In last month’s blog, we talked about how you can identify different green speeds and how various factors influence the speed of a green. But as all golfers know, there is more to the secret of putting than simply knowing the green speed. You still have to manage to match the speed of your putt to the green speed. And, on top of that, you also need to know how much the putting speed affects the amount of break you need to account for in order for the ball to go into the hole. At first, this sounds utterly complicated, but the good news is, you can learn and practice to get better at it. And we will tell you how.

Every time an object is moved in a specific direction, physics is involved. While a lot of people do not have the fondest memories when thinking about their last physics lessons, this is actually good news. Why? Because it means you can calculate exactly what your ball will do under specific circumstances. It means that putting can be its own science and there is absolutely no myth about it. At this point, we could also provide you with a specific formula. So why is it, that putting still involves so much guessing and even the pros who have mapped out green books are still missing putts? The most obvious answer is that we are still talking about the real world and humans.

First of all, there are a lot of unknown variables. If you try to apply the formula on any given green you are standing on, it will inevitably lead you to a margin of error because you won’t be able to know all the necessary numbers to make a precise prediction. Next, you are probably not a huge math nerd and for you to calculate everything in your head would probably lead to a headache and long strenuous rounds for the groups playing behind you. Lastly, you can’t feel, see, touch, or smell speed. Your brain has no reference point when it comes to speed and cannot rely on your senses. You might know you are moving in a specific direction or if you apply more or less force to the ball, but you can’t rely on your body to measure the exact amount of speed or force that is applied. This is exactly the reason why we struggle so much with putting speed and distance control. But before we dive deeper into this issue and how you can resolve it, let’s talk about the things we can measure first.

Effective Hole size – increase your chances of holing out!

Knowing the exact putting speed is just a matter of applying the right formula. However, matching that speed with the correct stroke, is a different story
It is no secret which factors influence the roll of the ball or how to determine the speed of the ball. However, getting that speed exactly right on the green is not easy, even if you know the exact formula. 

The size of the hole is the same all over the world. It measures approximately 10.8 cm or 4 1/4 inches and has been doing so since 1891. While the actual size of the hole does not change, the effective hole size varies depending on the speed the ball is traveling.

In case you believe the best thing to do, is never to leave a putt short, keep in mind, that by increasing the speed of your putt, you also increase your chances of a lip out. The reason for that is the so-called free-fall-condition. This condition needs to be met, in order for the ball to stay in the hole and it is met, once gravity takes over. A slow traveling ball will therefore be more likely to fall into the hole, than a fast traveling ball.  Of course, there are more factors, such as off-center hits, that have an impact on the formula, but for this context, it is enough for you to know that once the condition is met, the ball will inevitably fall into the hole.

The question you will have to ask yourself is when is the effective hole size biggest? And what happens, if you miss the hole? If you look at a 4 % sloping green like in the graphic shown below, you will learn the following:

The room for error in initial ball direction is bigger than with initial putting speed
The room for error is bigger on initial ball direction than it is with initial ball speed. This is the reason why it is so important for golfers to learn speed control 

Listen to your coaches that have been telling you all along to never miss a putt on the low side and a short putt will have a 0% chance of going in. But there is more to it. But let’s talk about why.

By looking on the right side of the graphic above, you can see which lines you can putt on a 10ft, 4% slope, and 10 stimpmeter green and still make the putt. As you can see, there is quite some room for error that you can have on both sides of the ideal line. On top of that, no matter which line your ball ends up traveling on, if you manage to get the exact same speed every time, then your ball will end up inside 3 ft in case you missed the putt. This is very important information as from a distance of 10ft, more often than not, amateurs miss the putt. So when making a decision about your putt, you should always consider where your ball will be if you miss the putt. Or in other words, how far can you afford to be away from the hole to feel comfortable on your putt coming back.

On the other hand, if you look at the second picture, you can see the speed errors you are allowed to make and your ball will still go into the hole. You can immediately tell, that the room for error is significantly less than what you had with the initial ball direction. This becomes even more evident if you look at the two pictures on the right side of the graphic. Here you can see the results of missed putts. Again, you can see, that having the right speed, but being slightly off-line, produces a far less significant error, than if you hit the ball on the right line and vary in speed. Especially, if you think back about what we have established earlier on the effective hole size. A fast putt, will not only make the hole smaller for you, but a mistake will also result in a long putt coming back. But what should you do with this information?

Think about it rationally. If we combined what we just learned, you know, that if your ball is traveling on a rather low line, you would have to get the speed exactly right in order for the ball to still fall into the hole. However, if you overread a putt, you could still have some speed errors and your ball might end up in the hole anyways. Therefore, it is always better to aim higher, rather than lower, especially since most amateurs tend to under-read putts anyways.

But what about the speed?

While break increases on the green, your margin of error in your initial ball direction increases too. In other words, the more slope you have, the more you can be off on your initial ball direction.

In terms of putting speed errors, it is a totally different story and quite the opposite is seen in the data. As seen in the graphic below for a level putt you can misjudge the speed by -0.11 m/s and up to 0.52 m/s and your ball would still fall into the hole. However, if you are on a 4% slope, you are only left with a margin between -0.03 m/s and 0.03 m/s. This is an incredibly low number, and it explains why break putts are so difficult. You have almost no margin of error when it comes to speed, the more slope you add. Making mistakes much more likely.

Stimpeter is the unit that green speed is measured. It is an international unit and if you know the stimpeter of the course you play on, it will help you get an understanding of different speed.