Putting is obviously a huge part of golf and we have all heard the saying ‘drive for show and putt for dough’, which by the way, should now be ‘drive for dough AND putt for dough’, but putting really is that final stroke that determines how we feel when we walk to the next tee.
Understandably then, people since the beginning of golf have been desperate to try and find ‘the secret’ and much like the golf swing everyone has their idea of how it should be done.
What never ceases to amaze me however, is the way in which nearly all coaches (most of whom have never hit a shot under pressure successfully in their lives), profess to categorically know that their ‘way’ is the best or ‘correct’ way to play this game.
If there’s one thing we all should of learned by pure observation, is that golf is largely a game of hand eye co-ordination (as evidenced by the multitude of swings and styles of the greatest players through time), ,learning to repeat certain club face to path combinations through impact, consistent movement patterns,mental toughness, aptitude, resilience, focus or whatever else you would like to term sports psychology, as well as natural athletic ability and spacial awareness.
So this relatively new theory on green reading called Aim Point, which if you listen to it’s teacher’s would have you believe is the future of putting, is certainly NOT a categorically better way to read greens. Is it a valid alternative? yes, but only if you have an uncanny ability to ‘feel’ slope gradients with your feet!
To explain for those of you who don’t know the system, Aim Point is based on physics, and is really about green slope gradients, combined with your distance from the hole and green speed to calculate the exact amount of break on any given putt. Mathematically as far as I am aware, if you do know these factors ACCURATELY it is possible to calculate a putts break, and on the major professional golf tours (PGA tour and European tour) they do sell VERY expensive books that have surveyed drawings of every green, with near perfect gradient diagrams to tell players the slope anywhere on the green. In the absence of one of these green slope books Aim Point teachers will have you practising feeling different slope gradients with your feet. This entails a slope rating system from 1 to 6, with 1 being the smallest slope and 6 the biggest. They will place markers progressively higher up a slope at the 6 slope points and ask you to practice standing feet shoulder width apart, eyes straight ahead or closed and to familiarise yourself with the feel of each gradient.
I have personally gone through this process with the highest authority in Europe on the Aim Point method and I can tell you that after two hours, the only two slopes I could differentiate between was the 1 and 6!
To be able to confidently tell the difference between a 1 and a 2 for instance, requires in my view the kinaethesytic awareness of an octopus tentacles on the soles of your feet! which even if you had by the way, would be negated by the fact that you may be wearing the latest Nike golf shoes with bloody great cushion soles!
The system is also faced with other mathematical issues e.g. what happens when you are faced with multiple slopes between you and the hole? Well the Aim Point theory does have a way of calculating the average between the slopes. On this note I would like to give you my experience of one such situation, where a tier ran through my putt from around 30ft, whilst I was having my Aim Point instruction from as I said, the highest authority on the subject in Europe.
As I was struggling with slope guessing with my feet, I asked if we could use the spirit level that the coach had, to first get a perfect slope reading. I asked to do this because I wanted to validate the system’s accuracy and to start to improve my foot awareness, by first guessing myself then seeing how close I was by checking against the spirit level reading.
As another way to help build my confidence in the method, the coach suggested that after we had ascertained the exact slope with the spirit level and deduced an ‘exact’ read, based on facts AND the Aim Point laws of physics, we should put a string line above my intended line of putt to make sure I was stroking perfectly at the point the system told me to. The coach also stood directly behind me and visually gave feed back as to whether he thought, I had indeed stroked the putt exactly down the Aim Point line.
I stroked the first putt. It took off perfectly underneath the string line which was suspended above my putt line. The ball rolled toward the ‘Aim Point’ that the coach had worked out ‘perfectly.’ The putt finished some 3 to 4 feet right of the hole with perfect pace about 10 inches past.I hit several more putts to average out any surface inconsistency, but the results were the same. I asked the coach what was wrong. After all we had measured slope with a spirit level so it had to be accurate and therefore as we knew the green speed, the Aim Point system should have given me a very accurate read and certainly got my ball to within inches and not feet! The coach looked embarrassed and asked me to hit another putt except this time he asked that we go down the tier instead of up. So we went through the whole process again with the spirit level and the string line and him standing behind me to confirm the quality of my stroke.The results were the same and the ball was missing by 3 or 4 ft with perfect pace. The coach then got on the phone to the ‘big boss’ in America and explained the anomaly and ensured me that they would find the answer to this problem and get back to me asap.That was over a year ago and I have not heard a thing!
I have to admit that on most average putts inside 25ft ‘IF’ I used the spirit level and got an accurate slope reading that the system was pretty good, but certainly no better than if I used my eyes like all the great putters through history. My other big problem with this system is the way in which the information has changed several times since it’s inception. To explain, Aim Point came up with a faster way to use their method called Aim Point express. This involves using your fingers held up with one eye shut, to measure a point to aim at equidistant to the hole.Depending on green speed you are told to hold the measuring arm at different lengths from bent to straight. Now this for me was already questioning my logic, as we all have different arm lengths and it seemed so subjective and non factual that I struggled to trust it. Then to make things worse after I had been practising for a few weeks with one set of arm length recommendations, I was told that they had refined the system and all the original instructions they gave me were inaccurate!
As you can probably tell by now, I am not impressed with Aim Point at all and for me it is another example of trying to reinvent the wheel which is already as good as it gets.
Like all things in golf there will always be examples of people who use any given method and have some success with it, and maybe you have octopus tentacles in your feet, but until someone putts better than Tiger from 1997 to 2007 or Jack Nicklaus for pretty much his whole life, or Ben Crenshaw, or Brad Faxon, or Loren Roberts etc, etc, I am happy to read the green with my eyes!