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Opinion & Analysis

Making the case for putting instruction

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For most golfers, the thrill of the game is hitting the ball high, far and straight. I would go so far as to say that some players would rather set their hair on fire than spend an hour on the putting green three days a week. But most avid players would also give up something important to break a major scoring barrier like shooting in the 80’s for the first time. For the majority of golfers, whose time is limited but who still hope to play the golf of their dreams, putting lessons and proper putting practice are without doubt the most efficient way to spend practice time.

I should tell you that I am a certified instructor with the SeeMore Putter Institute and therefore have an interest in promoting putting instruction. However, the reason I became a putting teacher was that as a tournament player I know how much value there is in working on that part of my game. I also know I can help my students improve and enjoy golf more through putting instruction and putter fittings because putting involves a shorter, less complicated motion that they can practice at home, the office and at a golf course. So, first I am going to discuss some statistics that show why putting is so important for great scoring and overall golf enjoyment. Then I’ll address why you should spend your precious time learning how to putt from a qualified instructor.

Avid golfers know that a scorecard treats putting with the same importance as the long game. On a regulation par-72, 18-hole golf course with four par 3 holes, four par 5’s, and ten par 4’s, the scorecard allocates as many strokes for putting as for full shots from the tee and fairway. Because most of us miss a significant number of greens per round, the average golfer generally takes 45 percent of his strokes on the green. However, putting tops the list as the skill that determines overall scoring performance.

The PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained-Putting statistic is great at showing just how important the flat stick is. Columbia University Business School Professor Mark Broadie created the method of gauging putting performance, which measures the putts a player takes from a certain distance relative to the PGA Tour average “taking into account the initial putt distance on each green.” So, if a player makes a 35-footer, and the PGA Tour average from that distance is 2.0 putts, then he picked up a putt on the field.  The number of times the player either gains or loses a stroke to his competitors during a round determines his ranking.

In 2012, Brandt Snedeker led the strokes gained category with an average of 0.860 strokes over 81 rounds, meaning he gained almost an entire stroke on a field of the best players in the world every time he teed it up. He won the Farmers Insurance Open, the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedExCup race, which is a test of consistency over the entire season.  Despite being short and crooked compared to the rest of the TOUR (ranking 108th in driving distance, 106th in driving accuracy, and 126th in greens hit in regulation) Snedeker finished the season third on the money list behind only Tiger and Rory and won $4,989,739, and he’s off to an even better start in 2013. Luke Donald led the Strokes Gained-Putting category in 2011 on the way to topping the European Order of Merit and the PGA Tour money list titles.  To those who say that golf has become strictly a “bomb and gouge” game, I say look at the numbers.

There is also a hidden message in these statistics that many folks who have spent time around golf already know. If two of the shorter hitters on TOUR were able to overcome that deficit with stellar putters, good putting must instill the type of confidence and grit no other part of one’s game can.  The inverse is also true — strong ball striking and weak putting lead to the frustrated feeling that no matter how well a player hits the ball, he will never reach his full scoring potential.

Look at the number of wins and career money Boo Weekley, Kevin Sutherland, John Senden and Joe Durant have collected.  These fine players have led or been near the top of the greens-in-regulation statistics for the past five years, but with all due respect, they would probably tell you that they wished they were better putters. The fact is that strong putting leads to the kind of good feelings that a player cannot get from hitting towering drives and laser-like approaches. Putting well reinforces that it is OK to take certain risks since a strong putter feels he can get up and down from 80 yards or from a tough lie on the short side of a green. Good putting controls momentum and confidence during a round of golf. Many golfers know this, but the vast majority of players do not do what is necessary to become consistently effective once they are on the green.

Putting a golf ball well is not an innate talent that some players are simply born with. Like other golf skills, putting takes some hand-eye coordination but it can be taught and improved with practice. Most players don’t really know where to start. Should the stroke be straight back and straight through, travel on an ellipsis, or from inside and then down the line? Like the full swing, there is so much conflicting information out there that it is hard for even a very good player to know what advice is best. If a player somehow finds the advice that is right, reading a book or magazine article does not guarantee that player is properly executing what he or she reads. We all need a qualified pair of eyes to give us feedback and guidance.

