Saturday at THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP, we saw just how difficult changing green speeds can be for the world’s best professionals. The sudden switch from an aggressive birdie-fest mindset to a total defensive posture drove the field nuts. Average putts per round jumped to 32! We often see similar condition fluctuations at The Masters and the U.S. Open, when the courses typically firm up through the championships, but not as radically as what happened today.
Professionals will adjust from fast to slow greens more easily than slow to fast. They’ve gotten to where they are by making birdies. On the other hand, amateurs typically struggle more with fast to slow adjustments. This happens because the amateur is more concerned about three-putt avoidance (blowing it past) than the professional who is thinking, “Make it.”
Handling change is difficult for touring professionals, so how are weekend desk jockeys supposed to cope? When my group goes to Myrtle Beach, we often play on nine or ten different courses over six days, and are constantly presented with different green speeds. The typical adjustment required is fast to slow, as we’re faced with slower Bermuda or Tiff Dwarf surfaces that are prevalent in South Carolina, and have been grown out a bit to handle the hot summer weather. In the mid-Atlantic, we are used to the quicker Bentgrass surfaces. The adjustment can be difficult and nothing frustrates my group more than knocking an iron shot stiff only to leave a well-struck birdie putt one foot short “right in the jaws.”
Here are three simple keys I use to adjust:
- Warm up with 10-footers before you play. This is the length of putt that will give you the best feedback for the day’s green speeds. Also, if you hole out your practice putts, starting with the 10-footer will get you close enough to the hole that you don’t three putt. You never want to three putt while warming up because it’s a confidence drain right before you tee off. Concern yourself with feeling the pace of the putt and don’t worry too much about the line.
- Adjust grip pressure. Ideally, on fast surfaces, hold the putter as lightly as possible. You may even allow for a smidgen of wrist break on the back swing so as to not get too robotic. For slow surfaces, hold the putter a little tighter which will produce more of a pop stroke. Picture Brandt Snedeker or Tom Watson. Try not to alter the pace of your stroke based on the green speed. Keep it consistent and smooth. The grip pressure will give you more or less distance.
- It’s obvious, but on fast surfaces try to keep your approach shots below the hole. It makes the game easier because putting downhill and scared are a lethal combination.
Those are my keys; I hope they work for you. Do you have any you’d like to share?