raise the bar for wedge performance. Terry serves as Chairman and Director of Innovation for Edison Golf, which can be seen at www.EdisonWedges.com. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. John J. Reed

    Aug 2, 2019 at 1:58 am

    “Hello” from Australia, Terry. Love that article! I found it concise and lucid!

    I have a ‘collection’ of putters that I have tried over the (say) 65 years I have been playing golf. Only two were fitted! Recently, I was fitted for that second one and, somehow, after THAT fitting, now ‘feel’ I have a putter in which I can be confident is ‘right’ for me and my stroke.

    Depending on the position of the ball, of course … I occasionally make that single putt! … I usually make NO MORE than two putts per hole from distance … and very rarely EVER three-putt!

    After a fair absence, I’m currently returning to golf so, for my putting efforts, this article will be a focus for me!

    Many thanks … with best regards … John Reed

  2. Walt Pendleton

    Aug 1, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Good afternoon Terry…hope you’re doing well. As you know, it’s my belief that consistent putting has three basic elements: accurate alignment to intended starting point, extreme control of ball’s speed around the cup, and excellent green reading skills. Here’s why…if you can’t read the putt you can’t aim the putter face, if you can’t control the ball’s speed at the cup it matters not where you aim the putter and finally if you can’t aim the putter accurately…you’re basically putting blind! Conclusion for most golfers…if your practicing putting w/o a training system that can improve all three of skills, it’s normal to have 40 plus putts per round and a freak’n miracle when you don’t. FYI – there is a solution at Nside10.com

  3. @Plotto66

    Aug 1, 2019 at 5:51 am

    I miss a bit more on aiming. To truly trust your “straight putt” you need to be able to start the out on the right line. I.e. executing a proper aim.

  4. Cullen Jacobs

    Jul 31, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Joining your group multiple times in Victoria Golf Course. You are guy who has admitted to hate putting and on several occasions, refused to putt. How do you respond? Why write a story on putting when it is something you do not even do in golf?

  5. Thomas Seisser

    Jul 31, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    I still use my Scor wedges. Some great information from an acknowledged golf genius. Thanks Terry!

  6. always2putts

    Jul 31, 2019 at 2:42 am

    This was golden, I have to test the small point as an aimpoint and trying the feeling of putting with my master hands thumb and index finger! I am so tired of missing my 1’st putts by an inch all the freaking time.

  7. Nick

    Jul 30, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    I agree a lot with this article. One of the things I focus on when putting is utilizing my trail hand to feel like I’m passing the balk towards the hole. I also imagine the putter as a paint brush and that I’m painting a line towards my target. I think I started focusing a lot on that in college after I saw a special on how David Toms putted and liked his philosophy.

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Opinion & Analysis

Watch for players lofting up at altitude at the WGC-Mexico Championship

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This week, at the PGA Tour’s WGC-Mexico Championship, we are going to watch some of the best and longest players on the planet play what will effectively be one of the shortest courses on tour.

Now, 7,341 yards is by no means a cakewalk, and there are shorter courses from a pure yardage perspective played on tour—Harbour Town, as an example, only plays at 7,099 yards from the very back. The difference is Harbour Town is played at sea level while Club de Golf Chapultepec is at over 7,500 feet of elevation, and when you factor in the altitude difference between the two courses, they play very differently—more on the math in a moment.

The altitude will also factor in how some players will be setting up their equipment and we could see some adjustments. The most obvious is lofting up the driver or fairways woods to increase carry, which is something Tiger Woods specifically mentioned last year.

The biggest misconception when talking about playing golf at altitude is that the ball doesn’t spin the same in thinner air and players “loft up” to maintain spin. Let’s get into the physics to bust this “spinning less” myth and simplify the science behind playing at altitude,

The golf ball is an inanimate object, and it has no idea it’s at altitude; the air will not have an impact on how much the ball will actually spin. Yes, increasing loft should, by almost every imaginable measure, increase spin but the air it travels through will not change the spin rate.

However, playing at altitude has an effect, Let’s break down what happens

  • Thinner air exerts less drag force (resistance/friction) on the ball. The ball moves more easily through this less dense air and won’t decelerate as quickly as it flies. But note that the faster an object moves the more drag force will occur
  • Less resistance also means that it is harder to shape shots. So you when you see Shot Tracer, the pros are going to be hitting it even straighter (this makes Tiger’s fairway bunker shot last year even more unbelievable)
  • Less force = less lift, the ball will fly lower and on a flatter trajectory

Time for some math from Steve Aoyama, a Principal Scientist at Titleist Golf Ball R&D (full piece here: The Effect of Altitude on Golf Ball Performance)

“You can calculate the distance gain you will experience (compared to sea level) by multiplying the elevation (in feet) by .00116. For example, if you’re playing in Reno, at 1 mile elevation (5,280 ft.) the increase is about 6% (5,280 x .00116 = 6.1248). If you normally drive the ball 250 yards at sea level, you will likely drive it 265 yards in Reno.”

Not every player will be making changes to their bag, and some will instead focus on the types of shots they are hitting instead. When speaking to Adam Scott earlier this week, I was able to ask if he planned on making any changes heading into Mexico the week after his win at the Genesis Invitational.

“It’s very rare for me to make club changes week-to-week beyond playing in the Open Championship and adding a longer iron. The one thing I focus on when playing at altitude is avoiding partial shots where I’m trying to reduce the spin because as spin goes down the ball doesn’t want to stay in the air. I’ve experienced partial shots with longer clubs that end up 25 yards short, and because of that I want to hit as many full shots as possible”

With Club de Golf Chapultepec sitting just over 7,800 feet above sea level, we’re looking at 9.048 or an increase of just over 9 percent. That makes this 7,341-yard course play 6,677 yards (+/- where the tees are placed).

 

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Podcasts

The Gear Dive: Urban Golf Performance owner Mac Todd

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Fujikura, Johnny chats again with his old pal Mac Todd Owner and Operator of Urban Golf Performance in Los Angeles. They cover the growth of the business, what the new Club member experience may look like and much much more.

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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The Gear Dive WITB Edition: Adam Scott

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In this WITB edition of The Gear Dive, Johnny chats with JJ VanWezenbeeck and Aaron Dill of Titleist Golf on the ins and outs of Genesis Invitational Champion Adam Scott’s setup.

Adam Scott WITB details below

Driver: Titleist TS4 (10.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting, 2-gram weight)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Kuro Kage XTS 80 X

  • Scott put the Kuro Kage in play this week. Per Titleist’s J.J. VanWezenbeeck, “Adam Scott switched to the TS4 driver at the ZoZo Championship due to head size, shape, and improved launch to spin ratios. This week, after discussions with Adam, he went to a shaft he had previously played for increased stability. He felt the shaft went a little far and he lost head feel. We went on course with lead tape to get the feels to match up then weighted the head to preferred swing weight after testing.”

3-wood: Titleist TS2 (16.5 degrees, A1 SureFit setting)
Shaft: Fujikura Rombax P95 X

Irons: Titleist 716 T-MB (3-iron), Titleist 680 (4-9 irons)
Shafts: KBS Tour 130 X

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (48.08F, 52.08F, 56.10S), Vokey Design SM8 WedgeWorks (60.06K)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold AMT Tour Issue X100

Putter: Scotty Cameron Xperimental Prototype Rev X11 (long)

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

Scott marks his ball with dots in the pattern of the Southern Cross, which is featured on the Australian flag.

Grips: Golf Pride Tour Velvet

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