The game of putting has grown far too simple. Since the introduction of green-reading books, 1-putt percentages have soared, 3-putts have all but vanished, and players and caddies have no homework on the greens. There is no longer any judgment, talent, method, or feeling involved. Green numbers are simply plotted into an equation, and the ball always ends up in the hole. Do you recall Al Czervik’s putter? The one made by Albert Einstein, his friend (“Nice dude, nice fellow. With the sights and lasers, did you make a fortune in physics?” It’s similar to using a green-reading book…
But none of that is correct.
But, as of January 1, green-reading books will no longer be allowed in PGA Tour tournaments, so let’s look at what’s going to happen, how it came about, how it will be enforced, and what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.
Take a deep breath…
The PGA Tour’s decision to prohibit green-reading material is entirely determined by the players. It will be a Local Rule, as permitted by the USGA and the R&A. According to everyone I’ve spoken to, they (I’m not sure who “they” are) believe that green-reading books have taken away the ability to read a green by sight and feel. To be a successful putter, that should be a necessary ability. It has nothing to do with the game’s speed. It has to do with golfers and caddies gazing at their books as if it were a high-school geometry final they couldn’t pass.
Do they make placing more convenient? Sometimes. Is it getting more difficult? Sometimes. It takes a certain amount of talent to use a greens book correctly. It’s a different skill than reading a putt with your eyes and feet, but it’s still a skill. When I caddied, I saw just as many putts made correctly with a greens book as putts missed incorrectly with one. I’m not going to dive down a rabbit hole of numbers to back this up, but here are two basic comparison stats. 3-putt avoidance on the PGA Tour averaged 3.14 percent from 1996 to 2007, a decade before greens books were invented. That means that in the twelve years before greens books, pros 3-putted 3.14 percent of the time on all attempted putts on Tour. From 2008 to 2011, that percentage was 3.10 percent. 1-putt conversion was 37.43 percent from 1996 to 2007, and 38.1 percent from 2008 to 21.
Infinite differences and advances that cannot be attributed solely to greens literature. Improved information, Aimpoint, better instruction with drills and devices, and improved agronomy (read: smoother greens) have all played a role. In addition, players have been able to tap down spike marks in the last three years, which has never been allowed in the game’s history. To put things in perspective, the Tour’s average driving distance in 1996 was 265.9 yards. Last year, it was 296.2. Hmm. Can players adopt alternative Local Rules if they have the authority to effectively bifurcate the rules, as is the case now? Can they come to the conclusion as a Tour that the ball is going too far and the driver heads are too forgiving? Doubtful, because those equipment businesses have a lot of money, but Mark Long, the creator of the greens books, doesn’t have much.
It used to be that gauging distances based on sight, feel, and experience was an important aspect of the game. “OK, I hit a 7-iron from near this tree yesterday with an east wind,” players had to recall. Now I’m back near the tree, the pin is up, but the wind is blowing from the west… 9-iron.” Then, long before becoming Tour commissioner, Deane Beman began pacing off courses during practice rounds, recording how far it was from point A to point B, and from point B to point C. “After that, I don’t think Jack ever played a round without being able to truly, really know the length of whatever shot he was facing,” Beman says. Nicklaus and Beman conducted all of the work themselves, including course mapping and measurement.
As the technique gained traction, the PGA Tour began to use mass-produced books that were measured by others. Today’s weekly books supply players and caddies with an incredible quantity of accurate information obtained through technology and by an independent source. So the backlash began, and it was decided that judging distance by feel and experience was a crucial talent for players, and yardage books were outlawed… They weren’t, however. As a result, golf has improved. Yardage books were a step forward in the game.
Let’s speak about the regulation itself, what’s allowed and what’s not, and how it’ll be implemented.
Before the tournament begins, each site will provide a Tour-approved yardage book to players and caddies. From tee to green, it will provide all of the normal information. That is not going to change. However, when it comes to the greens, details will be kept to a bare minimum. There will be little lines and arrows to highlight any slopes (big tiers, false fronts, etc.) that measure 4.5 percent or greater, as well as the shape and depth of a green. Aside from that, it will be empty. Players and caddies can do homework, roll balls, watch others putt, watch the telecast, and take notes in their book to aid in putt reading. A player can also glance at his caddie’s notes, but no other information. However, the manner in which that data is gathered is quite specialized and constrained. “This putt on 12 breaks hard left,” a coach might tell you. However, you are unable to record such information. It is important to keep in mind. At Augusta National, a caddy can sit with a local (which many do), but they are not allowed to write down any of the information. It is important to keep in mind. Because you didn’t earn that knowledge via experience, you can’t write “Carl Jackson claims Rae’s Creek doesn’t pull this putt” or draw an arrow demonstrating the break. It’s important to remember, but don’t write it down in your yardage book.
Anything you want to jot down must be done in the book approved by the committee. Phil Mickelson’s extensive short-game diaries, for example, will not be permitted during tournament play. The material can be used and written down, but only if it is done in a book that has been approved. During a practice round or when a caddie is roaming the course, no levels or measuring devices are permitted. Lasers can be used anywhere on the green to determine distance or slope %, but not on the green itself. From the fairway or the rough, launch monitors can be used to evaluate clubhead speed, ball speed, trajectory, and spin. On the other hand, no technology will be permitted on the greens. I’m not sure what the difference is. If a caddie is prepared to go out of his way to undertake this labor-intensive effort for his player, he should be able to set himself apart from his contemporaries.
Let’s talk about notes for a moment. Green reading books aren’t going away anytime soon. They will continue to be made for use in practice rounds. The data will still be available, and this is where things get sticky. The honor system will be used to evaluate your notes in your book. The information from a greens book cannot be copied into the new yardage book by a player or caddie. “No, I hit that during the practice round,” a player or caddy will claim, negating any penalty for a questionable notation.
