Ryder Cup Addendum

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This post is an addendum, brought about by announcing at the Ryder Cup, to our discussion about “Getting the Ball to the Hole”

We have started discussing how to get the ball to the hole on putts.  We normally think of ourselves controlling two variables:  speed and direction.  In fact, we learned in the first part of this lesson, we control three variables  – speed, direction, and ball spin.  We now discuss one of two parts about getting the ball into the hole once it gets there.

Roger Maltbie shows why announcers should read our blog.

This putt at the Ryder Cup Appears to be Good

Ian Poulter’s putt on the third hole at the Ryder Cup just illustrated how many – almost all – golfers, do not understand that all three variables are very important.  As Poulter lined up a downhill breaking 4 footer to halve the hole, the announcer, Roger Maltbie, said something that we can only describe as … well ill-educated.

He said Poulter doesn’t have to worry about the break and can putt it fast because a miss won’t make a difference.  This logic fails to understand something key – a ball is more likely to go in if the chance that it lips out or bounces through the hole is minimized.  A slower ball speed and less spin on the ball at the hole will both help that.

Maltbie is confused.

Yes, it is true that putter the ball faster will reduce break.  So will catching it more on your upstroke (more topspin).  But the ball still has to drop.

Maltbie’s technique works in a very limited set of cases, and is acceptable any time that the ball will not be going too fast at the hole, whether putted faster with less break or slower with more break.  The problem is that, as Dave Stockton says, he tries to die the ball at the hole.  One of the variables we want to account for is the chance that, given the speed, direction, and spin of the ball when it hits the hole, that it will “drop” rather than “spin out” or bounce over.

This, as with Poulter’s putt, becomes more important when the putt is downhill.  A downhill putt will tend NOT to die at the hole.  We therefore need to take extra care with speed, to give the ball the right speed initially, so it has the speed at which it can drop when it gets to the cup.

Here is a picture of what happened to Tiger’s putt on No. 18 yesterday to make the point clear.  He missed it even though, as we see above, it lipped the edge of the cup:

Tiger barely missed it to lose the match, 1 Down

Dave Stockton is basically correct.  It is very dangerous to charge a downhill putt, not because it will go past the cup if it misses, but because we substantially increase the chances of the putt failing to drop into the hole.  (We will discuss at some point soon Dave Pelz’s experiments showing a putt which goes past the hole 17 inches has the greatest chance of becoming a made putt.  It brings into the same ideas.)  
If one wants to remove some break, move the ball slightly forward of where it usually would be, to add topspin with the same stroke (or force).  Be careful with downhill putts.  Leave your Arnold Palmer putter in the bag.   Downhill putts tend to be more difficult to drop into the hole, all else equal, because extra speed makes it much easier for the putt to lip out or run by the side of the hole without falling in.
I. Newton
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