In this blog, I am going to talk to you about putt simulation, and how from the comfort of your own home and out on the course, you can practice this critical component of your pre-putt routine.
Unlike most sports, golf putting is where practice and competition can take place in different environments. That is, at home in your comfy armchair (mental), on the practice putting green (physical & mental), and the golf course (physical &mental).
Golf putting is uniquely challenging because its duration, interrupted pace of play, and an excessive amount of idle time make the golfer vulnerable to self-focus and distractions. Indeed, golfer’s may only spend 4-5 minutes per green (dependent on how many golfers are playing) to identify the green topography, execute their putts and allow for their playing partners to do the same. With each putting stoke lasting approximately 1.5 seconds, taking an average 36 putting strokes per round means golfers will generally only spend 1-minute of physically executing the putting stroke in an entire round. Therefore, the minutes spent on each green should be spent wisely, and that means preparing yourself mentally for the putt in the time you have available without slowing down play.
So, to become a great putter, it is not enough for you to use your eyes to determine the target line or continuously process sensory cues to correct the club face or club path. To become a great putter you must prepare mentally before each putt; anticipate the different stages of acceleration, neutrality and deceleration in the ball roll, and make many important decisions before initiating the putting stroke. This is what we call the pre-putt routine or in other words the mental readiness phase of putting.
A consistent pre-putt routine is essential in golf putting to help the golfer’s resilience under pressure and to pay attention to their attention. Golfers can invest their attention in a well-established pre-putt routine rather than allowing self-focus or distractions such as the importance of holing the putt which can create anxiety.
A pre-putt routine prepares the golfer mentally to access a cognitive, emotional, and psycho-physiological state that optimises their chances of holing a putt. Once confidently settled by the pre-putt routine, the golfer should simulate the putt being holed, focus their attention on relevant external cues or thoughts, execute the putting stroke with a quiet mind, and then evaluate the quality of the execution. This structured approach enables the golfer to stay well-focused before the initiation of the putting stroke.
Putt simulation is the ability to imagine taking a specific putting task, then simulating the probable result before acting. Our brain is constantly trying to predict what will happen in the future based on what’s happening around us, and what actions we are contemplating when we putt. If we can anticipate the results of our actions before we initiate the putting stroke this is a significant advantage. Notably, putt simulation dramatically enhances our ability to solve the green topography, direction and distance problems we face when putting.
Interestingly, we know from the neuroscience literature that when the brain processes a simulation it does it in the same way as in real life. The neurons in your brain are firing using previous experience and the brain predicts what your putting experience will likely be in reality. Thus, providing the brain with a positive simulation of the ball going in the hole.
Let me put this into context. When we utilise putt simulation as part of our pre-putt routine the brain performs like a simulator in the sense of a flight simulator and not in the sense of a computer simulator. In the putting context, simulation means the whole of the putting action and putting environment being orchestrated in the brain by real neurons, and in tune with the real world. Consequently, the brain can simulate actions to predict their consequences and to choose the most appropriate among them. That does not happen with a computer. Therefore, when you are ready to initiate the putting stroke in real-time, your brain has already holed the putt a few times using putt simulation.
As we delve further, remember the brain completes whatever picture we create. For example, a 3ft. straight putt would be easy to hole for most golfers and the brain simulates you holing it comfortably. However, take a 5ft. downhill putt with a severe break, this is a different matter altogether. In this instance, if you are not paying attention to your attention (for more on this see my previous blog) your brain may simulate missing the putt rather than holing it. Indeed, If you simulate yourself missing the putt and the brain completes the picture you painted, your fears are realised and you will miss the putt. We know great putters simulate the ball going in the hole a few times before initiating the actual putting stroke (e.g., Tiger Woods), and generally never miss those complex 5ft. putts. They do this by ensuring they are paying attention to their attention during their pre-putt routine and simulating all the relevant putting tasks resulting in a holed putt.
