Dear Dr. Putt:
How can I judge the speed I need on a green?
My Dear Beatrice,
Dr. Putt loves simple, straightforward, and important questions, so thank you for such a question. Indeed, distance control is one of the two great issues in successful putting. The other issue is direction, or line. However, distance control may be even more important because the proper line of the putt on any breaking putt changes with the speed at which the ball is rolling. The faster the ball is rolling, the less the putt will break.
Dave Pelz has proven that there is an ideal distance for every putt, and that is propelling the ball fast enough so that if it were to roll over the hole, it would finish just under a foot and a half past the hole. That speed is fast enough to help the ball stay on line, yet slow enough so that if one misses, the next putt is a short one.
Thus the ideal speed is one that is just a bit faster than having the ball barely fall into the hole. But exactly how does one judge how to strike the ball to achieve that speed?
Dr. Putt would suggest two methods, the "feeling gauge" method," and the "reference putt" method.
One approach is to build what Dr. Putt calls a "feeling gauge." To see a complete explanation of this approach, see the "Dear Dr. Putt" letter on "Distance Control: Feeling Gauge Method."
The other method is the "reference putt" method. Dr. Putt mentions this method in the "Dear Dr. Putt" letter on "Tempo in Putting." But, please let Dr. Putt elaborate a bit more on this method.
The reference putt is one that you can do with ones eyes closed at a tempo that seems natural and with little to no effort. It has about a 12 inch backswing. For Dr. Putt, this backswing extends to about even with the large toe on his rear foot. Incidentally, the tempo one establishes here is one that should be maintained on all other putts. Putting speed is controlled by the length of the backswing, not the force at which the ball is struck. This is also discussed in the "Dear Dr. Putt" letter on "Tempo in Putting."
To establish the reference putt, take several balls (Dr. Putt uses three) to a level part of the practice green, assume your putting stance, and take a few practice swings, perhaps a couple with eyes closed. The backwing should be about 12 inches, as mentioned, whatever distance feels natural without feeling one has to make any real effort to extend any further. It should be a stroke that one feels can be repeated over and over again. Then putt each of the three balls without looking up or changing your stance. If you have the repeating stroke memorized, all the balls should be within a foot of each other. If not, repeat the process until you get them all close together and until you have confidence that you can putt the ball that distance every time using that stroke. For Dr. Putt, on his home course on most days, this distance is 21 feet, seven paces. Step off and note your distance.
Repeat this process before you play any round of golf. Make sure that you use a level part of the putting green. To ensure this, putt the balls in one direction, and then putt them back in the other. The average of the two is your reference putt distance. Of course, if you are really on a level place, there should be little difference (though the grain of the grass can make a little difference, but that is another matter for another letter). Of course, this distance will change on any given day and any given course. So you must re-establish your reference putt distance before you play each time.
What you now have, before you step on the first green, is a putting distance you KNOW you can hit any time you need it. Judge all putts in relation to this distance. For example, if it is downhill at your reference putt distance, you putt with a little shorter backswing. Uphill? A little longer backswing. With the grain of the grass? A little shorter backswing, and so on. Is the putt a little longer than you reference putt distance? Then take a little longer backswing, and visa versa.
Thus, you need to learn to note all the factors that can affect the required speed of the putt (slope, grain, moisture, hard or brown spots on the green, and even wind). You step off the distance on each putt as you walk the line of the putt, so you know exactly how it compares to your reference putt distance. Learning how to factor in all these things will not come instantly, but you will improve over time. But with a reference putt, you at least have somewhere to start each time, something you can count on and have confidence in. And that is more than most players have!
Pacing and taking into account all these factors may seem to take too long to do in play, but if you develop a routine with no wasted motion, you can do the whole thing in about 30 seconds and be ready to putt. As Dr. Putt notes in other "Dear Dr. Putt" letters, a putting routine is critical to good putting.
Which method should you utilize, the reference putt method or the feeling gauge method? That may depend on your personality and how you think about putting. If you are a feel player, the the feeling gauge may be better. If you are more mechanical and analytical, then the reference putt method may be better. But you can use both together, going through each exercise on the putting green prior to play. In fact, Dr. Putt uses both methods when getting ready to play.
Dr. Putt hopes this adequately answers your question. Please let him know how you are progressing!
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