Saturday, February 23, 2008

Review of "Success on the Green"

Tour Pro Tips and Tricks, February 23, 2008: a review of "Success on the Green: PGA Tour Pros' Secrets for Putting Your Best", by Steve Hosid, with Lee Janzen, Jim Furyk, Rocco Mediate, and Dave Stockton Jr. (Shady Oak Press, 2008).

This just-released book about putting features four tour pros (Lee Janzen, Jim Furyk, Rocco Mediate from the PGA Tour, and Dave Stockton Jr. from the Champions Tour) offering their pro tips and tricks "for putting your best." The whole is organized according to writer/photographer Steve Hosid, a resident of Bay Hill and a friend of Martin Hall. For many of the tips and tricks, Martin Hall offers drills and training aids to consolidate the notions offered by the pros.

For each aspect of putting, there are photos of each pro illustrating his personal take on the issue (e.g., backstroke path, grip, setup, etc.). Naturally, the overarching theme is expressed by Hosid: "There's no one technique that fits all. The important thing is to find a style with which you are comfortable. Each of our professionals has a different technique and, in some cases, a different length putter. All are successful. While their individual styles may not suit you, much can be learned from their advice, drills and practice lessons."

This approach means that true fundamentals for reading, aiming, stroking, and controlling pace or distance will not be tackled, and instead a standard variety of the magazine "slice and dice" approach is offered with the imprimatur of "successful" tour pros. The book is heavily weighted on stroke mechanics and technique and equipment, and has next to nothing of substance for reading putts, controlling distance, or aiming the putter. As usual, unfortunately.

Even so, it's fun to see what this particular collection of pros has to offer. There are some oddities of lore floating around here like positioning your dominant eye above the ball and reliance upon the so-called "eye line" to avoid beside-the-ball misperceptions of the line (with no appreciation for how the gaze direction of eyeball aim out of the face really determines the perceptual accuracy), but there is also a surprising degree of agreement on certain setup and stroke dynamics.

For example, the pros all agree that the shoulders should be set parallel to the target line and that the stroke should REMAIN square thru impact for a small distance at a minimum. That is a true fundamental.

But there is little else. When it comes to "reading" the line, one pro offers the idea that the he aims at the apex, which is obviously incorrect and always too low as an aim spot to set the start line of the putt. Other pros offer the usual notions that the ball can enter the hole along different paths, that the eyes need to get low to see surface contour better than when the eyes are high in the air, that different speeds require different breaking paths or curves, that putts break most when the ball nears the hole, and that visualizing how water runs off helps see the break. The problem is that none of this tells a golfer how he can accurately perceive the breaking curve. That requires knowing how surface perceptions of contour integrate with green speed and ball rolling speed given the golfer's touch. There is no discussion along these lines at all.

The same goes for touch. Controlling the distance or pace of the putt is agreed to be the most important skill for putting. But again, as usual, there is nothing insightful offered by the pros about how touch works or is learned or used. All the suggestions and drills skip the relationship between targeting and stroke timing, with the result that the golfer is left with practice "tasks" or "games" to accomplish (sinking putts from 3, 6, and 9 feet; rolling the ball into a configuration of clubs laying on the green; having your breaking putts end up being long enough and coming in from the high side; etc.). These practice approaches to touch teach the golfer nothing fundamental about touch. The apparent hope is that years of practice will result in touch growing on the golfer like a fungus grows on a foot.

Aiming the putter face and assessing the accuracy of its aim is simply not discussed.

Even so, the vast majority of golfers are used to this "slice and dice" approach to putting that stays with setup and stroke mechanics while giving vague indications of the much superior "promised land" of "touch and feel" putting just over the next range of mountains somewhere. This being the case, most golfers will enjoy this book. And because the vast majority of golfers aren't especially knowledgeable about setup and stroke, most golfers will also "benefit" in some measure by engaging with this book, as the technical offerings are not pointedly incorrect or hurtful in any significant sense -- they are mostly conventional when in agreement and not too important when in disagreement. The main thing is getting it direct from the horse's mouth how Jim Furyk and Dave Stockton Jr. think about putting.

That alone is well worth the price. Physically, this is a large-format paperback book with color photography throughout on glossy paper stock, printed in China. So it's a nice object for a retail price of only $14.95. You can't beat that price.

Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist
The PuttingZone
author of Optimal Putting: Brain Science, Instincts, and the Four Skills of Putting (2008).

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