Putting magic from 40ft, where science meets art
How good are you from 3ft?
If there was any part of my golf game that seemed easier than the rest it was putting, although, I dont think I had any natural aptitude for it.
I just think I practiced it in a way, that encouraged my motor function to learn quite efficiently.
It seemed common sense to me, that the closer I got to the hole, the 'less' accurate my starting line had to be.
At the time, when I used to practice hitting shorts putts. I would hit them into the right, or left side of the hole.
I had clear feedback from this type of practice. I found that the starting lines to make short putts, could be quite wide
I had read a lot about short putting practice.
For instance, there are some great golfers who would practice 3ft putts, until they made 10..... 50.... or 100 consecutively.
On the face of it, that intention in practice seems sound.
If the golfers performs well, his confidence increases. If he performs less well, and 'no one ever makes all their 3 footers anyway'. Win win!
If those 3 ft putts, were stretched to 4 feet, how many would go in? I was uncomfortable about feeling satisfaction, from sinking short putts.
'As putts increase in length, the starting line is so much more critical, and would need to be measured, in fractions of a millimeter'.
According to PGA Tour stats, putts of 8 feet are holed around 50% of the time. This average, had been recorded from the putts of all PGA members.
So, the best players in the world, who are regularly putting on the best prepared greens, make only half of the putts, they attempt from that distance.
These players practice for years, hitting 10's of 1000's of putts. They use a myriad of putting aids, and still miss as many as they make, at 8ft in length.
The good news is, that there aren't that many reasons, why shortish putts are missed. As there aren't that many variables.
On the mechanical plane, the face of the putter has to point directly on the line the ball needs to roll, to have a chance to hole it.
With putts of 3ft or so, a player can be more than 1mm out, against the desired starting line, and still have a chance to make it. 1mm is narrower than the average Sharpie line.
As putts increase in length, the starting line is so much more critical, and would need to be measured, in fractions of a millimeter.
The golfer should know deep down, that trying to find a mechanical way to better the current statistics, isn't possible.
These make percentages, are often beaten by some players, but like scoring abnormalities, they are temporary, and dont create a new standard.
Other reasons for missing short putts are.
On the physical plane, the putt can be under-hit, and not reach the hole .
On the emotional plane, the golfer can experience unhelpful nervous reaction, that makes solid contact difficult.
On the 'act of god' plane, the putting surface is not true enough, or the day is very windy.
Margin of error
I wonder if I am beginning to convince you, that practising short putts, is detrimental to your chances of holing the longer ones.
When the golfer intensely practices short putts, there is deep conditioning.
On short puts, the margin for error is wider. This makes the starting line, less critical. As the length of a putt increases, the margin for error, in the starting line, gets finer and finer.
The line to the hole that sinks the putt at 3ft, can easily miss by a cup or more at 8ft.
If you watch the top players practice putting at tournaments, you will see lots of emphasis placed on making short putts.... and because we see these players doing it, we tend to copy.
Players also use a variety of different training aids. They use them, in an attempt to tighten their technique, and to 'force' the body to work in a restricted manner.
Up to a point, this way of practicing will produce improvement, but only up to a point.
On the mechanical & physical planes, a player might try to close in the starting line. He may use tees, just wider that the diameter of the ball, for it to roll through.
Along with this, some use a mirror on the floor. This is so he can see where his eyes are, relative to the line of the putt.
To restrict things further, he might place something behind the putter, so it doesn't go too far back.
This practice is science based, and as mentioned, only makes an impression, on the mechanical & physical planes. As putts get longer, the margin for error gets finer. Starting lines would need to be measured in fractions of a millimeter. Its so precise.
No golfer can manipulate the arc of the putter, within such tiny tolerances....and for a golfer to be able to centre their eyes over the ball, with this same degree of accuracy and repeatability, isn't possible.
So what is possible?
It can be simply described as the way your body makes tiny adjustments, while in motion.
So can the type of practice we choose, cut into the statistics, and improve the make percentage of putts from any distance?
All the golfer needs to know, is that the motor function operates independently of thought.
If you look at the hole, and then at your golf ball, the motor function is making calculations. The more specific the requirement the more the emotional plane is activated (nerves).
For the motor function to perform freely, the practice has to be performed in a certain way.
A quick reminder of the facts are that....
1.The starting line needs to be accurate to a fraction of a millimeter, when making long putts.
2. The golfers emotional state will affect practice, and is outside of direct control. So we have to practice in a way that isn't too emotoinally intense.
3, The golfers motor function works most efficiently with a specific intention. To dribble the ball past the hole, is a good starting point, for most golfers its quite acheivable.
Putting magic from 40ft, where science meets art.
Putting from 40ft-ish, ticks so many of the boxes, that short putting doesn't.
