Friday, September 10, 2010

Golf Digest on Putting

I was recently asked to evaluate the content of the October 2010 issue of Golf Digest's "ultimate guide" to putting in a 30-page section. Ok, no sweat.

The October 2010 issue of Golf Digest (volume 62, issue 10) has the cover article "Why You Can't Putt: 30 Pages: The Ultimate Guide to Make You Great on the Greens." The specific pages are 64-95. There are FOUR skills for putting, and Golf Digest (GD) simply doesn't get it.

The 30 pages of GD come in separate "gobbled-together" contributions from various people, all of which make it appear that Dave Stockton Jr. is the guru behind the whole 30 pages. So let's just look for real substance and offer an assessment of value to anyone wanting to learn something about HOW TO PUTT WELL.

Page 64 - picture

Page 65 - Steve Rushin, "Your putter goes ice cold, or -- the horror! -- it could be you." A pointless rumination from a bad golfer, lamenting that he can't read, aim or control the distance of his putts. ZERO SUBSTANCE.

Page 66 - Peter Morrice "The Answers Start Here: With our blockbuster package, get ready to make some putts." An introduction to the substance. ZERO SUBSTANCE.

Page 67 - picture

Page 68 - Mike Stachura, "Why Your Putter Hates You: If you haven't been fit right, you're asking for trouble." SUBSTANCE: 80% of golfers are using putters that are not fit for them. Getting a better fit for the putter will improve distance and line control. The balance of the article offers 1-2 sentence on aspects of fitting:

LENGTH: 35" is too long for most golfers and results in "too much space between your body and elbows at address and your arms won't hang naturally." DUH. BETTER NOT SAY THIS TOO LOUDLY, AS IT IMPLIES THE MAJOR ADVERTISERS OF GD MAKE CRAPPY PUTTERS.

ALIGNMENT FEATURES: Use laser and trial-and-error until some alignment mark pattern helps you the most of those tried. The ever-present "black box" approach to a mystery -- at least David Edel is trying to put some numbers to sorts of golfers and match up patterns, and HEY GOLF DIGEST, it's way more than just the alignment marks -- it's also putter head overall shape, colors, hosels, loft visibility and other physical features of the putter. More broadly, golfers don't even aim their putters -- they aim their stroke action. And in any event, if you want to know something about the visual processes of looking at alignment marks on a putter, you should probably start with visual neuroscience, not optometry, as optometrists are universally unfamiliar with the way the brain USES visual input for movement and are restricted in knowledge (and the laws of 50 states) to the refractive properties of the eyeball for purposes of prescribing lens specifications. In visual neuroscience, there are TWO separate visual pathways inside the brain, one for IDENTIFICATION of objects and shapes (which is the system optometrists relate to) and the one for ACTION or MOVEMENT IN SPACE (which has very little to do with visual acuity and a lot to do with the person's patterns of movement). NOTHING OF VALUE HERE.

LOFT: "You need more loft on your putter -- at least 4 degrees -- if you play on slower greens or start your stroke with a forward press, which immediately delofts the putterface.  You can get away with less loft on faster greens or if you contact the ball on the upstroke." Confusing and illogical. The first question is HOW DOES A PUTTERFACE ROLL A BALL? The second question is WHAT'S THE BEST STROKE DYNAMIC (ball position and stroke movement) TO ROLL A BALL? The third question is WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES THE GREEN SURFACE DICTATE FOR LOFT? GD doesn't know what the questions are, so that's a pretty poor indicator that the reader should trust their recommendations. WORSE THAN SIMPLY NOT HELPFUL -- LEAVES GOLFERS MORE CONFUSED THAN BEFORE READING IT.

HEAD SHAPE: If you make off-center putts, a bigger head with heel-toe weighting might help. If not, you might like a blade putter. Pretty stupid. Head shape is also about aiming, but the unnoticed aspect is how the SOLE of the putter relates the golfer's body to the surface. WAKE UP GD AND GET SERIOUS, please.

