Lining Up a Putt: The Insidious Effects of Gravity (Lesson 2,Part 2)


Augusta National, 12th Green. Jack Nicklaus three-putted here in 1986, when he shot 30 on his final 9 hole victory charge.

This post continues our discussion of the mathematics and mechanics of lining up a putt.  The previous post discussed the basics of misalignment – how bad alignment of a small amount, on long putts, can be fatal.  It relied on, in essence, basic trigonometry, though we didn’t call it that.  This post we be a little more complicated.  We will see what happens when we putt on greens that are not perfectly flat.  To put a Newtonian spin on it, we will see what happens when misalignment and gravity meet.

We now seem, to some, to have spent an awfully lot of time discussing a seemingly minor topic – how being a bit off on a long put can make one miss a long putt by a large margin –  that is, by a lot (meaning you will three-putt).  And if you want to have 36 putts a round, I wouldn’t advise you to worry much here.  If you want to have closer to 30 putts, I’d keep reading.  This is important to you.  But this has really been quite a boring topic so far.  The real meat of the matter comes next.

The Insidious effects of gravity on misalignment

For this all to be simple, there has been an implicit assumption that it is very unlikely most people would see.  Indeed, they would say, oh this is all very obvious; had I just thought of it a second, I would have realized it all.

So let’s go to the next level, where some graphs and complex Newtonian mechanics would be required, were this an A. Einstein post.

We have been discussing putting as though we were on a completely flat green.  Gravity had no effect.  That is rarely the case.

How do we move from understanding the effects of misalignment on a flat green to one which has break — that is, where gravity (why there is break) and friction (that which slows down a rolling ball the most when moving across a putting green).

Since I have made clear that friction would be a component of trying to solve even an approximation of an equation showing the effects of misalignment.  Friction to the average golfer is the “speed” of a green.  Nothing more complex.  There are many ways to reduce friction.

Green at Merion, Site of the 2013 US Open

Cutting the grass shorter; rolling the greens; not watering greens on hot summer days; and all those things the USGA does to US Open greens to get the stimpmeter to read at 12 or higher.  We will leave friction aside for now.  We want to take baby steps.

Gravity (or the slopiness of a green to the average golfer) is easier to discuss, because one can readily use pictures.

In brief, one can show that the greater the effects of gravity, the greater will a small misalignment become a huge difference at the target.  On a very slopey, very fast green, we all know that even a lag put can be exceedingly difficult from as little as six feet.  That is because slope and speed magnify misalignment – and we all always misalign to some degree, even if tiny and even if our read is truly perfect – “golf is not a game of perfect.”

I will leave the derivation of some examples aside.  Suffice it to say that a one degree misalignment on a 8 foot putt, with fast greens, and a heavy break, will mean more than a foot at the cup.  More than a foot.  At least.

Putting Green at Medinah, Site of the 2012 Ryder Cup

If the break is on a moderately slope 20 foot putt, a one degree misalignment can mean a 3 to 6 foot miss.  On a 50 foot putt with moderate break, a half degree misalignment – with a perfect read – will easily make a 5 to 10 foot miss.  And the average joe is asking themselves, how did I miss that by so much?  Or worse, having really done everything as perfectly as possible, why am I such a bad putter?  Now that’s something we don’t like — drawing mistaken inferences from data we don’t really understand.  That is not Golf as God intended it.

By I. Newton


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5 Responses to Lining Up a Putt: The Insidious Effects of Gravity (Lesson 2,Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » GOLF: Lining Up A Putt: The Insidious Effects of Gravity….

  2. VJ P says:

    Merion, site of the 2013 US Open.

  3. KBK says:

    Hell,I thought you were going to invoke the coriolis force.

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