Dr. Putt feels your frustration and would like to share in your rant and rave. Your observation about the increasing speed of greens is absolutely correct. All one has to do is watch a few old films of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf on the Golf Channel to see how much slower the greens of the past were compared to the greens of today. Faster greens do multiply any error in judgment of distance or break. The 15 foot putt of today requires the equivalent force of a putt of half that length 30 years ago.
Why? As with so many changes, no single explanation will suffice. Part of the explanation is bio-technical and part is social. Courses like Augusta and the television coverage of other tournament venues have caused us to associate high quality golf with fast greens. We want to see if we can play like the professionals, and we can only tell if we play on greens that are also quite fast. Those who design and maintain and promote golf meet that demand and promote additional demand through advertising. That is the American way. New varieties of Bermuda and bent grass are able to withstand "close shaves" and high traffic much better than the grasses of a quarter century ago. Even the movement to soft spikes is related to this evolution. Spike marks have a much greater effect on greens cut to a short length than they did on the soft spongy and lush greens that many of us played on in our early years. Yes, Dr. Putt does remember the greens of the early 1960s when he first became addicted to the game.
As greens have become faster, the putting stroke has evolved to better accommodate the faster speed. Wrist action, which was needed on slow greens to simply get the ball to the hole from anything beyond 20 feet, has been practically eliminated. Swinging from the shoulders in one piece allows one to execute shorter more delicate strokes with more precision under conditions of tension. Modern equipment also has been designed to accommodate faster greens. Soft cover balls and soft inserts epoxied to the face of putters allow one to take a slightly harder stoke that yields less distance.
Jim, if you have been paying attention, as I am sure you have, you already see some clues as to how one may defend oneself against these modern speed traps. Adopt a putting grip that encourages a one piece swing with all hand action eliminated. Dr. Putt would recommend the EOB grip that he developed for this very purpose, if you will pardon the plug foor the book that helps support this column. Alternatively, try the Langer style grip, or simply a reverse handed grip. .
Second, use a soft cover ball, many of which still allow distance off the tee. You might even try some of the modern putters with soft inserts on the face of the club. .
Third, on your putting stroke, try taking the club back a much shorter distance than you currently do. Try and make the follow-through significantly longer than the back swing. This promotes acceleration through the ball and helps keep the putter on line -- and you should keep it on line as much as possible throughout the entire stroke. Dr. Putt suspects that your fear of taking it back is caused by a fear of losing control and an effort to slow down the club as it strikes the ball. Eliminate that fear by taking it back as little as possible. And then pose at the end till the ball comes to rest. You should try to control distance by varying the distance of the back swing, not the force of the down swing.
If you try these things and accept the fact that almost no one will build the lush greens of our youth any more (even if they would be easier and less costly to maintain and even if they would speed up play and even if both Jim and Dr. Putt prefer them that way), you may yet learn to at least enjoy putting a little bit again. Dr. Putt prefers to think of golf as an art form that requires both power and delicacy along with imagination. Modern greens require a great deal of both of the latter.
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