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Opinion & Analysis

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

The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros

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I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.

The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.

There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.

Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.

What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).

Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.

If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?

It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.

Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.

So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.

Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.

We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.

There’s a lesson for all of us in that.

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win

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Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.

Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.

It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.

McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.

When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.

If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.

 

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!

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Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!

Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.

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