LIE ANGLE: If the putter sole is not level, you will not hit the sweetspot and leave putts short and a toe-up posture misses left. BETTER NOT TELL PHIL MICKELSON. OF COURSE THE PUTTER SOLE SHOULD SIT FLAT -- THE ISSUE IS: WHAT LIE ANGLE OF THE FLATLY SOLED PUTTER WORKS BEST WITH GOLFER JOE? GD is WAY OFF, and SAYS NOTHING ABOUT LIE.

WEIGHT: "Generally, a lighter putter -- under 340 grams -- works better on slower greens (because you need to swing the putter head more), and a heavier putter provides stability on the shorter strokes and on faster greens." CONFUSED. Heavier provides better stability on ALL GREENS, right? Right. So GD's comment is just confused and confusing. As to slower greens, why would a golfer really want a larger and more violent stroke? The problem here is GD has NO IDEA HOW DISTANCE CONTROL WORKS with either a heavy putter or a light putter. The SIZE of the stroke gets bigger and impact velocity faster with a lighter putter mass, but the SEND gets greater with a heavier mass. Matching the putter mass to the green ends up being a question of what SIZE stroke does your tempo produce given the putter mass and the green speed for any distance. Going lighter while keeping the tempo the same makes the SIZE bigger and the STABILITY less. Going heavier makes the SIZE more compact and the STABILITY greater. Going TOO HEAVY adds jerkiness in the motion. The overall approach is, first, what green speeds does the golfer usually play, and second, what's a comfortable SIZE range for the most commonly faced putts in the 5-20' range. This ALWAYS trends away from lightness in the direction of heaviness without getting too near "TOO HEAVY" a putter or "TOO COMPACT" a stroke. CONFUSING AND VALUELESS SPIN ON THIS ASPECT OF PUTTER DESIGN.

Page 69 -- advertisement

Page 70 -- Guy Yocum, "How to Train Your Brain: New Research: Good thinking might beat out a good stroke." The article presents a description of the research of Debbie Crews with her EEG mapping of brains when putting. (The article confuses MRI and EEG, so that's a pretty bad start, as the two brain imaging processes are as unalike as using a Cray Supercomputer and counting on the fingers). Using brain images from the 12 scalp electrodes of an EEG cap, sampling 267 scalp voltage measurements in 3 seconds each putt and then using six software packages to process the voltage measurements and generate a composite image of colors on the scalp supposedly representing levels of brain activation down inside the brain itself, Crews tries to "balance" the hemispheres and colors. "Each [scalp] location represents a different facet of thought, emotion or physical activity, with the left side of the brain controlling logical, analytical thinking, and the right side in charge of the more creative, intuitive components. ... The idea, Crews says, is to synchronize the measures so the colors in the images are predominately of one type and flow together smoothly. This allows golfers to putt with a blend of confidence and concentration."  Neuroscience's dean of split-brain studies Michael Gazzaniga writes frequently and plainly about the sad stupidity of this New-Age misinterpretation of his work that divides the brain up into two sides and says this aspect (e.g., logic) is over here, and this aspect (e.g., space awareness, intuition) is over on the OTHER side, but I guess what he says about it is irrelevant for golf.

