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The ball's journey - Pt.2

This is the second of two articles looking at the balls's behaviour from impact to the hole. Understanding the effect we need to create gives task clarity on other ingredients like set-up, putter specs and stroke.

Ball speed

Crucial to distance control is the speed the ball travels at. Optimal speed is one where, at the end of its journey, the ball enters the hole at “1 foot past the hole pace” - i.e. if the ball missed it would travel 12” beyond the hole. This speed is the perfect balance of fast enough for the putt to hold its line in the last few rolls before finding the cup, but not so fast it has to hit the back of the hole to go in.

What is good speed control? A good skill level to aspire to is +/-8”. If you are able to roll the ball between 4” and 20” past the hole pace, this is within optimum range. You can set tee pegs beyond the hole at these distances and test yourself for this skill level. Obviously the longer the putt, the more challenging this standard, but it helps to have this as a goal nonetheless.

There are occasionally situations (particularly in match play) where it might be prudent to roll it slower (at dead weight) or faster (to take out some break) but these are few and far between, and 1 foot past pace is both conceptually simple and scientifically proven to be effective.

As we’ll discuss in the next section about clubhead, ball speed is primarily influenced by the speed of the putter into impact. However quality of strike (impact location) and squarenedness of the blade also contributes. Poor strikes can cost you 10% of distance on a ball’s roll even with identical putter speed.

Launch direction

The ability to start the ball on your intended line is one of the skills most closely correlated to a good overall score in golf. So what is good? A level of skill to aspire to is 1 degree accuracy. This means that from 10 feet you can start the ball within the width of the cup which means it has a chance of going in. To hole from longer than that, you would need accuracy greater than 1 deg. Note: short putts are easier because e.g. the face can be 2.5 deg out from 3 ft and the ball will still go in.

1 degree putting gate

To see what 1 degree looks like, you can lay out this level of skill when you practice by using a putting gate. Simply place two tee pegs 5 cms apart 20 cms down the intended start line. Ensure the ball, the middle of the gate and the target line are exactly matched. This represents a 1 deg tolerance.

Importantly this test (with enough balls) will reveal your dominant miss (left or right) which is an important thing to keep track of.

Side spin

Poor impact can cause the ball to tilt on its axis rather than rolling “end over end”. It’s not as big a deal as it would be on a drive, but for context more than 20 rpm of “side spin” would cause the ball to deviate of its intended path and miss from more than 10 feet. See bad then good below.


Ball journey summary

The two skills determined at impact are the ability to start the ball on your intended line and roll it at your intended pace. To this end these are your ball roll goals:

  • Launch the ball upward between 1-3 degs

  • Skid stage to be less than 10% of the total distance

  • Negligible side spin

  • Create topspin at impact

  • Roll the ball at 1 foot past the hole pace with a 8” tolerance

  • Start the ball within 1 deg of your intended start line

How to measure and train?

I am fortunate to have access to a relatively new function of Trackman radar technology which is their putting analysis programme. We can measure elements like start speed, start line and skid/roll performance.

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