Saturday, October 29, 2011

Optional Optimal Stroke

The "Optional Optimal" Stroke is Simple but not Mandatory

Golf conventionally teaches for putting little other than a confusing and confused myriad of stroke techniques, each claiming it is the best and only way to stroke the ball. That's accepted by golf culture, but actually makes little sense.

There are FOUR skills for putting that must be performed well every putt: 

1. reading the break of the putt that is set by the delivery pace of the ball (touch); 
2. aiming the putterface along a startline that matches or arises from the read; 
3. starting the ball online with the stroke; 
4. stroking the ball with the appropriate force or touch so the pace of the ball matches the pace used to read the putt initially and that matches the break.

Of these four skills, the PRINCIPAL skills are touch and reading. While touch is the foundation of reading, and hence all four skills, touch and reading are far more determinative of success or failure than aiming and stroking. That's because aiming and stroking have simple objectives that are performed by simple mechanics. In comparison, touch and reading with touch are very tricky skills to perform accurately and consistently.

Regarding aiming and stroking: Over 90 percent of all golfers -- pros included -- do not aim the putterface inside the hole from 10 feet away on a straight putt, and almost all of these golfers are completely unaware of the problem in aiming but believe erroneously that the putterface aims straight at the center of the hole. That's bad, but it has always been the case throughout golf history. What does this mean for the strokes used by over 90% of all golfers? It means that IF they sink the putt, then they must not be stroking the ball where the putterface aims, since putting the ball on that line would miss. So what do golfers actually do when they sink putts with bad aim? They don't know. That's the problem, since this is what makes golfers "streaky" and leaves golfers in the dark when "whatever sort of stroke they are using doesn't work and they don't know what went wrong or how to fix it."

Why do golfers aim poorly? There are two reasons: First, golfers use poor physical movements beside the ball when looking along the line of aim to see where it ends up, and have little skill in directing the line of sight straight sideways along the ground. This leads to odd physical movements that confuse and misdirect the aim offline. Second, golfers don't know that the body aims with its habitual movements, and this biases the mind in perceiving the aim of the putterface, so that (for example) a golfer who habitually has some "pull" action in his stroke will look down at a putterface aimed perfectly straight at the hole 10 feet away and yet will "perceive" and think erroneously that the putterface "looks aimed to the inside", since that is where the body expects the stroke habit to send a ball off the perfectly aimed putterface.

What does it matter? Poor aiming engenders corruption of the stroke. Aim to the outside; stroke with a pull to compensate (all without awareness).

How do you fix this "chicken and egg" problem? If you fix only the aim, the stroke with the poor habit remains uncorrected. That's why using a line on the ball results in near-perfect aiming of the ball from behind the ball, but then the golfer sets up beside the ball and looks down and "perceives" that the ball "seems" to aim to the inside. That's the "pull stroke habit" biasing the mind in perceiving where the stroke will send the ball. If you fix only the stroke so all strokes always and only send the ball wherever the putterface aims, this leaves the aiming unfixed, so it doesn't rescue the golfer from the streakiness that accompanies lack of awareness of what the golfer is doing.

However, fixing either the aiming or the stroking will eventually drag the other skill into a more and more correct pattern. While fixing both aiming and stroking at the same time is advisable, it is nonetheless wise to know which fix of the two has greater effect in bringing both aim and stroke into correctness.

Fixing the stroke has greater and quicker effect in helping correct bad aim than does the effect of fixing the aim on correcting the stroke.

And fixing the stroke is easy: just putt the ball wherever the putterface aims, always and only.

This brings us to why conventional stroke teachings are non-sense: none of the strokes taught in golf define what the stroke is required to accomplish. The strokes all teach a method, not the accomplishing of an objective. 

But once the objective of the stroke is clearly defined, the performance of the objective turns out NOT to require one stroke method more than another. The OBJECTIVE is what is mandatory; the method of accomplishing the objective is merely OPTIONAL at best. All strokes taught today are merely optional, but more fundamentally, they aren't even calculated and designed to accomplish the obvious OBJECTIVE. Well, perhaps it is not at all so "obvious" that the stroke "should" simply roll the ball wherever the putterface has been aimed. After all, hardly anyone actually does this, and teachers of stroke don't even bring it up. But that's golf culture.

Building the stroke method up from the objective teaches volumes about what really matters for setup and stroke path and movement pattern.

Here are a series of elaborations on this single theme:

1. Putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims is the only way to get feedback that teaches how to aim.

2. Putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims is the only way to putt it, or else why bother reading and aiming the putter?

3. Putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims is simple and can be done in many ways -- no special stroke technique required.

4. If the read and aim is correct (as it should be), putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims is the only way to putt it.

5. Regardless of whether the read and aim is correct, the golfer should always and only putt the ball wherever the putterface aims anyway.

