Usually when I write a blog post, I often try to connect it to something that is current and of course relevant to golf. It might be sparked by the LPGA or PGA tour events we’re all watching, things I see on the lesson tee, situations that come up on the course or other golf related happenings. This new wrap around golf season will offer some great fodder for topics and I’m sure I’ll be getting to those soon. However, I had to talk about potholes and putting first. It sounds crazy, but if you’ll indulge me, it will all make sense very soon. You see, it’s winter here in New England. The golf courses are deep into their winter hibernation, resting peacefully under a blanket of glistening white snow.
I love going to the club this time of year just to see it. It’s beautiful really; quiet and serene, the wildlife roaming about with ease. I of course travel my usual route which includes a short jaunt on the highway just north of Boston. Generally this is not a problem at all, it’s an easy ride with not much traffic so bobbing and weaving seldom occurs. Unless of course, it’s this time of year. We all know it as “Pothole” season and it is in full force! For those of you unfamiliar with the “pothole,” The Free Dictionary describes it as a hole formed in pavement, as by excessive use or by extremes of weather. It’s a pretty accurate description and here in the Boston area, we have both excessive use AND extreme weather. Potholes can be very mean. They can flatten tires and bend rims. Unfortunately, the pothole is a staple of winter here and it can prove to be treacherous, nerve-wracking and unfortunately inevitable.
On this particular trip to the course I’m driving along the highway at a reasonable speed….not too slow and not too fast. Disclaimer: (my father would say I have my mother’s lead foot and want to know about the too fast part!) Suffice it to say I was within the understood tolerances for the posted speed limit plus or minus 5 mph.
As I’m making my way north at the aforementioned speed the inevitable happens; I catch a last second glimpse of an approaching pothole. It looks deep and huge and I’m heading right for the throat of it! Too late to veer away, the only thing I can do is wince and wait for the front tire to smash into the depths of the pothole and emerge flat as a pancake. Well, instead of feeling the massive drop into the hole, I feel nothing! The front tire just cruises right over it! Unbelievable! I thought for sure that the tire was going to drop in…BUT it had too much speed. It didn’t drop in after all, it just flew right over the gaping hole! How awesome! After I finished shouting Woohoo, I thought to myself, “I have to write about this, potholes and putting have a great deal in common!”
Haven’t we all stood over that downhill putt that seems both treacherous and nerve-wracking? We walk around the green, looking for the break, we read it from another angle then another. We finally set up for the putt and send the ball rolling on its way. We hope it gets close and doesn’t scream past the hole. Of course we watch it track directly to the center of the cup, only to watch it defy gravity and sail over and past the hole! Now we have a 10 footer coming back, but it’s an uphill putt…whew! This is exactly what happens when we don’t have the right “Capture Speed” for the putt we’re making. It doesn’t matter if we’ve read it perfectly and the ball is going to enter the hole exactly as intended. If the speed is off, the putt won’t go in. So what is the correct capture speed? Mark Sweeney of AimPoint Technologies has done all the research on this topic and I was lucky enough to attend a green reading clinic he presented. My notes state that AimPoint is based on an ideal capture speed of 6‐12 inches past the hole in order to maximize the effective width of the cup. The cup effectively gets smaller if the speed is too fast and the putt will either zoom past the edge or it will fly right over the middle. A slow motion video of a putt shows the ball leaving the front edge of the hole, getting airborne and landing on the other side of the cup. In a similar fashion, when the tire was traveling too fast, it just flew right over the middle of the pothole. If it had ideal “pothole” capture speed, it would have surely dropped in! What is the moral of the story besides the fact that we can relate almost anything to golf? Improving speed control on the greens will produce fewer putts during the round and lower the score at the same time! As for the potholes… unfortunately, they’re bound to get the best of us sooner or later regardless of our speed!
Here’s a great video on the topic by one of my golf professional forum colleagues, Steven Giuliano.