Benefits of putt simulation:
1. Putt simulation in a learning framework supports the traditional physical putting practice and has proven to be more advantageous in performance enhancement than just using physical practice alone
2. Putting practice supported in this way could decrease physical practice loads, practice fatigue, and, potentially back, wrist or neck injuries
3. By simulating the ball’s intended path, the brain provides a positive image and the motor control system with a precise energy stimulus for action
4. Putt simulation heightens your level of attention and can help avoid self-focus and distraction
5. Putt simulation will help determine how much force you have to impart on the ball, including the acceleration, neutral and deceleration phases of the putt
6. Putt simulation will help determine how many seconds the ball will travel to get to the hole
7. Employing putt simulation techniques you will see yourself holing the putt 3 times before the actual putt
8. Provides the brain with a positive simulation of the ball going in the hole that will increase your levels of confidence, the focus of attention and mental readiness
Practice putt simulation in the home setting
At home I want you to try this. Lay back in your chair, get comfortable, close your eyes. Now, I want you to simulate the last time you made a 25ft. putt at your home course. Think hard about that putt and recall everything you possibly can. That is, which green you were on at the time, where the hole was cut. Attempt to simulate how fast or slow the green was running on that day. Include the weather, was it hot, windy or raining? What were you wearing? Whom were you playing with? Try and capture everything you can about the dynamics of the putt. Simulate how the club face was square at impact, how your ball rolled end-over-end never deviating off-line. Simulate how much force you imparted on the ball to get it to the hole. How long did it take for the ball to get the hole? See the smoothness of your stroke and the ball disappear into the hole.
Now, if you concentrate on all of these principal putting tasks and make the mental effort required, your brain can simulate and recall all of these actions in a few seconds. So, here is the cool thing, when I said the words “I want you to simulate the last time you made a 25ft. putt”. Your brain immediately responded by creating all the bits of your putt as if it were for real. This is where your perception becomes simulated action. As information arrives from your memory your brain compares it with the simulation. Every time you face a putt the brain is predicting the outcome. Therefore, to properly prepare before each putt, the brain must simulate the ball traveling along the intended path, at the necessary speed to the hole, and allowing for acceleration, neutral and deceleration phases of the putt. You can then convert this information into your working memory and store this to use again and again.
I have listed below how I use putt simulation as part of my pre-putt routine on the course. Please feel free to copy, or just go ahead and create your routine with your own needs and idiosyncrasies.
1. I commence my pre-putt routine 40 yards out from the green to observe all the green topography and dissect the green into quarters
2. From above the green simulate a large watering-can pouring water all over the green to help determine the green topography, water runoffs and spines of the green
3. Fixate your eyes on the hole and walk around the whole green paying attention to what you can see in your peripheral vision (you will see a dynamic 3D map of the green emerge)
4. With putts beyond 15ft. estimate the distance by your visual system followed by walking the putt distance
5. Pay attention to the last 5ft. of the putt, especially the ball entry point of the hole
6. Stand on the low side of the putt and run your eyes from the ball along the intended path towards the hole
7. Calculate the different stages of acceleration, neutrality and deceleration in the ball roll and the time it will take to reach the hole
8. Simulate the putt going in the hole 3 times then walk behind the ball looking towards the hole
9. Identify the line you wish the ball to follow with your dominant eye (non-dominant eyed should remain closed, similar to sighting a pistol)
10. With your dominant eye align your line on the ball with your intended target line and replace your ball on the green
11. Take up your stance and address position, follow your pre-putt routine (e.g., practice strokes, glances at the hole etc) before initiating the putting stroke
12. Hole the putt for the 4th time!
In conclusion, if you want to hole more putts and reduce the number of 3-putts per round then you must include putt simulation as a component of your pre-putt routine. Putt simulation is extremely powerful and versatile, it can be used to test the most difficult putts without risk. All principal putting tasks can be simulated before the ‘actual’ putting stroke. Putt simulation is what your brain creates to help you hole more putts. You can simulate the squared putter face hitting the ball on the sweet spot, you can simulate the path the ball will follow, you can simulate the amount of force imparted on the ball for it to travel the correct distance to the hole.
A word of warning! like most things in life, you must work hard to reap the rewards. The only limitation on what your brain can simulate is your lack of imagination and lack of mental effort. Good luck, work hard and make those putts using putt simulation as part of your pre-putt routine.