Letting off steam
Stuart Burley 8/9/2017
Bringing a unique and game changing concept to life is difficult. So difficult in fact that I would discourage people from doing it purely for the sake of saving their own sanity. You have to constantly break through barriers and deal with levels of criticism, pettiness and stupidity from other people which leave you astounded.
There are great moments though such as being asked to talk with major brand manufacturers and give some feedback on their own developments and when you have a player in a big tournament playing well with your putter. Both of these things happened this week.
What also happened this week was an incident which typifies for me the small mindedness of others at a Professional level. I heard of a fellow Professional a few weeks before who was telling people that Burton Putters are illegal to use in competition. This is of course totally unfounded and I have the letters from the R&A to prove that they are conforming. This week, a Professional playing in his National Open was told by a PGA Member that if he used his Burton Custom he would be disqualified. I of course immediately mailed the R&A letter to stop this action in its tracks and put the record straight once and for all. What was this person thinking? I have invested years of my life and a lot of money to ensure that it is conforming. It is the highest priority when designing.
The reply I got back was condescending and matter of factly told me that they were ‘just doing their job’. I was guilty until proven innocent as far as they were concerned and there was not even a hint of remorse or an apology. This small minded individual acted out of spite and I take it personally. How many other putters did this person bother to check for conformity? I am guessing that I was the only one so I will take it personally.
I know who’s approval I need to make putters and I can give permission to use my putters. This person has no say in the matter. Get over yourself, you are not that important.
As Morrissey sang ‘We hate it when our friends become successful’. It is easier to knock someone else’s tower over than to build your own. I keep soldiering on and I keep learning to take the knocks. Not easy though.
Stuart Burley 25/8/2017
One of my most important discoveries in the field of technical applications for putter fitting is the concept of Rotational stability. Once you understand it, it changes the way you look at putter balancing forever. Up until now, the most common (and incorrect) way of looking at putter balancing is to associate a face balanced putter to a straight back/straight through swing path and a toe hang putter to a strong arc swing path. Is this correct? if so, prove it.
A few years ago a very esteemed colleague contacted me with a conundrum. He had spent 6 years gathering information with his SAM puttlab and he noticed that things didn’t add up. Players with a face balanced putter experienced more clubface rotation and good players with toe hang putters had less face rotation. the theory of straight back/straight through vs. Strong arc/rotation had never been proven and all of the data showed the opposite to be true.
After analysing the aiming tendencies of many levels of golfer I started to notice a pattern. On many different levels there were clear binary differences between left and right aimers. This led to the action/reaction basis which is now the bedrock of my coaching. Rotational stability is linked very closely to this.
If you look at image 1 you will see the rotational axis (center point) around which the balance of the putter will rotate. There can be more weight positioned towards the extremities of the putter but the fulcrum always remains in the same place regardless. Now imagine that the center is a steering wheel and how easy it would be to turn the wheel clockwise or anti clockwise. If you were to hold a center shafted blade putter in a horizontal position and twist the butt end of the grip, it would rotate very easily indeed
Now we move onto image 2 which shows the rotation axis/Fulcrum at one end of the line with the weight opposing it. Gravity wants to pull this into a downward position and if you imagine a steering will at the fulcrum you would be fighting hard to stop this weight pulling it downwards. The amount of leverage needed is also greater due to the fact that the weight is not evenly distributed but all at one end. Take a heel shafted blade putter and twist the butt end until the clubface is in a horizontal position. This takes a lot more force to hold it.
The amount of force needed to be applied is what determines the rotational stability. A face balanced putter with extreme weighting at the heel, toe and back edge of the clubhead, combined with a full shaft offset will be relatively easy to rotate but it will be very stable.
A heel shafted blade putter with very little offset, will not be easy to rotate and will provide extreme stability in one specific direction only.
This means that the common belief that a face balanced putter is more stable and that the bigger the mallet headed face balanced putter the better is actually not true. I have converted many players back to a blade putter with great success thanks to this understanding. There is one caveat though, it only applies to players who have a tendency to aim left. Right aimers will see better results with a face balanced putter.
