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The EOB Putting System

Golf Book Review: Dave Pelz's Putting Bible

Dear Readers:

If readers think that Dr. Putt will find great fault with the work of Dave Peltz because of professional competition, they would be greatly mistaken. Dave Pelz is the most well known and a highly respected expert on the short game, especially putting. Dr. Putt shares that respect. As a former NASA engineer, Pelz takes a scientific approach to putting in his Putting Bible, measuring about as many things as one can possibly think of with respect to putting. In short, no one does the technical aspects of putting better than Peltz.

The putting game is broken down into 15 separate aspects. Reviewing them all would steal too much of Pelz’s thunder, but three that Dr. Putt found particularly important and readily applicable to the average player are 1) the “pure-in-line-stroke” (“pils”), 2) his findings and recommendations on reading break, and 3) putting rhythm.

Dr. Putt entirely agrees with Mr. Pelz that keeping the putter blade on and perpendicular with the intended initial line of the putt throughout the stroke is much preferable to a path that forms an arc. (Pelz calls the intended line the “aimline,” which is different from the actual path of the ball on breaking putts - more on that shortly.) In the case of an arced path, the putter blade is only square with the aimline at the instant it touches the aimline, and this introduces an additional variable that lends less precision to putting. How to keep the blade square and on-line is the problem. Here Pelz makes a great contribution by showing that as long as the hands are directly below the shoulders and one utilizes a one-piece stroke, the desired “pils” is the likely outcome (p. 77). So in short, make sure that in your set-up your hands are directly below the shoulders.

As noted above, Pelz distinguishes between the aimline and the actual path of the ball (what he calls the “ball-track”). After working and measuring with large samples of players from beginners to professionals, he found that all players at all levels under-read the actual break of putts, by a huge factor. On average, players read about a third of the actual break in a putt. Then they unconsciously compensate by lining up to give them about two-thirds of the actual break, and finally push or putt the stroke to make up some more of the remaining third, but still leave themselves about 10% short. For example, on a putt with 40 inches of break, the putt actually struck averages about 36 inches of break. This is why most players miss below the hole (pp. 147-151). He later suggests that we should all keep track of whether we miss putts above or below the hole by placing little a’s and b’s on our scorecard. Great idea! If you have consistently more b’s than a’s, then you have some work to do. More a's than b's is also a problem, but much less likely.

Pelz offers a useful rule of thumb on reading break. After you imagine the actual path of the ball, triple the visible break and aim there. This would solve all problems if we then aligned ourselves to and then stroked the ball along the aimline. However, if we have been unconsciously compensating, as Pelz has shown we do, then these well learned unconscious compensations in alignment and stroke will cause us to miss our putts above the hole. Hence, the player must do two things. First, the player must learn to read the actual break (remember, about three times the visible break). Then she or he must learn to aim it along the intended line and then stroke it along that line with no compensation. A tall order indeed! But if one wants to improve, then this is what one must do.

On rhythm, Pelz proves the counter-intuitive. If one uses a pendulum stroke with no hand or wrist action (what Pelz calls a “dead-hands” stroke), a short putt takes just as much time as a long putt (p. 136). Indeed, he points out what any freshman physics student knows, that a real pendulum takes the same amount of time to complete a cycle whether it is a short stroke or a long stroke (which is why grandfather clocks work!). So whatever rhythm one putts at, it should remain the same regardless of the length of the putt. He suggests saying “tick-tock” on all strokes, so that the “tick” is the back of the stroke whether it is a 2 foot putt or a 20 foot putt, and the “tock” is the end of the stroke, again, regardless of length.

