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17-Inch rule

Is this Good Advice In Putting?


The distance past the hole should you miss the putt is not a given. You should assess how hard you should hit your ball according to the putt you are facing.

Lumpy Donut

Ever since Dave Pelz recommended that 17 inches past the hole was the 'magic number' for good touch in putting, golfers have followed his advice without much questioning.

Lumpy Doughnut

Entrance Ramp
6 Inches either side of hole

The argument is that in order to overcome surface defects and the 'lumpy doughnut' effect around the cup, your ball must be travelling at sufficient speed to hold its line.

According to Dave Pelz's research the required speed is one that would put your ball 17 inches beyond the hole if the hole was covered with a cellophane lid.

Taken at face value this argument appears to make good sense. It is a fact that as your ball slows down in its approach to the hole it is more likely to be affected by any defects on the putting surface.

The faster your ball is travelling the less chance there will be of a spike mark or an undetected pitch mark knocking it off course.

17-inch Rule

Now there is nothing wrong with following the 17-inch rule. Never in the history of golf has the hole come to a ball.

Every golfer knows the over-worked sayings of 'Never up, Never in' and '100% of all putts that are short don't go in.'

However, blind acceptance of the 17-inch rule is dangerous and it is important that you consider the downside of Pelz's advice.

Putting aggressively means that if you miss, your come-back putt will be more testing.

17 inches shouldn't be a problem, so this is not the downside of the rule.

Capture Speed

The downside has to do with the ability of the hole to capture your ball at different speeds. The faster your ball is travelling, the narrower the width of the effective hole.

For your ball to find the bottom of the cup, half of its diameter must fall below the level of the ground before it comes into contact with any part of the back wall.

A ball that is travelling too fast will lip out.

Topple-in Speed

The maximum chance of your ball been captured by the hole is when it arrives at the rim of the cup at topple-in speed.

At this speed the whole width of the hole becomes available. Admittedly the just-fall-over-the-edge speed increases the risk of your ball being knocked off-line by any surface defect.

So what is the best arrival speed of your ball at the hole? In their prime Jack Nicklaus favoured the low end, Tom Watson, known as an aggressive and fearless putter, favoured the high end of the range.

Next time you watch golf on television see if you can pick which golfers favour which approach. Tiger Woods used to happily knock his putts five feet past, being confident of the return putt. Nowadays he is more circumspect. Could this be a sign of age or is it experience?

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