Monday, March 7, 2011

Putting: "Distance is the most important part"

I have been preaching that putting is the most distance-driven part of the game for over 20 years.  The quote in the title comes from Jack Nicklaus during the Sunday telecast of the Honda Classic.  His point, that regardless of the distance of the putting opportunity, the correct distance is the most important factor in success.  Nice to hear from the game's #1 all-time player.  I arrived at this conclusion by studying the data while Jack obviously based it upon his experience (73 Tour wins and 18 Majors) and his meticulous study of the game.  Remember Jack, with caddie Angelo, was the first to pace off the distance of his approach shots.  What golfer today, at any level, would attempt an approach shot without knowing the distance to the yard?  Sergio purportedly demands his distances to the half yard.  But how many golfers, even on Tour, know the distance of their putting opportunities?

Y.E. Yang does!  Dottie Pepper remarked, during the Honda telecast, that YE paces off his putts and it was evident in his pre-shot routine on the 10th, 11th and 14th holes.  No wonder YE putted so well in last week's Ascenture Match Play and again in the Honda and has climbed to #29 in the World Rankings.  Another prominent player that paces off his putting distances is Phil Mickelson.  Phil also practices distance control diligently from 40, 50 and 60 feet and credits this with his recent Masters win.

Why is DISTANCE so important?
The average PGA Tour player will make 50% of their putts at 8 feet and average 2.0 putts or better up to a distance of 40 feet.  Beyond 40 feet they will 3-putt more often than 1-putt.   These numbers fall off fairly dramatically as skills diminish.  Our data tells us that the average 10 handicap -  a much better than average golfer - will make 50% at 5 feet and average more than 2.0 putts once outside 20 feet.  Distance and distance control are extremely important and I recommend that every serious golfer learn to build this function into their on-course and practice routines.  I have included "Hints on Tracking the Distance of your Putts" in the FAQ's and More section of the website but here are the cliff notes:

1.  Don't wait until it is your turn to play.  Start the process of evaluating your putting opportunity as you approach the green.  Even from as far as 50 yards or more, check the overall slope of the terrain that will influence your putt.

2.  When you mark your ball, you must either walk past the hole to your ball or walk from your ball to the hole to remove the flag.  Simply count your steps.  For longer putts, get to the mid-point between your ball and the hole, check out the slope and then count your steps back to the ball and double the result.  Your distance calculation will be close enough.

3.  Check the distance of your stride (from heel to heel).  The standard male stride is about 25 - 27 inches, NOT 36.  You may have to stride out to attain a 3-foot length.  I practice with a yard stick at home (while watching golf).  Next time you watch Tiger on TV, notice how his caddie strides out when pacing off yardage - and Steve is a big man.

Successfully build the distance function into your putting routine and you will become a better, more confident putter. 

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