I do not play very often, but when I do the biggest problem I have is judging how far to hit my putts. Can you give me any easy way to judge the distance when putting?
My Dear Mr. Short,
Dr. Putt empathizes with your problem, for it is one that we all share. Distance control is one of the most vexing putting problems, for it not only changes with the golf course, but with the season, the time of day, and even from green to green on many courses. Wind and moisture can greatly affect putts. Dr. Putt remembers one collegiate tournament in which the wind was so brisk that the ball visibly shook as it sat on the green.
A recent instructional article in a major golf magazine emphasizes that we should be more conscious about the precise distance of each putt, just as we are aware of the distance of approach shots. The author proposes that we pace off each putt. This way we will eventually learn the difference between a 5 pace putt and a 7 pace putt, for example. Good advice. But it misses the point that the number of paces are less important than the geometry of the putt and the speed of the green—up hill or down hill, fast or slow greens. The speed of the greens alone can make a 10 pace putt on one course like a 5 pace putt on another.
So what is the poor player to do? How can one possibly take all the relevant factors into account? Dr. Putt would suggest that one should prioritize. Start with the most significant factors and then add additional factors as one masters these initial factors. For example, the beginner should not worry too much about the grain of the grass on the green. Only two factors should be of concern—the speed of the green and whether it is up or down hill. The more advanced player will begin to add in other factors such as grain.
How is one to judge the speed of the green? Some courses are posting daily meter readings, but this is not meaningful in terms of executing the stroke. One needs information built into muscle memory, not cognitive memory. Dr. Putt advocates taking two minutes to build a “feeling gauge” on the practice green before each round of golf. Step off a 2 pace putt (about 6 feet) on a level part of the green. Then hit a few putts at the hole thinking only about feel for distance, not direction. Repeat until the ball rolls about a foot and a half past the hole. Then repeat the procedure for a 5 pace putt and then a 10 pace putt. Dr. Putt suggests that one should perform this procedure while looking at the hole and/or keeping one’s eyes closed. This associates the visual distance with the force of the swing in the former case and isolates the feel of the swing from all other sensations in the latter case. Once one has this information stored in muscle memory, one simply adjusts for actual putts on the course. For example, a level 7 pace putt should be struck with a force that is a little less than half way between a 5 and 10 pace putt. A down hill 12 pace putt should be struck with about the same force as the 10 pace putt, depending on the severity of the slope. As one progresses, one learns to judge the effects of the severity of the slope on the three points of reference established in the feeling gauge. The point is, begin by giving one’s muscles three points of reference--a simple starting point that will help virtually every player.
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