Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What's Up With Pro Golfers Giving the Finger(s) on the Green?

A few years back I was chatting with a teaching professional who was interested in writing a golf instructional book. Those books are a dime a dozen, I reminded him, and unless you have some kind of great hook for one, it's unlikely yet another instructional book will make any money. Oh, I have a hook, he said: green reading.

Green reading? Yes, the teaching pro replied: think about it - green reading is one of the most important facets of golf, yet it's never really taught. New golfers are just expected to pick it up as they go. Oh, they might hear very broad advice about methods of visualizing break, but nothing really specific, nothing really in-depth.

I did think about it. And I had to admit, that was a good hook.

Unfortunately for my friend, he never got around to writing a book explaining in-depth how to read greens. And somebody else beat him to it - probably, let's be honest, with a much better system anyway. What system? The one that has professional golfers doing this on the pro tours:

That's Lydia Ko and Adam Scott "giving the finger" to the break, using the AimPoint Express green reading system.

Some background on AimPoint: It originated about half a decade ago when a fella named Mark Sweeney invented a software program that read the break on putting greens and then showed you the proper putting path - the path the ball would follow to the hole if the golfer hit it at the proper speed. AimPoint first came to prominence on Golf Channel broadcasts when the network started using it to show viewers the break any given golfer was facing on a putt. It was certainly very whiz-bang in the those early days when AimPoint's projected putting line was shown on screen overlaid on a green, and then a golfer's putt perfectly tracked that line right into the hole.

But Sweeney soon realized something: The insights about putting and break and reading greens that went into AimPoint could also turn the system into a great tool to teach green reading.

The original AimPoint Green Reading system was adopted by some pros, such as Stacy Lewis. But only after AimPoint Express was introduced - a simpler version - did adoption by tour pros really take off. Here's a news report about AimPoint's adoption by the pros that provides some insight into the system, and why golfers are holding up fingers on the green:

How does AimPoint Express work? One thing AimPoint does is to teach a golfer to read greens first and primarily with one's feet rather than one's eyes. That is, stand behind your ball or ballmarker facing the hole and feel the slope of the green. Next, assign a number value to what you feel - 0 for no slope (a flat green) up to 7 for a very sloping putt. The numbers from 0 to 7 represent degrees of the slope of a green, a 1-degree slope, a 5-degree slope, and so on. (According to Sweeney, golfers almost never encounter putts breaking across slopes of more than 7-degrees.)

Once you have a number, pick out the line you want to start your putt on, assuming you'll be able to put the proper pace on the putter (proper speed is the speed that will send your ball 1.5 feet past the cup if you miss). Then hold up a finger or fingers in front of you - the number of fingers corresponding to the number from 0 to 7 that represents the amount of slope. When Adam Scott holds up one finger, it's because he feels a slope of 1 degree; when Lydia Ko holds up three fingers, she has rated the slope of the green a 3.

What Sweeney discovered - happy coincidence - is that the width of our fingers corresponds very closely to the line you'll have to putt to accommodate the break for the slope you've felt. That is, when Scott holds up one finger, he is going to start his putt on a line that appears to him one finger's width off the flagstick.

And that's the basics of AimPoint Express. Obviously that bare bones description isn't enough for you to run out and start making great reads all the time. But that's the gist of the Express version of AimPoint, and that's why you see so many pro golfers now holding up fingers on the green.

Go to YouTube and you'll find many videos about AimPoint Express. But if you want the full package, if you want to learn the full system, its ins and outs, and get the full benefit, you'll want to check out the DVD:

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