Page 71 -- picture

Page 72 -- A confusing jumble of notions of feel, emotion, mechanics, thinking, arousal, intentionality, focus, fear, and the typical clap-trap of people not dealing with the science crowds the discussion. With red being highly elevated activation and dark blue being low levels of activation, brain [scalp] images are presented and the commentary that goes with the images makes no sense and is very inconsistent. Crews says golfers should be either highly aroused and emotional / nervous / anxious [red] or calmly meditative [blue], not in between; that their color pattern should be symmetrical and smooth and "balanced" left and right. But the image of "Thinking mechanics" is the most red and uniformly balanced left-right of the four images but this is said to be very bad and all left brain. The picture / image and the explanations aren't on the same wave length at all. The second image shows the next-most red mostly imbalanced to the left, and this is interpreted as "Thinking missed putt", with anxiety. The third image is very unbalanced with visual area red, left parietal / feel area blue, and right frontal / thinking area blue. This is supposed to be the pro pattern "Focused on the target". The fourth image shows uniform blue everywhere except some red in the visual area, less than the third image. This image is not identified as a pro, but as a golfer "consumed by feel". So which is it? Balanced? That's "Thinking mechanics" or "Focused on feel". Aroused and nervous? That's "Thinking mechanics" or "Thinking missed putt". Calm and meditative? That "Focused on target" or "Focused on feel". Notice the subtle hint in the labeling: Two are labelled "thinking" and two are labelled "focused". But that's not what the explanation of the data says. "If some of the areas show red, we like to see the high arousal in all areas." ALL four of the images show red -- the two "meditative" or "focus" images show red in the visual cortex area. Is she actually trying to say that the red she means is red somewhere outside the visual area?  According to Crews, nervousness is better than calm because a calm mind is unnatural. "Crews points out that a quiet, meditative state can be as beneficial as nervousness, but calm is more difficult to attain because it's not a natural reaction to stress."

Well, aroused is red, but red is "bad" in the images / data.

"The player who involves the mechanical side of the brain too much is in trouble. You should pay a great deal of attention to aim, alignment and factors like that at the beginning, and then shut down the mechanical side of your brain. At that point, you want to be target-oriented and allow your imagery, feel and emotion to take over." This seems to suggest that WHILE AIMING AND SETTING UP the golfer's brain should look RED "Thinking mechanics", but then once ready to execute the stroke the golfer's brain should turn this off and replace it with the "Focused on target" blue brain. Right! Good advice, Debbie. "I'd say it's not what you think that matters, but how you think." Meaning what?

The problem here is that Crews does not study or read what neuroscience says about HOW these scalp colors get generated. She is flipping and flopping all over the lot trying to figure it out herself by trial and error experimentation INSTEAD OF READING THE SCIENCE. That's colossally uninspired! That's similar to a crazy person on the steps of the Computer Science building at MIT stopping people on the way inside telling them she is on the verge of figuring out computer architecture and logic, so the ability of humans to calculate putting motions and program putting computers is "just around the corner". "Read a book" on the subject is probably a better approach to the brain than purporting to use a bathing-cap of wires on the scalp to sort it all out from the beginning with "original empirical research". No wonder her advice is confusing and not coherently connected to her research.

SUBSTANCE: New-Age style neuroscience about left hemisphere versus right hemisphere on the one hand but then about "balancing" the hemispheres despite this but also about preferring being nervous over being calm but ultimately do both just not at the same time.  VALUE: Not much better than Bob Rotella telling you that you should think like a pro or Dave Pelz telling you you should putt like a robot. Crews says worry the aim, then focus on target. Ok, how, exactly?

Page 73 -- advertisement

Pages 74-77 -- Dave Stockton, "4 Things You Should Do, But Don't." Those are: 1. Lead [guide the stroke] with your left [hand]; 2. Think roll, not hit [for distance control]; 3. Use your fingers [not your palms] to "feel" the stroke; and 4. Spot the putt. BIG PICTURE ASSESSMENT: Nothing here at all about reading, or aiming, and the tidbit about TOUCH is only "roll the ball instead of hitting the ball". Good grief! Why bother decomposing these four little pieces of STROKE stuff? The ONLY interesting contribution here is the use of the left hand to guide the stroke STRAIGHT DOWN THE LINE, as taught to Dave Stockton [Jr.] by his father Dave Stockton Sr. decades ago in the 1960s and 1970s, as recounted in Dave's book from the late 1980s Putt To Win, with Al Barkow. That's not half bad, but it's not well explained either in terms of what's good about it and why it's better than the inside-square-inside arc stroke or what it has to do if anything with a stroke path that goes straight-back / straight-thru. What else ya got?