6. The aim of any putterface is easily perceived as the perpendicular line straight off the face thru the center of the ball: putt that line.

7. Once the read and aim is finished, the putterface is then aimed, and the golfer is "off the hook" for the stroke: just start the ball online.

8. Starting the ball online does not require any stroke technique; it requires putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims.

9. Putting the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims is mandatory; stroke method or technique is optional.

10. A stroke technique that does not promote always and only putting the ball wherever the putterface aims is not a stroke to adopt.

11. An "optional optimal" stroke technique promotes the biomechanics and movement that always and only putts the ball wherever the putterface aims.

12. An "optional optimal" stroke method has simple posture and movement that does not unnecessarily burden the golfer with tasks to monitor or perform.

13. The "optional optimal" stroke uses inherent physics in the setup when swinging the arms and putter sideways squarely thru impact, as this promotes sending the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims at address.

14. The "optional optimal" stroke swings arms primarily, as the mass of the arms is ten times greater than the mass of the putter.

15. Arranging the body first to the aimed putterface so the chest / shoulders orient parallel to the aim of the putterface and then simply swinging the arms sideways in front of the body and the chest inherently promotes an online stroke.

16. Holding the putter handle with sufficient grip muscle tone and in the squareness to the aim line at address matches the aim of the putterface to the orientation of the shoulders and chest at address, so that during the stroke the putterface will remain coordinated with whatever orientation the chest and shoulders move.

17. Swinging the arms straight across the front of the body with the grip maintaining the putterface the same as the chest and shoulders means that the ONLY determinants of a good stroke are shoulders and chest parallel thru impact as at address, arms swing the putterface online, and the hands maintaining the putterface the same as the chest and shoulders thru impact.

18. Swinging the arms straight along the aim line thru impact is most easily accomplished by fully hanging the arms and hands with relaxation in gravity at address, as opposed to reaching away from or closer to the body or crooking the elbows high at address.

19. An "optional optimal" stroke that promotes sending the ball always and only wherever the putterface has been aimed hangs the arms naturally, incorporates the aimed putterface into the body's orientation of the chest and shoulders with sufficient grip muscle tone, and then swings the arms back and thru across the front of the body in order to move the putterface squarely online thru the ball in the forward stroke.

20. An "optional optimal" stroke not only sends the ball wherever the putterface aims; it also at the same time sends the ball with the timing of the stroke that generates the appropriate force for the required touch.

21. The TIMING of the stroke is what determines the force of the stroke, but it is also true that the rhythm of the stroke timing is critical to the accuracy and consistency of the LINE of the stroke.

22. An "optional optimal" stroke uses rhythm to execute the stroke with BOTH line and distance.

23. A stroke that sends the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims, with good touch, is performed most simply by an "optional optimal" biomechanics and stroke motion performed with the usual rhythm and tempo.

24. When the golfer uses the principal tempo installed into the body by the world swinging the arms back to the body, the "rhythm" for the "optional optimal" stroke simply matches the backstroke tempo to the world's downstroke tempo to achieve the "rhythm".

25. Using the world's tempo for the downstroke, the golfer's stroke for distance consists solely in starting the stroke back with the same tempo and then the line control consists solely in standing still while the arms and putterface swing straight sideways in front of the body.

26. The "optional optimal" stroke promotes sending the ball always and only wherever the putterface aims, but is nonetheless no more than optional.

27. A great golfer knows that whatever stroke method he or she practices, in the middle of the round, if the method seems difficult of problematic, the great golfer doesn't worry about that and simply uses "whatever" stroke that sends the ball online wherever the putterface has been aimed.

28. The priorities for the stroke, in order, are: 1. stroke the ball always and only wherever the putterface has been aimed any way that accomplishes this with effective / good touch; 2. use any stroke that features effective physics in the impact to send the ball with good touch down the line without excessive bouncing or bounding or skidding or sidespin; and 3. use a stroke method that does not impose unnecessary demands on the golfer but instead reduces all possible aspects of the stroke for line and distance to the inherent physics of the setup and movement.

29. An "optional optimal" stroke features effective physics from rhythm because the putterface moves slightly upwards from the rhythm-defined bottom of the stroke into and thru the ball squarely and online thru the center of the ball beginning about 1 dimple below the back equator and exiting the front equator of the ball 1 dimple high.

30. The usual rhythm combined with simple biomechanics of setup and movement rolls the balls wherever the putterface aims for both line and distance.

This all means that the stroke method MUST be structured according to the objective, or else the stroke tends to undercut the reading and aiming and touch skills, and serves as a "stand-alone" method to compensate for poor reading and aiming and touch skills. Such a stroke encourages poor reading and aiming and touch. A stroke that always and only rolls the ball wherever the putterface aims necessarily encourages better reading and aiming and touch skills.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist -- golf most advanced and comprehensive putting instruction.