Stuart Burley 11/8/2017
On my recent holiday to Italy (freak heatwave meant that I spent most of the time reading by the pool) I read the PHD thesis from Professor Wim van Lier – ‘Visual perception & action in golf putting’. As a putter designer, putter fitting specialist and PGA Professional who specialises in the coaching of putting it is essential that I continue to research aspects specific to putting. This includes, technical aspects of the stroke, visual distortion, green reading, mental coaching, technological developments and effective practise methods.
Dr van Liers thesis explains a series of experiments set up to measure the responses and ecological calibration of skilled and unskilled golfers. This is a fascinating subject and one which revealed a few interesting facts for me personally. The most important thing for me was that unbeknown to me, the system which I have developed myself and some of the ‘truths’ which I have discovered from being in the field of coaching and fitting for so many years are backed up by Dr van Liers research. For example, the fact the unskilled putters aim to the right and the better, more skilled putters aim slightly left. Also there is a lot of research done on ‘distortion’. This relates to the difficulty that some golfers have of aligning to the target from a standard putting position, depending on the relation of the eyes over or inside/outside the target line.
I am pleased to see that someone of Dr van Liers calibre makes the effort to investigate why certain problems occur and what can be done to improve the standards of knowledge for the coaches and fitters who are interested in this subject. As usual, after reading this scientific study I had many more questions and spent a few days, scribbling out ideas for my own research and experiments in the same vein.
Together with a couple of colleagues I will be setting these experiments up during the winter and gathering valuable information. Anyone who is interested in this study can contact me for further information at firstname.lastname@example.org
Working hard to make it look easy
Stuart Burley 14/7/2017
On a recent visit to the Sumac factory in Weymouth, UK we discussed new developments of the X-Alt range of putters. Its interesting to see Professional engineers of the highest calibre in action and these guys are perfectionists in the extreme.
There are a number of things to bring to your attention regarding putter production. Firstly, we have worked hard to reduce aspects of the design and create our own minimalist look. There is no doubt that this is a Sumac product when you look at it and I love the clean lines and perfect finish.
We want to make a unique product and you may think that other brands have more detailed designs or that the simplicity of the design doesn’t offer inserts or grooves. We are focusing on the important aspects which will improve performance and feel. To do this we go further than everyone else. Each putter is individually machined from a billet/block of EN1A leaded low carbon steel. It is easier and cheaper to drop forge a putter head or cast it in a mould and finish it off with a couple of simple milling processes. This to us is cheating and compromising on the production quality. We also remove the machining lines with a light bead blasting. One other phenomenon of putter design is the appearance of machining lines. This is ‘proof’ that the putter is milled but for Sumac this is unacceptable and in their words ‘amateurish’.
We work hard to simplify and it should not go unnoticed how difficult it can be to produce something that looks, feels and performs amazingly.
The unconscious brain – Action/Reaction
Stuart Burley 30/6/2017
There are many things I want to talk about regarding this subject but I should maybe stick to what I consider the most important aspects. Firstly, I would like to bring up one of the most important questions in golf coaching. Why do the majority of golfers make the same mistakes? For example, why do the majority of golfers slice the ball? I’m not talking about technical issues but asking this on a deeper level. How are humans programmed to hit a slice and what role does the unconscious brain play in this?
Here’s one suggestion. Unskilled golfers who are in the first stages of learning want to see the ball fly. Direction is not really important but unconsciously, when the ball launches high and stays in the air for a longer period of time, the golfer gets a kick out of it and endorphins are released. We are not as unskilled as you might think. The brain will respond to stimulus and the unconscious task of getting the ball to fly higher and further will produce a slice as a by product.
In another hypothetical situation, a golfer plays on the course and is forced to use longer clubs from the tee (with which they have less confidence). Over the first few holes, bad shots are hit and balls are lost to the right*. The golfer reacts to this by aiming left to compensate and as a result a few shots eventually start flying and landing in a playable position. This is where the unconscious brain is rewarding the golfer by focusing on the result and not the process. As a by product the technical aspects which encourage a slice have been set in place and the golfer now has a ‘Reverse feedback’ situation. They now have to make a bad swing to get a good result.