On the emotional plane there is little internal pressure. No one expects to make this length of putt, so an adverse nervous reaction, is less likely.
Hit a putt from 40ft-ish, the next 48ft, the next 37ft or so, but dont hit more than one ball from the any one distance.
We want the motor function to calculate the force it needs to make just through the information provided by the golfers eyes.
We dont want our motor function calculating the force it exerts, by comparing where the previous putt finished, and making adjustments that way. Altering the putting distance on every putt, ensures that the golfer is always hitting the putt with fresh information.
The golfers eyes, should rest on a point just beyond the hole, and instinctively choose a 'through line' (how the putter passes through the ball), and hit the putt.
There should be no specific 'green reading', just allow your body to adjust to the line as you make consecutive putts.
If you want to 'score' the session, only putts that 'dribble past the hole' are good enough. This is the intention of the practice, to allow your motor function to learn (by intention) what its being asked.
Finding satisfaction with putts that finish within a 3ft circle of the hole, is not good enough.
Your body/mind can easily do a lot better than that.
Finishing short of the hole isn't good enough. Your motor function can do much better than that.
What you can expect
As you practice, you will notice your left or right misses aren't too wide.
Your mind/body will naturally make adjustments so the ball finishes closer to the hole, on a tighter line. On a flat piece of green, if a line was drawn through a holed 3 footer, and extended out to 40ft, your putts would finish within about 5 cups wide, either side of the hole. This is what you can expect when you start......its instinctive.
As practice continues, you will notice the misses are closer to the hole, on the left or right side. Improvement comes when the practice flows, and your mind is fairly uncluttered.
So far you have asked your motor function a couple questions To judge the force it needs to use, to hit the ball with enough oooomph, to just dribble past the hole.... and also to tighten the starting line, so the ball finishes closer to the hole on either side.
If this is going well, you can increase the degree of difficulty, by specifying the side of the hole you want your 40ft putt to miss on, either the left or the right. Then as close to it as you can, without holing it (whilst dribbling it past the hole).
This increased difficulty, drastically improves your sensitivity to the line. Your starting lines quickly improve from 5 cups wide when you began, to inside 3 cups wide consistently.
As practice continues, you may become aware, that your motor function is reacting to feedback. Your brain learns by filtering and sorting information 'coming in', and adjusts how it proceeds, based on your intention.
You are instinctively reacting to the putts starting line and the distance. With practice, the sensitivity needed to hit the putt to the distance your eyes fix on, is relatively easy for you body/mind to judge. It can do this regularly, and repeatably, to an accuracy of within 4ft from a distance of 40ft.
You may notice just how hard your eyes fix on the ball as you putt, as your motor function is selecting a starting line.
Depending on your natural tendencies, to determine the line, you may pick a point on the front of ball itself to swing though...........or, you will have a picture of the position of the hole in your minds eye, relative you where you are, and start the putt on its way using that.
Whatever way that comes naturally to you, your motor function, through your eyes, begins to notice bumps, hollows and rises on the green that affect the line, and adjusts for the next go. All the time trying to tighten that line.
Notice how really easily your motor function changes the force it needs to use, on a putt of 45ft, and the next at 36ft, and the next of 52ft, consistently coming to rest within a 4ft margin (on medium speed greens).
Notice how the putter holds its finish when you enter the 'zone'. This is really hard to describe in words, but I will try. As you putt and putt and putt, it becomes more unconscious. There is more 'flow'. For me there wasn't any recoil with the putter, it was as if I was measuring the force in some way.
You may also notice how your putter accelerates through the ball. When the motor function assesses force, it doesn't need to be directed into taking the putter back 'this far'. It can even adjust to the swinging force mid motion, using more or less 'hit', in order to make the distance.
There are limits to how well your motor function can perform, you are human after all. I want to mention the performance you can expect, with diligent flowing practice.
For instance, knowing that you can and should expect the balls to finish within a 4ft spread, from 40-ish feet, will also remind you, to keep on working if results are slow coming.
If things aren't going so well, its most likely there is some sort of internal conversation going on, or a negative emotion interfering with how you learn.
The reality of this practice, is that a lot of your putts will finish very close.
As your sensitivity develops, so does your tightness of line, especially, if you hit to the same pin position on the practice putting green regularly.
The reason for all this practice is so that on the course, your putting becomes more automatic, and more reliable. Its wise to remind yourself when you become uncertain over long putts, your mind/body knows how to judge distance very well, if you just let it.
A big payoff from this type of putting, is that during practice, you are always a long way from the hole. So, when you are faced with putts from middle distance on the course, they seem 'short'.
Let me know how it goes.
'Isn't the best route to hitting the ball well, actually about the how the club makes contact with it. Isn't the swing 'part' more about generating force'?..........read more!