This is where I genuinely feel for the officials in charge of the rules. They perform an outstanding job week after week, putting up courses, issuing judgements, and ensuring that the competition runs smoothly. They’re in a no-win situation with this, I’m afraid. Some golfers and caddies will undoubtedly have strange notes, which they may have copied from an old greens book or obtained before using a level. Let’s say a player becomes suspicious of a fellow player during a round. As if his book were a holy book, said competitor is continually checking it. A rules official can review a caddie’s or player’s book if the accusatory player requests it. It may appear cautious, but if the accused player claims he obtained it legally, that’s all there is to it. Others will say, “This is BS.” if certain players are accused of using illegal notes or information and are not punished. We’re not on an equal footing, and if that guy’s going to do it, I’m going to do it as well.”
Is that correct? Most likely not. But is it fair for one person to have the information and deny illegally collecting it while the other has nothing? It’s a hazy situation. Many caddies and players have been schooled in the Aimpoint method of green reading, which involves using your feet to obtain a sense of the slope % of your intended line, assigning it a value, and playing the break or speed accordingly. If my player requested something resembling a greens book, I would put in a lot of time at Aimpoint Express, where I could determine slopes within decimal points of percentages. My Aimpoint instructor, Peter Brown, has shown me how to approximate slopes with only his feet and say things like, “It’s 2.7 here, 2.2 here, 1.9 here.” Then, on Tuesdays, I’d go out with my approved book and take measures every yard or so, at least in the vicinity of known hole locations. It would require time and effort, but it would be worthwhile if it prevented one or two strokes per week. It wouldn’t be as meticulous as a Mark Long book, but it could come close, with slope percentages and arrows drawn every few feet on the green. It would appear suspicious, as if the data had been obtained unlawfully. It would, however, be legal. You may stroll around the green, dropping balls from knee height and note the direction and distance they traveled if you didn’t know Aimpoint. You now have a slope and its strength without the need of technology.
Players want green reading to be a skill based on vision, feel, and experience, according to reports. If that’s the case, why are caddies allowed to assist at all? I’ve seen caddies that are quite adept at reading greens. So much so that there are days when his players don’t bother looking and simply wait for their caddie’s instructions. “Start it here and keep it moving.” As a result, it’s not a necessary talent for a player to possess. He has the option of hiring someone to read greens for him. A player can still utilize his notes and his new caddie’s notes if his caddie goes down or is sacked throughout the week. Is it possible to hire an Aimpoint instructor as a caddie on Monday and Tuesday, fire him Tuesday night, and still be allowed to use all of his notes if you have a player who despises the new rule and wants to throw a wrench in the works? When one putt might be worth millions of dollars, an extra $2000 per week is a drop in the bucket.
Let’s imagine someone is accused of illegally gathering information by copying from an old book or writing down something he heard but didn’t see. “Yep, you got me,” you may imagine a player saying. On the pitch, I was attempting to deceive.” I’m afraid I can’t, but here’s how the penalties work: 2 shots for the first offense. Disqualification for the second offense. That appears to be straightforward. Unless a player claims, “Yes, I utilized unlawful information on the second green, but I didn’t use it for the rest of the round.” Again, I pity the officials in charge of the rules.
Greens books, like forgiving drivers and balls that run forever and don’t curve and spin around the greens; launch monitors, and distance/slope measurement gadgets, are advancements in the game. Why has a line been drawn here? Why are we going backwards here? Assume it’s amicable, and everyone feels the same way about its abolition. Why not make the ban public and give it a year, as they did with the anchored putter? When the rule was implemented, players had a year to develop a new method that they were comfortable with. On Tour, there is a generation that has never played a tournament without using a greens book. Instead of a few months, why not allow everyone a year to adjust?
Let’s talk about Bryson now. Bryson DeChambeau, more than anybody else, has the potential to be negatively impacted by this new rule. His entire green-reading method is predicated on slope percentages and green speeds, which he’s spent years honing. I believe he has put in more effort than anyone else in building his system. He’s been urged to abandon something he’s invested a lot of time and effort in and learn a completely new habit in a few months. It’s unjust, regardless of your feelings towards Bryson. He is rigorous in his preparation, employing a launch monitor to measure spin rates from the fairway, first cut, and rough during practice rounds. “Nine-iron landing 4 yards on the green, releases 3 yards,” he’ll scribble down. Releases 5 yards after landing 8 yards on the green.” In this case, he’s determining the slope of the landing area, which is the green. However, because the technology employed originated from the fairway, this method is allowed. As my high-school physics teacher, Mr. Frisbee (actual name), would confirm, I would have no idea how to achieve this. Bryson, on the other hand, seems to be capable of determining or approximating that information. He would do everything he could to stay inside the rules, since I know him to be a player who would never intentionally break them.
The USGA stated in August that their handicapping system will make color-coded and arrowed greens books available for thousands of courses around the world. Green-reading material similar to that used on Tour will be available on their GHIN app. Except on the PGA Tour, everything is absolutely legal. It’s innovative, and I applaud them for making the effort. What about the PGA Tour? I believe that players making more putts would be beneficial to the product. The majority of the roars from the gallery are caused by putts that go in, rather than putts that are misread. Nothing in the data supports the assumption that greens books help PGA Tour players putt better. If we have a calm, warm day at St. Andrews for The Open Championship next year, and one of the great ball drivers is on a roll, there could be seven or eight eagle putts. It won’t be because of some arrows in a book if someone shoots a 59 at the historic Home of Golf.
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