Pelz adds that each of us has a natural rhythm, and that our strokes will be most consistent if we putt at that rhythm. One can quickly learn that rhythm by counting the number of steps one takes per minute when walking a flat area on the course. (Count the number of steps you take in 6 seconds and then multiply by 10.) Shorter people generally walk at a faster rate (p. 138). If you take about 110 steps per minute (as does Dr. Putt), then your natural putting tempo is about 70% of that, or about 78 beats per minute on the metronome (p. 228). Try putting at this tempo on the putting green or at home on the rug, and see if it is comfortable for you. Adjust up or down a little till you are comfortable. Then learn that tempo and use it on all putts no matter their length - tick tock. Great insight and great advice!

Having said all these wonderful things, Dr. Putt does have one or two quibbles. On the behavioral aspects of the putting game, Pelz falls a little short, especially in the area of dealing with the “yips.” Peltz deals with the yips by advocating rebuilding ones stroke, assuming that the problem is caused by a technical weakness that breeds a loss in confidence. While one should always seek out and fix technical weaknesses, the term “yips” covers a wide variety of mental problems, some of which are only made worse by more physical and mental effort. (Dr. Putt calls this the “effort trap.” We have all experienced it when we give up on a round of golf and then our stroke suddenly straightens itself out.) If more effort is counterproductive, then clearing the mind of all technical aspects of putting and of all conscious effort may be the key, difficult though that may be. Other varieties of the yips seem akin to stress-anxiety disorder and in extreme cases should be approached by sports psychologists. See the Dear Dr. Putt letters on nerves and yips for more thought on these matters. In all fairness, Peltz does admit in other places in the book that much is yet to be learned, and indeed, research is taking place on the yips and hopefully will soon provide us with additional help.

While Mr. Pelz says he is not trying to sell the reader the wide variety of putting training aids he markets (p. 378), a great many pages read like ad copy for the sixteen gadgets he sells. Most, if not all of these devices are useful, especially the “True Roller,” which allows one to see the true break on greens without putting the ball, and the “Elevated Aimline,” which allows the player to see if she is stroking the ball along the intended line. However, many of these devices can be easily built in almost any garage. The most obvious is the “Elevated Aimline,” which could be nothing more than two 12 inch pieces of coat hanger with loops bent in the ends and white string attached. Of course, we must all make a living, and Dr. Putt does often work in a plug about the EOB aiming and alignment device that sponsors this column.

Pelz does makes an interesting point about training aids, that they should all provide feedback. If they do not show you what you need to do to improve, then they do not lead to improvement. This suggests a critical distinction that is usually ignored in golf. Almost everyone talks about training aids and in doing so casts a wide net covering all devices designed to improve ones play. However, “playing aids” differ from “training aids” in two ways. One is that they have been approved, or should have been approved, by the USGA for actual play. Second, the feedback they provide is in actual results, for example, making a putt, not just in one technical aspect that improves ones chances of making a putt. The drawback of playing aids is that one may still miss a shot because of problems other than the one that the aid addresses. The drawback for training aids is that the aid may not address your particular problem and that it may not be used in actual play. Both play a role in improving ones game, as long as they are based on sound principles and one utilizes them properly. To work in a plug for the EOB aiming and alignment device, it is really more of a playing aid than a training aid. It helps in visually aiming a putt and then in stroking the ball along the intended line. The feedback is visual (did the device move along the intended line parallel to ones toes?) and in results (one will make more putts when one aims more accurately and putts where one aims). Indeed, on page 371 in his “Wrap-up” chapter, Pelz states that aim is the “first fundamental of putting.” The side benefits of the EOB device are that it encourages proper alignment (eyes over the intended line of the putt - Pelz’s “aimline” and what Dr. Putt calls the “ball line”), and it encourages one to stroke the putt on a straight line, Pelz’s “pure-in-line-stroke” (pils). There, Dr. Putt is now guilty of the same sin as Pelz, plugging his product, and is a bit hypocritical as well!

Despite these quibbles, The Putting Bible is a must read for any really really serious player. Indeed, one must be serious to wade through nearly 400 pages! That does require considerable effort, but so does serious golf.

Dr. Putt

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Dave Pelz's Putting Bible