by Mark Sweeney, AimPoint Founder
How often have you heard that the end of the putt is most important? Actually, have you ever heard anything other than that? Well I’m going to make the statement that the end of the putt is least important and I’m going to prove it.
Conventional widsom tells you to focus on the last few feet of a putt because “that is where the most break happens.” It also says that the first part of a putt is not very important because the ball is traveling “fast”. If you look at each segment of the putt in isolation that would be an easy mistake to make. It is in fact true that the ball breaks less in the first one foot of the putt than in the last one foot. However, this is an overly simplistic way of thinking about break that will cause endless read mistakes.
The error in this thinking is believing that the only thing affecting break is the amount of lateral movement between two points. For example, a typical 15 foot crosshill putt (stimp 8, 2% grade) only breaks 0.3 inches off it’s starting line in the first 3 feet of roll, but it moves an additional 6.6 inches off the original line in the final 3 feet before the hole. This fact seems to validate the conventional wisdom, but fails to recognize each section’s effect on total break vs. the break in each segment.
Let’s look at it another way. A typical 5 foot crosshill putt breaks 1 inch from the edge of the hole, but when we move out to 10 feet, the total break is 6 inches. In other words, the first half of the putt added 5 inches of break to the total, and the second half only added 1 more inch to the total. When we move back to 15 feet, the total break is 12 inches. The first 3rd adding 6 inches, the second 3rd adding 5 inches, and the last 3rd adding 1 inch. Suddenly we see that the first part of the putt is having a huge effect on total break.
You can easily test this yourself by increasing the length of any putt along the same line and noting the total break. You’ll find that the break increases dramatically even though the ball is moving faster and faster in the first part of the putt.
The missing piece of the puzzle here is that even though the first 5 feet of the putt is moving fast and not breaking hard off the starting line, it is nevertheless greatly changing the trajectory for the remain part of the putt. And as the starting trajectory changes, the total break changes. So next time you’re faced with a long putt, remember that the break is highly sensitive to the length of the putt, regardless of how fast the ball is moving in the beginning.