By Bert Jones USGTF Member, Loomis, California
There are four major elements to putting: equipment, the putting stroke, the setup and green reading. Since putting is approximately 42 percent of the game, it deserves more attention.
Over the years, I have distilled green reading into three styles: instinctual, AimPoint (invented in the 1990s), and Vector Green Reading (invented in the 1970s). Instinctual green reading lends itself to motor programming over time where the brain learns how the ball will behave under certain conditions. But is it that easy? Let’s take a closer look at how course architects fool your instinctual learning through optical illusions, pin placements and green types.
Course architects use four different types of greens: planar, tiered, saddle and crowned. Planar, the most common and which comprise 95 percent of all greens played, are characterized by a high and low point. In other words, planar greens are in fact a tilted plane. Tiered greens are devious, with players three putting 38-45 percent of the time, and are rarely built due to cost. Saddle greens are even rarer but do exist, and can be combined with planar greens. Take one look at Augusta! The last is crowned, as exampled by #2 at Pinehurst. They are upside-down bowls used to efficiently move water from the surface. Architects know that the hydrodynamics of water need a 2 percent incline.
So, course designers have four different types of greens to throw at you. In addition, they can design greens to maximize difficult pin placements, like #17 at TPC Sawgrass, home of the Players…splash.
But let’s get back to green reading, which can be taught. Vector Green Reading, which is the precursor to AimPoint, is a science-based approach to reading greens. Col. H.A. Templeton, who invented Vector Green Reading back in 1979, was an Air Force SR-71 spy-plane pilot. This was no small feat, since there were only 31 of these titanium planes ever made. In addition to being an expert pilot, he was a frustrated single-digit golfer. He was so frustrated with his putting that he decided to compute the math needed to read how much a ball would break using green speed, slope percentage and distance away from the hole. To make the math work, the ball needs to have enough speed to travel 12 inches by the hole. It pays to be a left-brain (analytical) thinker to use Vector Green Reading!
Let’s try an example. The ball is 10 feet away from the hole on a green with a Stimpmeter reading of 10, and the slope at the hole is 2 percent. To determine the break, we need to find the zero-break line. The ZBL is the straight putt up or down the fall line. There is only one ZBL on a planar green. You can find it by walking around the hole to determine where the ball will not break when putted. Finding the slope (which admittedly is hard) can be found by standing near the hole and facing up the ZBL. Standing perpendicular to the ground, feel the pressure in your feet. If you feel pressure in your toes, use 1 percent; balls of your feet, 2 percent; arches, use 3 percent, and heels, use 4 percent. Most holes are cut between 1 and 2 percent to move the water off the greens. Now that you have found the ZBL and slope, you will need to take the number from Col. Templeton’s chart using the Stimpmeter data inputs.
In this case, the ball will break 10 inches. Measure 10 inches from the center of the hole up the fall line to find the aiming point. A straight line is found by using the aiming point and your ball position. Putting the ball at the aiming point with the correct speed will cause the ball to reach a vector known as the inflection point. The inflection point is where gravity takes over the ball to create break.
The need for correct speed is a critical component, as aim is intuitive and speed is not. Incorrect speed will cause the ball to travel on the wrong path and be short or long, depending on the stroke. I often joke with students that 100 percent of short putts don’t go in, so get in the habit of going past the hole. Besides, you might get lucky. Some teachers teach die-in-the-hole putting, which I find impossible for several reasons: No one can judge the exact speed all of the time; ball imperfections create an error rate; the donut effect of players walking around or standing by the hole creates a slight incline at the hole, and green imperfections can move your ball off line.
Col. Templeton stated that you need the foot-by-the-hole speed to make his math work, which makes sense and meets my criteria for avoiding the items listed above. The only problem with speed is that the hole capture rate is reduced by 12 percent for every foot that the ball goes by the hole, which is the cause of lip-outs.
Take the guesswork out of green reading and consider the use of an evidenced-based approach. Thank you, Col. Templeton, for your service to our country and contribution to the game of golf!