Enter the trained putting instructor

Compared to the general population of golf pros, trained putting teachers are rare. According to the PGA, only 6 percent of golf lessons include putting instruction and that does not mean the entire lesson was dedicated to putting. There are probably two reasons for this:

  1. Most golfers choose to focus on the long game when they hire a teacher, and many golf pros just do not feel comfortable teaching putting.
  2. To find a good teacher to help you with the most important part of your game, you will need to do a little research.

The SeeMore Putter Institute is a great place to start, but so are a number other great teachers who focus on the flat stick. Regardless of whom you learn from, the lessons and the practice should center around promoting pre-shot mental focus, and sound, neutral fundamentals — grip, alignment, posture and ball position — because that will facilitate repeatability in your stroke even with a limited practice schedule. If you work on these things for 20 minutes at home every other day and practice your putting for an hour once or twice a week on a putting green, I promise you will see long-term scoring dividends, and enjoy the game more.

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Paul Kaster is the Director of Instruction at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, NJ. He learned the game on Chicago’s only 18-hole public golf course, Jackson Park G.C., and went on to play Division I college golf, and on mini tours including the Tar Heel Tour (now EGolf Tour), and the Golden Bear Tour (now Gateway Tour). After suffering a wrist injury, he left the golf business to pursue a career in the law but realized after passing two bars and practicing for several years that he wanted to return to golf to share his passion for the game and for learning with his students. He is the Northern New Jersey Director of Instruction for Medicus Golf's 5 Simple Keys® system, a member of Callaway Golf's professional staff, Proponent Group, and is a certified instructor with the SeeMore Putter Company and U.S. Kids Golf. In the off-season, Paul coaches indoors at the Golf Cave in Clark, NJ and TEST Sports Clubs in Martinsville, NJ. Website: www.paulkastergolf.com

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Paul Kaster

    Mar 9, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Thanks Larry! As the saying goes, understanding is the first step to acceptance. More to come!

    Paul

  2. Larry Perfetti

    Mar 8, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Okay, I’m convinced that I need to spend a lot more time on my putting and that that time will pay off in many ways on the course.

    Now, I hope Paul follows this article with several articles describing the aspects of putting and drills that will help me become a better putter.

    Great article.

    Thanks,
    Larry

  3. Paul Kaster

    Mar 1, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Mark and Jeff, glad you liked the article and thanks for your comments! Remember to use whatever aides (or better yet instruction) you can – any practice is only as good as the reliable feedback that guides it. Keep at it and have fun!

  4. Jeff

    Feb 28, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Great article ! I’m glad all my golf buddies don’t believe articles like this . Just having a second set of eyes
    Look at your alignment and where you’re aimed will take strokes off, let alone actual instruction from a pro. I love practicing the short game bc as you said , it frees up the long game knowing you can save par on off days

  5. 3Puttnomore

    Feb 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    I agree that some don’t want to spend time on a putting green every day.. which means that some do!… During the good weather I stop at my local course and spend an hour on the green 4 or 5 days a week!… I love it!
    It relaxes me on my way home… I enjoy the late afternoon or early evening… And I get GREAT satisfaction from getting better at learning to read greens… I spend more time on a putting green than a driving range because you’re right, the best place to pick up strokes is there!
    Thanks for the article… Enjoyed it…
    Mark R.
    Brampton, Ont.

  6. Paul Kaster

    Feb 25, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks Kevin! I would love to see that data when you’re done. Accomplished players definitely reach parity at a certain level when it comes to ball striking. But I also think average golfers have the most gain by working on the fundamentals of putting and the short game – as Dr.Bob Rotella said in Golf is Not a Game of Perfect, you have to accept missing greens and fall in love with your wedge and putter to make real progress as a player.

    Paul

    • kevin smith

      Feb 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      We had a booth at The PGA Show, and worked with alot of average golfers. I have little doubt the average golfer has the most to gain from working on Putting Fundamentals. The Players just need to add a little commitment and they can improve.
      I will get you a copy of the data we come up with at the end of the spring season.
      Kevin

  7. Kevin Smith

    Feb 25, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    Could not agree more!! We are doing some putting coaching with our device at the division1 ranks and are in the process of compiling data. The one thing we see alot , is 5 minutes of putting practice then straight to the range .

    Those in the “know”, know putting is where it is at!! As your competitive level increases ball striking becomes pretty equal.
    Great Article
    Kevin Smith
    Get The Point Golf

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Opinion & Analysis

Have you got Golfzheimers?

