Getting the Ball to the Hole: Why and When to Lag (Lesson 3, Part 4)

Some putts can't be charged; you have to lag.

Some putts can’t be charged; you have to lag.

To die the ball at the hole, or to putt it 17 inches past?  That is the question.

There is a debate in golf about whether one should try to die the ball at the hole or putt it with enough speed to get it past.  That debate is related to the current post, but it requires more discussion.  Rather, we shall take a first step in the direction of understanding that debate.

What is interesting is that some putts just are NOT makeable.  This is the key point.  Not all putts can be made.  I repeat.  Not all putts can be made.  It is not just that it is dangerous to try to make some putts.  Rather, some putts are simply unmakeable.  I cannot repeat this enough.

By this I mean it is literally impossible — whether you want to call it mathematically impossible or physically impossible, were one to write down the set of (differential) equations to show how hard one would need to putt the ball to get it to a certain point on the green, one would find that those same equations will tell you that even if you can get the ball to the point that is the hole, it won’t be able to go in because it will not be going at the right speed.

A corollary to this is that the shot tracker they now have on television that purports to show the line of the putt describes only one of a few possible ways of sinking a putt – sometimes there is no solution; more often there are multiple solutions to making a putt.  One sees now with modern computers the networks presenting graphics that show the ideal path a ball would travel for the putt to go in.  Let’s be clear:  that puts a false idea in everyone’s head about putting.  To make the point bluntly and simply, if all that mattered when striking a putt were direction, then putting would be much, much easier.

Nicklaus carefully babies a putt in on the way to a Masters win.

Nicklaus carefully babies a putt in on the way to a Masters win.

That’s right.  If one thinks of it as a mathematician, the differential equations which need to be solved for the ball to go in just don’t have a solution.  Some problems, in math and life, have no solution.  This is true on the putting green.  There is a reason to lag.

Some putts can’t go in


Leaving aside the mathematics of it – which would quickly become very complex – it relates to speed and speed putts (though those aren’t the only ones you can’t sink).  (Ed. note: the mathematics are, I admit, pretty interesting.  I know you are all clamoring to see the system of differential equations written out.  And, well, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the time today.  I am truly sorry. The equations are truly beautiful.)

Different paths to the hole on a breaking putt

Different paths to the hole on a breaking putt

Some putts, many putts, have two possible or three possible paths to the hole, depending upon how hard strike the putts.  Thus the saying “he hit it firm” or “knock it into the back of the hole.”  Speed and direction are inter-related.  The picture of our hypothetical green attempts to illustrate this.

The difficulty is that a putt that will reach the hole on a direction to strike the center of the hole may be going too fast to go in.  A putt that is putted slow enough to go on may have to be putted so slow that the force of gravity (green slope) takes over and the ball will never get to the hole, and can’t.

This problem can be exacerbated if, near the hole, the green is particularly slopey.

What is important to remember is that not all putts can be made.  It’s just not possible sometimes, even from ten feet and sometimes closer it.  It’s a very difficult situation.

This is when the importance of lag comes into play.  If a putt, to have a chance of hitting the hole would have to be putted too fast to go in, one should try to lag the putt, without doubt.  For if on a perfect line, it will hit the come and bounce around or over it, one doesn’t make the putt.  If one’s alignment is slightly off, chances are one is going to be left with a big miss.

Feeling Lucky?

Luck of course happens.  But that reminds me of a Clint Eastwood

So do you feel lucky, punk?

So do you feel lucky, punk?

movie:  “So do you feel lucky, punk?  Well, do ya, punk?” (Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry).  I don’t know.  I tend to give the green a lot of respect.  I like my pars more than I prefer the typical birdie-bogey trade-off.

The point here is not or even primarily about the possibilities.  It is about learning to understand when discretion is the better part of valor.  One doesn’t charge a putt if it’s not makeable.  It’s frustrating, for some, but there will always be more holes.  Think about birdieing them.

Newton in his casual wig.

Newton in his casual wig.

I. Newton

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