SUBSTANCE: OK, a tidbit for stroke. VALUE: worth a paragraph or two, not 4 full pages.

Page 78 -- picture

Page 79 -- Tom Chiarella, "I'm Cursed: Among many cop-outs, here's one jinx I can't shake." Complete nonsense headed nowhere, getting there late. SUBSTANCE: NONE. VALUE: WASTE.

Page 80 -- picture

Pages 81-82 -- David Owen, "The New Way to Read Greens: The day I learned to find the Zero Line". A humorist describes a session some time ago with Brian Mogg and Mark Sweeney on how to read greens. Owen basically says he learned from Sweeney that no one knows how they read break and instead should learn to read the green surface. Owen learned a bit about some topographical features of green surfaces and then was explained about the Zero Line and "a system to identify what [Sweeney] calls the Zero Line, a (usually curving) series of connected points from which putts should be aimed at the hole." Got that -- aim the putter face along a curved series of line segments each of which aims a different direction, with only the last segment actually aiming into the hole. QUESTION: What's the system and how does a golfer do it? ANSWER IN THE ARTICLE: NOTHING SAID ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, AS IF IT WEREN'T IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO MENTION, EVEN THOUGH IT'S THE MAIN THING WE NEED TO READ ABOUT. Good grief. (And besides, it's nothing NEW about this -- HA Templeton wrote a 200-page book on this very subject with lots of charts in the 1980s and Mark Sweeney had never heard of this before I gave him a copy. Templeton doesn't agree with Sweeney's calculations' by the way.)

So now what? Use a chart, stupid. Great. The chart is supposed to give objective measurement of where to aim, as in the example: Stimp 9 green sloped 2% from the 2 o'clock position in relation to a 6-12 straight uphill-downhill line thru the cup from 15 feet away = aim at a spot 14 inches up the straight uphill-downhill line above the cup. Ok, now what? Putt with what pace? How? Back up a bit, also -- How do you perceive the green speed? How do you perceive the slope percentage? What happened to all the little line segments fro  ball to hole? How do you perceive the 6-12 line? What are the assumptions about the surface and the delivery speed of the ball that go along with the "objective" numbers in the chart? Owen sums it up: "I'm not sure I'll ever take the time to master Sweeney's system. In fact I'm sure I won't. But I've already found his core ideas to be extremely helpful, especially in determining the overall direction of the break. (It's gravity, stupid!)" Geesh, fellas, ya think?

SUBSTANCE: Promise the moon and deliver merely a Keebler Cookie about "gravity" without explaining what the golfer should do or how. VALUE: Eh, still leaves the golfer at the starting block wondering what to do and how to do it.

Page 83 -- advertisement

Pages 84-85 -- Mike Shannon, "How to Roll Every Putt on Line." Says 65% of golfers "literally can't see in straight lines" and so cannot use the reading procedure of "aiming straight at the high point of the break". In addition, these 65% of golfers "have no system for handling breaking putts." WOW, where do you start? Here are 3 silly questions: 1. Why "can't" the 65% of golfers do what 35% of the golfers CAN do? 2. How DO the 35% of golfers accurately see how to aim at a spot? 3. If this were known, could you TEACH the 65% to do likewise? Mike Shannon answers these simple common-sense questions as follows: 1. Don't know, haven't wondered. 2. Don't know, haven't wondered. 3. Don't know, haven't wondered. Goodness gracious sakes alive -- is this what passes for golf instruction? Sadly, yes, GD certainly thinks so.

OK, so what about "rolling the putt on line" as promised by the title of the article? There is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN THE ARTICLE ABOUT THAT. Nothing. Nothing at all. Anywhere. Good grief! What the article is about is what Shannon recommends that the sad 65% who can't see a straight line and who have no method for reading putts ought to try: See how the ball will CURVE into the hole and then "react to the target" to "find the line". "Curved-line players need to trust that they can find the line by reacting to the target, without the distraction of drawing lines or spots." Say again, please, and this time with real feeling: REACT TO THE TARGET, you dunderbutt. OK, got that. Don't "track the eyes along the arc of the putt." That's not helpful, he says.