I see a lot of action/reaction in putting. Experiments have shown that novice golfers aim to the right of the hole when putting (Johnston, Benton & Nishida 2003, Roberts & Turnbull 2010, Van Lier, Van Der Kamp & Savelsbergh 2011). In these experiments it was also shown that skilled golfers when putting aimed left of the hole. This shows that the unconscious brain is involved with calibrating the aim of the putter at the beginning (action) or producing a compensatory move during the stroke (reaction). The skilled golfer adapts the action so that there is little reaction necessary and the unskilled golfer relies on a reaction to get the ball into the hole.
*the default golfer in this story is right handed
The unconscious brain – Routine
Stuart Burley 13/6/2017
Recently I read about a fascinating study into escalators that are not moving. Have you ever experienced the strange phenomenon of stepping onto a non moving escalator? We see the escalator, step onto it expecting it to move and lose balance as soon as the first foot is planted. Apparently our brains struggle to compute the fact that it is not moving and our unconscious brain is shaken into consciousness when momentum of our bodies is brought to a juddering halt.
What does this have to do with putting? Quite a lot.
I have observed thousands of golfers in the routine of hitting a putt, from beginners to top tier golfers. I find the word routine fascinating. In the dictionary there are many forms of the word such as
Building a routine is advised in golf, especially in putting. I have witnessed some weird and wonderful routines over the years and in many ways it helps golfers who are sloppy or unstructured when it comes to applying themselves to a shot. In hindsight we have all made mistakes on the course and kicked ourselves for not being alert or getting complacent regarding the reading of the green, alignment or commitment to the stroke. This is why we begin with building a routine. Problem is that the routine can become dull and repetitive and we end up going through the motions until we are shook into consciousness by a disastrous error, even though the routine is adhered to.
We are surprisingly reactive to unconscious stimuli. If we are not aligned correctly, the unconscious brain will kick in and attempt to correct this. If we hit our first putt way too hard then the return putt will often be too soft. If we doubt the read but continue anyway, the brain will get mixed messages and the door is opened to the Yips.
The cure is to be present and in control. If you are constantly aware of escalators and whether they are moving or not then you will be prepared for all eventualities. The same must be done in putting. Yes you need a routine but in the structural sense of the word such as marking your ball, reading the green, judging the pace and processing the result. There needs to be flexibility in the way you apply yourself to each shot, the nuances of alignment and the day to day variations in how you are swinging the putter. If you are alert and can adapt then you will make fewer mistakes. The key to good golf is foreseeing issues and dealing with them before they have a chance of influencing the result. Anyone can see the what the problem was after it occurred.
Trying to put myself out of business
Stuart Burley 5/6/2017
If there is one thing that I believe every golfer needs, regardless of what level they play at, it is clarity. Not only on what works for them but more importantly what does not work for them. If I provide this to my pupils/customers then they can continue with their pursuit of happiness in golf with a higher chance of success and become self sufficient with their game. The goal is that they ultimately do not need me any more.
As a proud British PGA Professional, I was bought up on a set of principles which were originally established over 100 years ago and developed carefully by the giants of the game. The greatest influence on my Professional development was my former boss who not only was the Chairman of Training for the PGA but also Chairman of the Disciplinary Committee. He also lived every day by a strict set of principles which meant that I had to be on my toes and aware of how I acted all the time. From this incredible working and learning environment I established my own principles which I adhere to myself. The most important one being that I should never take my position for granted and be grateful that I have the opportunity to make a living from the sport I love.
If you go to the doctor with a fever, you expect a cure. The better the doctor, the less you see of him. This is my opinion on fixing issues in a golfers game. Of course, I love to see my clients and catch up on how they are doing but I am not going to push them into doing something unnecessary. I craft beautiful putters and coach golfers with a system that I truly believe is unique and effective. I do this so that people can become better golfers and get more pleasure from the game. Hopefully I can help you and all being well, we won’t see each other too regularly
Stuart Burley 28/5/2017
Last week I gave a workshop to 30 people on the putting green. I asked the group to raise their hands if they had spent more than €400 on their driver. 12 people stuck their hand in the air. I then asked the 12 people who had spent more than €500 on their driver. 5 people raised their hand. I then asked the 5 people what they would consider a fair amount to spend on their putter. After some discussion they came back with the answer of €200 to €250.
