Ryder Cup Putting: It’s the Grain

Take a look at the shadows at Gleneagles in Scotland. The majority of the well-struck putts at the Ryder Cup that miss are missing because they’re breaking toward the sun.

At 56 degrees north — more than halfway to the North Pole from the Equator — the grass is sun-starved this time of year. Notice how the shadows don’t shorten through the day. The sun stays low all day, skirting the southern horizon like a wallflower at the prom.

The grass at Jack Nicklaus’s Centennial Course is not Bermuda but it’s acting like it. The slow speed of the greens — 10.5 on the Stimpmeter — means longer blades of grass are trying to find as much sun as possible before the season for growing is over. Putts that players think are breaking to the north, away from the sun, are being held back, or  “pushed,” to the south by the nap of the grass.

The chemistry behind the nap is exactly the same responsible for why sunflowers follow the sun. It’s a family of chemicals common to all plants called Gibberellin.

Most American players know Scotland only as a midsummer British Open course, when the sun is still high in the sky and the grass is behaving itself. One side or the other competing for the Ryder Cup is going to figure it out before the weekend is over.

This is not to say there aren’t some badly struck putts at Gleneagles, but the low sun, the cold and the grainy grass may be  why the Ryder Cup hasn’t been held in Scotland in more than four decades. The end of September is awfully late in the season that far north. The grass is sending a message about how late it is.

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