Watching Adam Scott during the opening round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, the gallery buzzed about his new marriage, new status as World No. 1 and his odd-looking new routine for lining up putts. Is he making the Vulcan salute (made popular by Mr. Spock on Star Trek), one fan wondered?
Laughter ensued. What Scott was actually doing was using the AimPoint Express Read system for picking his line.
Mark Sweeney, the founder of AimPoint Technologies, which is used on Golf Channel broadcasts to determine the break of the putt, had already developed a popular AimChart based on the theory that greens have slope and all break the same way water runs downhill. By circling the hole to find where water drains, a golfer can estimate where 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock are on the green, pinpoint his ball’s location on the clock, and consult the chart to know how much break to play. Stacy Lewis, a former World No. 1, was the first LPGA Tour player to use it more than 3 years ago and now more than two-dozen pros have followed suit.
But Sweeney found AimChart was too complicated to teach to his young students. In October, he accidentally discovered Express Read. Golfers like it because it is feel-based and reduces his system to a single variable: How much slope is there?
For putts of more than 6 feet, Sweeney teaches his students to measure the side slope on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being very flat and 10 extremely steep (7 is about the max, he said).
“Depending on the slope you feel, you use that many fingers and it corresponds to the actual break you’d get,” Sweeney said.
Brad Malone, Scott’s coach and brother-in-law, is the one who persuaded Scott to experiment with a long putter in 2011. (Scott’s father, Phil, was also using the broomstick with great success.) Earlier this year, Malone took a green-reading class at Kapalua in Hawaii to learn the AimPoint Express Read technique and taught it to Scott, who implemented the system at the Honda Classic in early March. Scott determines a numerical value for the slope of the green and holds up that many fingers less than an arm’s distance in front of his face to pick the line. If he feels like the putt will break left, he measures his fingers beginning at the right edge of the hole.
“The cool thing was when we went and did the math on it afterwards it came out shockingly well,” he said. “From 20 feet, you get the same read as the AimChart within 2 inches.”
Scott also benefited from a session with Sweeney before the Masters.
“He’s got a real good handle on it,” Sweeney said. “I saw him before the Masters and we cleaned it up. He was using a real basic version of it for the first few weeks. We showed him how to do long and short putts. He picked it up very quickly.”
When Scott was asked to quantify the difference Express Read has made in his game, he whittled his appraisal down to a single colorful descriptor: “It’s been huge,” he said, adding, “Just check my strokes gained putting.”
Indeed, Scott has improved from 102nd last year to 18th in the putting stat, marking the first time he’s ranked inside the top 100 since 2007. (He ranked Nos. 148, 143, 186 and 180 in the prior years dating back to to 2009.
At Colonial, Scott made three huge putts that contributed to his playoff victory over Jason Dufner. On 14, Scott rolled in a 39-footer for birdie to climb to 9 under and a share of the lead.
“TV didn’t show him aiming on that one but he checked the side slope, then he got behind the ball and got his picture and whatever spot you get, that’s where you hit it,” Sweeney said. “I guess he played a 3 because it was a decent slope.”
With Dufner in tight on the second playoff hole, Scott faced a do-or-die 14-footer. “He played a 2,” Sweeney said. “Looked like it was downhill.”
Scott made it and lived to play another hole. Back at 18 for the third time that day, Scott sank a 7-footer for the title.
“The last putt was a 1,” Sweeney said. It broke a hair left and dove into the cup. Scott tilted his head back to the heavens and celebrated his 11th Tour title.
Scott seemed reluctant to let the secret of his putting success be known, but the cat is already out of the bag. Sweeney ticked off several Tour pros that are using Express Read too, including Hunter Mahan, Charles Howell III, and Ben Crane. What better validation for Sweeney’s green reading technique than victory by the new World No. 1?
“I’ve been teaching green reading for eight years,” Sweeney said. “This technique has gone viral quickly because it’s such a simple read. There’s only one thing you do: you get your side slope, get your picture and then you go. No walking around, no squatting down. It was designed for young kids but it’s taking off at the pro level on down.”