Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ballesteros Ritmos

Severiano Ballesteros Sota and "Ritmos"

Bobby Jones in the 1930s wrote that "Timing is the most important skill in golf, and yet no one teaches it." Seve Ballesteros was a great putter, one of the best, and he simply used "ritmos" as his "technique", but he wasn't the greatest explainer of how that might be an accurate and consistent way to putt.

No one in golf history has ever taught how "touch" works. It's timing. Here's how it works:


The human brain "times" the body motion to comport with the objective requirements of the world. In order to do that consistently and accurately, the brain uses "tempo" and "rhythm".

"Tempo" is the conductor waving his arms in the air to indicate the quickness or slowness with which the orchestra should play the sheet music. A metronome is set to one particular tempo by adjusting the length of the rod and bob. One length, one tempo.

"Rhythm" on the other hand is what the drummer does when he plays all quarter notes on the sheet so that all notes of the same sort are "equal duration", whatever the "tempo". Four quarter notes are always played "bang bang bang bang" or "pop pop pop pop", whether the playing is short and quick or slow and leisurely.

But the brain does not use just "any old" tempo and rhythm. There is a "wheelhouse" tempo in each body and also a "wheelhouse" rhythm, and neither of these has anything to do with the personality and preference of the golfer. The world uses the golfer's body to INSTALL the tempo and the rhythmic pattern in the brain, and the brain is designed in evolution expressly for the purpose of accepting and recording what the world does TO the body, over what the body does to the world.

And these timing aspects are very similar from golfer to golfer, insofar as each adult body is pretty much similar in size and proportionality and mass distribution. Ask any clothing manufacturer what are the most numerous sizes sold for shirts and pants. Certain sizes are FAR more numerous than other "outlier" sizes -- it's just the demographics and anthropometrics of our species.


The LENGTH or SIZE that swings with only one second tempo is a meter stick, 100 cm or 39.37 inches in length. The adult human arm is not far off this length. Consequently, when the EARTH BALL moves the arms, adults typically experience a tempo that is close to a 1-second tempo in the natural swinging of the arms. The adult human leg is also not far off this meter-stick length. And not surprisingly, adults typically experience a gait tempo of nearly one second per stride when walking in a casual manner.

Studies show that the speed of walking depends upon the stride length (which depends generally on stature or height), BUT that given a specific height and stride length and speed, the step FREQUENCY tends to be about the same for adults, regardless of preferred speed or stature. The expression "Speed / Squareroot(Gravity acceleration x Height)" is pretty constant for a wide variety of adult sizes and speeds. (R. Alexander, Stride length and speed for adults, children, and fossil hominids, Am. J. Phys. Anthrop. 63(1) (Jan. 1984): 23-27.) The usual step frequency correlates with the pendular action of the limbs and centers on 2 steps per second, for a gait frequency of 1 Hz. (J. Bertram, Constrained optimization in human walking: cost minimization and gait plasticity, J. Exper. Biol. 208 (2005): 979-991.) The rule for pedestrian crosswalks is that people walk at about 3.5 feet/second and the crosswalk lights are set to a "slow" walker at 3.0 feet/second (e.g., 10 seconds to cross a 30-foot wide crosswalk). (J. LaPlante and T. Kaeser, A history of pedestrian signal walking speed assumptions, 3rd Urban Street Symposium, Seattle WA (June 24-27, 2007).) When height is factored out ("normalized"), the usual walking pace for adults centers on 1 Hz.

Male sleeve lengths range (age 40, US population) from 34" (5th percentile) to 38.5" (95th percentile), with the actual "reach" from shoulder to wrist ranging from about 27" to 32". Therefore, since the EARTH BALL swings a 39.37" meter stick in precisely 1 second, the same EARTH BALL "naturally" swings the adult male arm is a little less than 1 second. (NASA, Man-Systems Integration Standards, vol. 1 sec. 3, Anthropometry and Biomechanics, Fig. (12 of 12) Anthropomteric Dimensional Data for American Male (dimensions 67 and 772).) This natural "tempo" is served up to the recording brain hundreds of times each waking day by the casual swinging of the arm, regardless of the size of the arm swing.

Both the legs and the arms in daily experience get TIMED by the EARTH BALL physics and trained relentlessly to something very close to 1 Hz timing by casual reactions. In the neuroscience of the European Space Agency, Alain Berthoz in 1999 demonstrated that the human brain has deeply embedded inside it this "gravity" timing for falling objects. The rate of falling is effectively "hardwired" in the brain by the brain's recording the physics of the EARTH BALL. (A. Berthoz, The Brain's Sense of Movement (Harvard Univ. Press, 2000).) The same sort of recording process occurs for pendular motion with the legs and arms. The brain in effect is "hardwired" to know the tempo of the arms and legs in a "wheelhouse" tempo that was installed by the repeating experience of the world.

Why fight it? It's the tempo that never changes and doesn't require learning or practicing.

So how does this work in putting for so-called "touch"?


Basically, the awareness of the safe and acceptable limits of the space for motion use the tempo to "size" the backstroke, which in itself sets the power or force level of the stroke.

If you're careful not to blow the putt long past the hole, the brain instinctively and effortlessly sets the backstroke size without any need to run the problem thru the thinking mind, and also without troubling the mind for permission to use a specific backstroke. Indeed, the MIND doesn't know much about it, compared to the mute body and brain, which have been "hardwired" to get the motion just right merely from paying attention to the space for the careful motion that does not go too long.