Basically nothing here about the surface, the slope, physics, aim points, delivery speed, or anything usually considered important to planning or executing breaking putts except seeing the angle the ball will be entering the hole and then "react" to that to find the start line then "trust it and let it go" even if your eyes say otherwise.

SUBSTANCE: NOTHING ABOUT ROLLING ON LINE, and instead SOMETHING WEIRD AND WEAK about SOMETHING SPECIAL TO TRY IF YOU CAN'T DO WHAT OTHERS CAN. VALUE: Misleading and confusing and blocks golfers from learning real skill or even attempting to understand HOW they do what works and offers nothing to the other 35% than "keep doing what you're doing, whatever that is, but in any event don't do what I recommend for the other 65% -- that's just for them."

Page 86 -- "Player Poll: The Best on Tour Today -- and Ever." PGA Tour: Tiger Woods: 2 keys: light grip pressure and same PACE back and thru. He used to have grip pressure of 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, according to him.  The PACE is the rhythm that I teach. LPGA: Cristie Kerr: likes to practice. Champions Tour: Loren Roberts: good eyesight and a self-crafted method. College Men: special putter from Japan. College Women: practice realistic situations, pick a line, aim at a spot, roll ball over spot without second-guessing. Not different from what I teach.

SUBSTANCE: two tidbits, one from Tiger never really covered or discussed except by me, and one from Jennifer Song (College Women). VALUE: The best of the whole 30 pages in 2 sentences without much attention or explanation by GD.

Page 87 -- picture

Pages 88-89 -- picture

Pages 90-93 Matthew Rudy, "Why Women Putt Worse than Men: Experts debate the stats, the empirical evidence, and the future." Says women lack the skills of men on the green mostly because they don't practice enough or start early enough. Many of the interviewed "experts" said that unless the player starts spending lots of time putting before age 8-10, they aren't ever going to rank along with top pros at ages 20-30. Period. No exceptions.

SUBSTANCE: Next to none for how to putt, male or female, except practice a lot and start early. VALUE: WASTE OF TIME.

Page 94 -- picture

Page 95 -- Dan Jenkins, "How to Get Your Ball to Listen: Bully it, threaten it, demand mediocrity." Humorist Jenkins runs on. SUBSTANCE: ZIP. VALUE: WASTE.


To summarize the GD ULTIMATE GUIDE to putting for its substance and value on the four skills of putting:

READING GREENS / PUTTS: a confused article about the fall line and aiming at a target that doesn't tell anyone how to do anything to find either; a completely inconsistent second article that says 65% of golfers can't aim at a target and shouldn't try.

AIMING PUTTERS: a "mention" that putter fitting might help.

STROKE: an article by Dave Stockton telling us what he said in his book a quarter century ago, which is do the drill his dad taught him for leading the left hand straight down the line, and a few odd bits about keeping it low but slightly rising thru impact while delofting the putter and NOT hitting up on the ball -- got that? Also an article that say be nervous about reading and aiming, and then "turn the mechanical side of the brain off" and make a confident stroke with emotion.

TOUCH: a tiny tidbit from Stockton to the effect that "rolling" the ball instead of "hitting" it gives better distance. Oddly, the data-geek that tested this idea at TaylorMade responded to Dave Stockton's statement in a YouTube to the effect that his stroke technique "really made the ball roll out" for distance as follows: "Not really." But in a broader sense, Stockton has NOTHING for how golfers should control distance and pace, and there is NOTHING AT ALL elsewhere in the 30-page GD "Ultimate Guide" to putting. But, heck, distance control is the most important skill of the four, so why waste time on something like that?

You're kidding, right?

Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist

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