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While it has taken more than a quarter century of teaching golf to arrive at this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is an as-yet-unnamed epidemic condition afflicting a great majority of players. This condition is so prevalent that I think it is high time it was given a name. So let me be the first to navigate those uncharted waters and give it one in hopes that, once formally recognized, it will begin to be more seriously studied in search for a cure. I will call this condition “Golfzheimers,” as it is the complete inability most golfers have to remember the vast majority of good shots they have ever hit (even those hit only moments before), while having the uncanny ability to instantly recall every chunk, shank, skull, and chili-dip they’ve hit since sometime back around when balls were still covered with balata.

Now trust me, I’m not making light of a very troubling and serious disease. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, and it is a heartbreaking condition.  n truth, I could have just as easily named this “A Golfer’s Senior Moment,” since the term is ubiquitous enough, if I really believed someone would actually take offense (and I am truly sorry if you do).  I didn’t, though, because it was after a conversation with my late grandmother one day that I was suddenly struck with how oddly similar her lack of short-term memory, combined with her ability to vividly remember things that happened 40 or 50 years ago, was in some ways to how most golfers tend to think.

As long as I have been playing and teaching, I’ve been searching for different ways to learn to accept bad shots, keep them in perspective, and move on without letting them affect the next shot, hole, or round. When it comes to swinging the golf club, I can generally teach someone how to hit pretty good shots in a fairly short period of time, but teaching them to remember them with the same level of clarity as those of the more wayward variety often seems like trying to teach a blind man to see. Despite a general awareness of this phenomenon by most players and its detrimental effect upon their golf game, little has been suggested until now as to why it exists and what if anything golfers can do about it. And while research in the field of neuroscience suggests that our brains are hard-wired from the caveman days to catalogue and assign more importance to events that are considered dangerous or threatening, what about the game can have become so dangerous (other than to our egos) that we all seem to be fighting such an uphill battle?

Numerous psychological studies have found that the majority of people can remember five bad experiences more readily than five good ones, and assuming this is true, it speaks a great deal about how we have been conditioned to think since an early age.  The concept of scarcity, a term popularized in the self-help world, essentially describes a lens through which many of us have been conditioned to look upon our world, our lives, and apparently our games, with far too much regularity. It is through the use of this concept that many of our parents kept us at the dinner table as children, far beyond our wishes and long after our dinners were cold. We were guilt-ridden, not because we might be unappreciative of the time and money that went into providing us with that dinner, but because there were millions of starving children in China or some other far-off country that would have been tripping over themselves for even the remnants of that liver and onions our mothers had beset upon us.

As a proud parent, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve used the scarcity tactic a time or two myself during moments of desperation. Being naturally an optimist, though, I try to avoid succumbing to its siren song because I prefer to teach my daughters a far better lesson. At the same time, my girls are proof positive of these same studies and our ability to recall, as evidenced by another thing we do at that very same dinner table — we play a game called high and low. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; it’s where you ask your kids what their high and low moments were during the day. With my kids, I ask them to tell me the low first, preferring to close their day’s reflection with something positive, but it’s uncanny how often recalling something positive makes them really pause and reflect, while if something negative occurred, their recall of it is nearly instant and typically very descriptive.

The good news for both my daughters and the general golfing public, however, is there is a very effective way to short-circuit this type of thinking, and it comes from the field of hypnosis. From this moment forward, make a point not only to remember every good thing that happens to you, but to stop and savor it. If you are paid a compliment, don’t just brush it off. Stop to relish it for a moment and recognize the responsible person with more than just the perfunctory, “Thanks.” If you accomplish a goal, regardless of how small, reward yourself in at least some small way, all the while reminding yourself how good it feels to follow through on your intentions. And if you actually hit a golf shot well, reflect a moment, make a point to enjoy it and remember the moment vividly, and actually thank your partners when they say, “Nice shot” rather than blowing it off with some sort of, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while” type of comment.

Hitting the golf ball well is actually a near miraculous achievement when you consider the complexity of the swing and the incredible timing and hand-eye coordination it requires. Enjoy it (or anything else for that matter) when it actually comes off right. Do it several times a day for a month or more and there will be subtle changes in your brain chemistry, how you feel, and your outlook on life. You will notice, and so will those closest to you.  Make it a long-term habit and you might even be able to avoid ever having your playing partners ask this unfortunate question: “Have you got Golfzheimers?”

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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