Dear Friends,

The Masters is now a few weeks past and spring is spreading across the country. Here are a few practical and philosophical thoughts as we look toward the summer golf season.

1) Putting and the 2006 Masters
2) God and Putting
3) Consumers Reports Rates Golf Balls

1) Putting and the 2006 Masters

After all the fuss about the added length at Augusta, the tournament came down to putting on those incredibly challenging greens. Several players had relatively equal chances to win the tournament, inlcuding some players who were not among the longest hitters. Tim Clark, for example, who like Dr. Putt is an NC State graduate, and Reteif Goosen, were both considerably shorter off the tee than others on the leaderboard. Clark (2nd), Olazabal (T3), and Goosen (T3), all hit fewer greens than the winner, Phil Mickelson, or others high on the leaderboard. But they made up for this by getting up and down, which includes both chipping and putting well. Clark, Goosen, and Mickelson had the lowest numbers on putts/hole.

It is true that Phil was number one in driving distance (at 299 yards), but he was only a few yards beyond Couples (296). And Fred hit a higher percentage of greens (76% versus 70%). The big difference between Fred and Phil was putting (Fred at a 1.73 average and Phil at 1.61).

However, these summary statistics do not tell the entire story, as anyone who watched the last day on television knows. Phil seemed far more comfortable in his putting and seemed to make putts he needed. Others either had strokes that broke down (Fred) or a lot of putts that just barely missed. Certainly Tiger comes to mind here. Tiger's putting statistics (1.61) were about the same as Phil's, and he seemed to have chance after chance to put pressure on Phil, but those putts did not fall. Tiger's stroke stroke looked good to Dr. Putt, so Dr. Putt would surmise that it was more mental then mechanical. Phil seemed relaxed while Tiger seemed to be trying perhaps a bit too hard. Perhaps it was the pressure of trying to win one more for his critically ill father.

The possible lessons from all this are several. Dr. Putt will offer but two. Good putting can make up for less than accurate approach shots and shorter tee shots. Following routine and letting it happen is a good approach to putting -- it is also more fun and trying to force things to happen. And most of us are just playing for fun.

2) God and Putting

The week after the Masters the men's tour moved to Hilton Head, SC, where Aaron Baddeley won his first tournament. He no doubt felt considerable pressure, having been identified as a promising young star for several years without a win. He reported to the press that he kept repeating a favorite Bible verse as a mantra: "power, love, and a strong mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). Then, on the last putt he said to himself, "This is for you Jesus."

A great deal of research has shown that calming and quieting the mind can lead to better performance when under pressure. See the book review of the "Double Connexion" at the "Dear Dr. Putt" link above.

Baddeley's mantra certainly would fit well into this approach. If his religious faith gave the words more credibility in his own mind, that would also help.

But young Mr. Baddeley goes well beyond this, suggesting that God takes an interest in who wins sporting events. In particular, Mr. Baddeley suggests that God wanted him to win this one by sinking a critical putt. Of course, this line of cause and effect necessarily means that God wanted others to lose.

Given the infinite capacity of God, perhaps this is true. If God knows the fall of the tiniest sparrow, then certainly He knows the fall of putts as well.

Of course, it also follows that God causes Mr. Baddeley to miss a lot of putts as well. Or perhaps our young professional only calls on God and Jesus when he feels he really needs help -- the rest Baddeley makes or misses on his own.

Dr. Putt suspects that the Jesus is far more concerned with the "least of these my bretheran" than whether a quite well off young professional golfer become even more wealthy. The arrogance of this request for divine help boggles the mind as well as the spirit of anyone who knows even the smallest thing about the suffering and dangers of the world.

At the very least, let us hope that Baddeley contributes the money won on the putt "for Jesus" to "the least of these" folks that Jesus cares about. If so, then Dr. Putt takes his hat off to this young man.

3) Consumers Reports Rates Golf Balls

In case you missed it, Consumers Report published a scientific report on golf balls in the May 2006 issue (pp. 30-33). They tested distance with a driver, feel (soft to hard), accuracy with an 8 iron and a driver, and spin with an 8 iron. They also categorized balls by their construction: two, three and four piece balls. And of course they also listed balls by price.

The bottom line was what we all might have expected. Distances with the driver were not greatly diferent among all 25 balls tested, whether at a slower swing speed (90 mph: 227-235 yds) or a faster speed (110 mph: 272-281). So all the millions spent on advertising distance is over less than 10 yards.

More difference was found on spin with the 8 iron. As you all know, spin helps the ball hold the green better. No two piece ball spun as much as the best three and four piece balls. But there was some overlap. Some two piece balls did have as much or more spin than some of the three and four piece balls. Of particular note, because of its relatively low price, is the Nike Power Distance Super Soft ball, which listed at $14 a dozen. It was the second highest ranked ball overall and had moderate spin and well as being among the longest to go with its low price and soft feel. Dr. Putt bought a dozen of these balls and they certainly seemed as good as any of the higher priced balls.

But if you want distance and maximum spin along with a soft feel, the best choice is the much more expensive ($44) Titleist Pro V1. Its only mediocre rating was on accruacy with the 8 iron. It was, however, slightly softer in feel than the overall top ranked ball, the Nike One Black ($41).

Conclusion? We all have more variation in our swings than golf balls have in performance. We probably wrongly conclude that the best ball is the one we are playing when we happen to be swinging well. The one obvious recommendation Dr. Putt would make is if you play on a course with small greens, play with a ball that has moderate to high spin. Because diffences are so small, other than that you should probably go with price. Get a back issue of CR for more details.

Final note. What CR did not test was putting. Dr. Putt would suspect that a soft feel will promote a longer follow through on the putting stroke -- a very good thing! But that is an untested hypothesis. Perhaps in the years to come a thorough test will be done on this matter by someone without a vested interest in selling a particular ball.

Best regards
Dr. Putt