by Mark Sweeney
Founder, AimPoint Golf
I asked a former major-league baseball pitcher what his target was when he was throwing a pitch, the release point or the catcher’s glove. He said from his experience in both pitching and coaching that when throwing a curve ball for example, he tended to pick a target on the batter in order for the ball to end up over the strike zone. The difference between the release point and the intended target represents the movement of the ball during the throw. When I play a game of catch I know that I have to release, or start, the ball at a certain height above my partner’s head if I want to hit him in the chest. Why? Gravity of course, in exactly the same way that we manage break in putting.
When a baseball is thrown it falls vertically in response to gravity and traces a downward arc through the air towards the plate. Similarly as a putt rolls to the hole it falls also, just closer to a horizontal plane, and traces an arc sideways towards the hole. The amount of drop for a baseball is largely controlled by time, the same way as the break of a putt. The harder your throw a baseball the less drop you have to account for, and the harder you hit a putt the less break you have to account for.
In these series of videos you will see a little league pitcher trying to balance his release point with the speed of his pitch. In the first video he releases the ball too high and it crosses the plate above the strike zone.
The second pitch he overcompensates and releases the ball too low, about 5 feet lower than the previous one, and the ball hits the ground too early in front of the plate.
The third pitch he matches his release point to the speed of his pitch and throws a strike. Notice his release point is about 3 feet higher than the low pitch.
In all of these videos the pitcher could have changed the speed of his throw to match his release point and still throw strikes. In the first video with the high release, he could have thrown the ball softer and given it more time to fall the extra few feet into the strike zone. And in the second video he could have released it low but thrown it harder to take time out of the pitch. But instead, as an amateur pitcher, he tries to maintain constant speed and simply change his release point to isolate the pitch to fewer variables and make it more manageable.
While putting we have a little bit of flexibility to change speed, but unlike baseball, when we increase the speed of the putt we make the target smaller so we are penalized for doing so. In fact at a certain speed the hole completely disappears because the ball is moving too fast to fall in.
Throwing a baseball is a parallel with putting, because your initial target is different from the final target because the ball is being acted on by gravity along its journey. As pitchers start to throw more advanced pitches, aerodynamics will also effect the path of the ball. And depending on the time, or speed of the ball, there can be different initial targets, or release points, that hit the desired target. Throwing a ball to a specific target and putting across a slope into a 4″ wide hole are both exercises in balancing ball speed and the drop of gravity, and challenge the players ability to both predict the correct starting line and actually start the ball on this line. Knowing the correct target before hitting the putt will dramatically increase your accuracy, that’s where AimPoint starts.
100% dead on the money. As a former collegiate pitcher, I used to pick my AimPoint to throw the pitch, especially with breaking balls. With a fastball, the ball did not visibly move much as after you throw, your head is often no longer facing home plate. On a fastball, I would pick a very small target inside the catcher’s mitt and then let it go. For a breaking ball (slider or curve), I would pick a spot on the breaking point such as the shoulder of a right handed batter. It was harder for a left handed hitter for me as I had no solid AimPoint, so I had to work harder to visualize. Once I had the AimPoint on the hitter, my mentality was to throw through it as hard as I could to create the break.
Why I love AimPoint is exactly this point – when pitching, I never thought speed or arc. I would visualize the spot to break the pitch off of and throw it hard. For me, speed was a by product of the pitch I was throwing and the AimPoint. Research suggests that the human mind sees throwing a ball or object as a innate tool necessary for evolution. If our ancestors had to think about arc or speed, they would be unable to kill the animal necessary to eat. Why wouldn’t putting be the same thing? It absolutely is. Once the AimPoint is determined, it is about trusting your ability and seeing the putt move the way you want it to.
Just my 2 cents from The MindSide.
It would be cool to make a visualization of this, something that actually visually shows the hole shrinking as putt speed increases.