Careful? Yes, "touch" is a direct result of being attentive and careful. That's because the brain cannot afford to allow spastic over-shooting of the limbs in space, as this is very dangerous and may cause injury and pain to the body (and brain) by colliding violently with objects in space. The brain always moves carefully "to" and not usually "thru" objects in space. The spastic person swats the water glass off the table when reaching for it, or reaches for a door knob and fails because he broke his thumb against the door knob. Failure WITH pain and injury is always much more important to avoid than success is important to attain, or failure short is important to avoid. Safety first, or there will be NO motion. A brain that evolved according to any other rule would not survive in evolution.

Carefulness "sizes" the backstroke? Yes, a tempo is the same regardless of the size of the swing of the particular stick. Short swings and long swings of the same stick, according to the EARTH BALL tempo and physics, all take exactly the one same time, every time. The adult arm, for example, held away from the side and then dropped to strike the thigh, takes about 1/2 second regardless of how many inches away from the thigh the arm and hand are suspended before dropping down at the thigh. So why would the backstroke gain a size limit?

What changes when the arm and hand are held closer or farther from the thigh before dropping is the velocity of the hand at impact against the thigh. A short backstroke strikes the thigh with low velocity, and always the same velocity if started from the same distance. A long backstroke strikes the thigh faster (and harder), and always with the same velocity (and force) so long as started into the drop from the same distance off the thigh. Hence, backstroke SIZE combines with tempo to cause one and only one velocity of impact and force or impact. Size = Force. This size = This force (only and always), provided the tempo is stable. The EARTH BALL tempo is extremely stable.

To wrap it up, "touch" then uses everyday "wheelhouse" tempo and attention and carefulness about not going long in the space with the motion to size the backstroke and hence limit the force for safety and for success. Both.


Now, we come to Seve and "ritmos" or rhythm. The golfer is the drummer and pays heed to the EARTH BALL conductor's tempo. That means that the backstroke is ONE-HALF of the rhythm, and a rhythm is a proportionality between the back and the thru.

Because the timing of the stroke is just a single pattern, the first half of the tempo's total time is the backstroke. The backstroke is half of the rhythmic swing. This means that the brain "sets" the backstroke size using half the tempo and half the rhythm. Once set, the golfer has to "complete the deal" by sticking to the timing in the thru-stroke. The backstroke loads the correct force, but the timing of the thru-stroke spends or uses the force. Unless the thru-stroke timing matches "whatever timing the backstroke used according to one half of the tempo", the putt runs short (a slower thru-stroke than the backstroke) or long (a quicker thru-stroke than the backstroke).

The rhythm is always right when you pay attention and are careful not to blow past the target. If the rhythm were not safe and successful, your brain is unsuitable for survival. And yet, here you are, so what other proof do you require to believe that the brian's got your back and keeps you safe against over-shoot when you "trust" the usual tempo and rhythm?

With careful intentionality in space and the usual tempo, the rhythm is NEVER short or long, and the backstroke will NEVER be allowed to get too powerful a size. The limit on the backstroke size guards against getting 105% force at impact, but the stopping of the backstroke by the instinctive brain (not the mind) does not happen earlier than very close to 100%. Otherwise, the golfer would be dead from being short all the time when he tries to place food in his mouth. Short is never good, but too long is downright dangerous!

So much for "ritmos", right? Wrong. In addition to force and distance control for "touch", the rhythm of the careful golfer with the usual tempo is ALSO what CAUSES straight strokes. Rhythm is a "what-is-where-when" deal. Te essential key to striking the ball exactly where the putter face aims at address is to KNOW when the putter face re-occupies the address location in the forward swing. That is like wanting to KNOW WHEN will the pendulum re-occupy the position in the swing when the rod is perpendicular to the floor and the pendulum bob is closest to the floor at the bottom of the swing. That's easy: each half second once the pendulum at the top of its stroke starts down. Every time.

In putting, the golfer rolling balls straight where aimed with good touch needs to do nothing if he has good rhythm except start the stroke back into the usual tempo with a confident full-bodied swing. The brain and body limit how far back the putter will swing the same way a ceiling limits how far a ball gets tossed to "touch" the ceiling. The space and the intentionality to go "to" and not "thru" the space is what limits the backstroke size and force. A diffident backstroke won't work, as that won't fully load the force at the 100% level. And any mistake in the rhythm so that the forward stroke timing doesn't mirror the backstroke loading timing will cause long or short results. Load and go.


So how do you teach "touch"? First, the golfer witnesses a demonstration of the setting of the limit to the backstroke size and force, by being careful not to go too long past the target. Then the golfer tests this personally -- jumps up and down on that plank to see if he can crack it, or not. Once the limiting of the backstroke is accepted as a literal, physical, daily, non-conscious property of the body and brain as hardwired by experience of the planet, the MIND begins to relent in its desire to control the force of the putt and relinquishes control to the music of the golfer moving with the tempo of the world. The golfer is the drummer with rhythm, and only needs to follow the conductor's tempo. The world itself and the body jointly comprise the "wheelhouse" conductor with the always-the-same tempo.

About 25 years ago, a friend of mine (Steve Rey) was practicing putting on the European PGA Tour with various training aids scattered about and Seve Ballesteros walked up and commented: "Steve, you don't need any of that stuff for excellent putting. You only need ritmos." Instant improvement in results, from that day to this.

ANYONE who has a modicum of experience on golf greens already has embedded in their brains and body a deep and detailed physics knowledge of great touch. All that is required is attentiveness to the space and reliance upon the usual tempo and rhythm of the world. Intend a good result for distance, pay attention, and join the music of the world -- a backstroke results from the body's know-how, and if the rhythm is right, the distance is right. It's normal, not special at all.

Thanks, Seve.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist

Golf's most advanced and comprehensive putting instruction, combining the best of golf lore with modern physics, anatomy, and the neuroscience of perception and movement processes on the green for optimal and instinctive performance of the four skills of putting: reading, aiming, stroking, and controlling distance and pace.