This came as no surprise to me. I have been asking these questions for years. It does come as a surprise to many though as putters are generally an afterthought. A casual, less committed choice made to building a good set of clubs which all help you perform to your maximum ability.
Before we go any further I would like to throw a few questions out to you, the reader. Is the putter is the most important club in the bag? Is better putting the quickest way to lower your score? Have you given your putting at least an equal amount of attention than your driver? Are you absolutely sure that your putter is tuned for your performance?
Until all golfers realise the importance of discovering what works (and more importantly what doesn’t) for them and also understanding how something of great quality can produce a better response and result, my job will continue as a coach/putter designer/fitter who is working to open peoples minds to greater possibilities.
Innovation – Form & Function
Stuart Burley 17/5/2017
Grooves do not help the ball roll better. Face balanced putters produce more face rotation during the stroke. Drawing a line on the ball more often than not leads to poor alignment. The standard set up of a putter on the shelf is not relevant to the average golfer. Jumbo putter grips are going to affect your judgement of speed. Not to mention that a putter cut down to 33 inches with a pink grip is not what I would call a good set up for ladies.
There seems to be a lack of real inspiration in putter design. There are plenty of gimmicks and rehashing of old designs but the only way golfers are going to improve is by understanding how the form & function of the putter applies to them personally.
A putter fitting incorporates an element of a lesson. Most of the time golfers are unaware of what they do. For example if you consistently aim left or right (most golfers do) then you need to understand how the putter should react during the stroke. Unconsciously, golfers develop the skills to compensate for this and can stumble into a compensatory solution. Right aimers generally prefer a face balanced putter and left aimers prefer toe hang.
I know a lot of golfers, especially Professionals, who have a garage full of putters. It is almost a badge of honour to have ‘tried everything out there’. When deciding which putter you will invest in, you need to be sure that you are moving in the right direction, not discarding the putter at a later date due to a lack of confidence and back at square one. As previously stated, golfers who are good at putting generally tend to have an older putter in the bag. Either that or an expensive, super customised, made to measure putter.
Billion dollar golf companies which sell millions of putters are banking on you returning for a new model. They make their money on repeat sales. Make it cheap, sell it for a low price and ensure that they return every 3 – 5 years for a new one. If you understand your own technique and how the set up of the putter can support this then you will build a long term relationship with your putter and be a happier golfer.
Innovation – Materials
Stuart Burley 6/5/2017
When looking at all aspects of golf and how innovation has affected performance at all levels, it could be argued that the biggest improvements have been made with ball technology and drivers. There has been an improvement in fairway woods, rescue/hybrid technology, irons and shafts too.
How much has technology influenced putters? We have seen the introduction of inserts, grooves, counterbalancing, interesting designs in putter heads & grips. We have an amazing amount of choices and custom options. Putters are in general much prettier. Why is it then that the best putters in the game in general use an old putter?
Has the best putter already been made? Lets take a look at material. My personal opinion is that if the putter was made from the ideal material then an insert would not be necessary. When looking at the striking surface of a putter, what should the properties be for the ideal material? It should be positioned between 55 – 65 on the Rockwell hardness scale. Higher than this and it is too hard/over responsive, softer and it is too soft/unresponsive. The ideal material would give you responsiveness on long putts and soft feel on short putts. Brass, bronze or low carbon steel would be good candidates and arguably one of the best materials ever used was Beryllium Copper. Sadly not available anymore as the production of this is now forbidden across the globe.
The Burton Custom is made from Marine brass. The X-Alt 1 & 2 models are made from EN1A Leaded low carbon steel. The #3 model from anodised aluminium with a brass insert. I want the resonance, responsiveness and soft feel to be optimised.