Perhaps you’ve seen golf touring professionals using their arms and fingers in their putting routines. The system they’re using is called AimPoint. There are dozens of certified AimPoint instructors around the world. One of them is Tom Talbott who teaches out of The Villages Golf Academy in Florida.
Tom Talbott: Mark Sweeney is the architect of AimPoint green reading. He’s big on protecting the brand. What that means is not giving away the house totally. The information has to stay consistent and not watered down.
Golf Conversations: That’s understandable. On the other hand, if you don’t give people a taste …
TT: Right, you have to let them wet their beak.
GC: Yes, Godfather, you must let them drink from the well!
In the early days of television, the networks didn’t want to broadcast baseball games. They thought it would depress live attendance.
GC: What eventually happened was TV exposure created more demand for the product. But I certainly get Mark’s point. Speaking of points, what is AimPoint? I see pro golfers holding up their fingers prior to putting.
TT: Yes, “what’s that finger thing?” It’s gone from “what are they doing?” to “what are they doing?” There isn’t a whole lot of “you gotta do this, you gotta do that” in AimPoint green reading. There are some nuances – people have different arm lengths, for example … they have different thicknesses of fingers. There are nuances of uphill and downhill and green speeds. When I teach AimPoint green reading, it’s a two-hour class. I have a 4-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
GC: If the greens are really fast, is it a one-hour lesson instead of two hours?
TT: No, but nice try!
GC: How did you get your start in golf instruction?
TT: I grew up with the game of golf at the Columbine Country Club in Littleton, Colorado. The summer before I was in the 6th grade, my parents moved adjacent to the twelfth hole.
GC: And somehow you managed to find them.
TT: The boys in the neighborhood came over and said, “We play golf here.” And I thought, “I better get some clubs.” I played Junior golf, high school golf. I went to Oklahoma State and got killed as a freshman.
GC: A powerhouse golf school. Even back then in the 1930s.
TT: Not exactly! This was 1973-1974. Then I went into the restaurant business for about fifteen years, living in Aspen, Colorado. I woke up one day and said, “This isn’t it.” I did some soul searching and knew that I wanted to make a difference in young peoples’ lives. And a way to do that was through golf. I got into the golf business about twenty-five years ago. Started working as an assistant pro but early on I knew I didn’t want to be a club pro, I wanted to teach.
I went down the path of becoming an authorized Golfing Machine instructor. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Homer Kelley’s work?
GC: Homer Kelley? Yes, I once read his book and my head exploded.
TT: Here’s the book.
GC: Yup, that’s it. It was too complicated for me. I’m waiting for the movie to come out.
TT: Bobby Clampett’s book, “The Impact Zone,” made it easier to understand. If Homer had put it in English, I think it would have been a nice thing. I read the book and I’d go see Ben Doyle, who was my mentor. Ben was the first authorized Golfing Machine instructor.
I also had a mentor at Eaton Country Club in Denver, Rick Cole. I worked for a while for Mike McGetrick in Denver; Mike was at one time the national PGA Teacher of the Year. He had students such as Beth Daniels, Juli Inkster, and Meg Mallon. Then I had a golf academy at Meridian Golf Club in Englewood, Colorado where I worked primarily with college players. I was there ten to twelve years.
My wife’s sister lives here in The Villages. About ten years ago, my wife said when she retired, this is where she wanted to be. So all I had to do was decide if I wanted to stay married and the answer was “yes.”
I came down here and did some part-time work for two winters.
GC: Teaching here in The Villages?
TT: Yes. We moved here full-time seven years ago. My clientele changed from junior high school, high school, and college players to primarily seniors. As for AimPoint, I’ve known about it for a while.
GC: When did AimPoint begin? What’s the founder’s name again?
TT: Mark Sweeney. Mark’s been studying green reading around 13-14 years. If you ever watch Golf Channel, they do that Putting Line thing … Mark won an Emmy for that. He’s also a software engineer. He kept evolving green reading and got it down to what’s called “AimPoint Express.” That made it a 10-15 second process.
GC: 10-15 seconds?
TT: The green reading process is 10-15 seconds, thus the word “express.” I always felt there were five things associated with good putters: 1.) Direction 2.) Distance 3.) Green reading. 4.) Having a routine. 5.) Practice.
GC: You left out “praying.”
TT: Praying. Right. Never lose sight of that!
Green reading has always been this enigma. It’s always been “hope, hope, hope.” It’s always been “take your best guess.” Dave Pelz said, “Some things about putting are art, some are science.” Ian Poulter says it’s no longer art, now it’s science. It’s quantifiable.
One of the things I tell students is that “nothing is for everybody.” There’s no real right or wrong.
GC: In terms of putting?
TT: Green reading. If you read greens beautifully with your eyes, keep doing it. If you can read greens without AimPoint, more power to you. Do it.
GC: And open a golf school!
TT: Yeah, right! Mark says you can’t trust your eyes. AimPoint green reading is a feel-based technique. In the last two years, 50 tour events were won by AimPoint green reader players or their caddies. It’s really gone global but again, it’s not for everybody.
When it got tour recognition, from my perspective, it got easier to sell. Now people are saying, “I saw this guy holding up his fingers … what’s he doing?” Yesterday at the PGA, Justin Thomas carried the ball 332 yards in the air and people were saying, “How does he do that?” Well, I may not be able to help them with 332 yards in the air when they’re a senior citizen, but I can help them with reading greens better.
I’ve always been able to help people with direction and distance control. I’ve always been able to help people with getting a routine and learning how to practice. But now green reading is quantifiable, fast, accurate, and easy.
GC: So no more “Putt and Hope” – AimPoint seeks to eliminate the “hoping” part?
TT: Exactly. Mark says what you’re after in putting is a no-stress second putt. From 10 feet, the average PGA Tour player is only making 38%.
GC: On the second putt?
TT: No, the first putt. So if they’re making less than half from 10 feet, what we’re really after is the no-stress second putt. They’re really good from 3 feet.
GC: What about guys like me who need that no-stress third putt?
TT: The best way to avoid the third putt is to have a better first putt. And the biggest thing in that first putt is distance control. And now Mark is evolving from green reading to speed.
GC: He’s adding speed to the equation?
TT: Yes, he’s studying speed.
GC: Somewhere down the road he’s gonna come out with a new methodology for speed?
TT: And he has.
GC: If someone went to an AimPoint instructor such as you, what they would get is “AimPoint Express”?
TT: I do a private AimPoint green reading class. For groups, I do a two-hour class: AimPoint green reading and speed.
GC: How long does it take to grasp the theory?
TT: Of AimPoint green reading?
GC: Yes? Do you need five lessons? Ten lessons?
TT: It’s designed for you to use this afternoon. Your next tee time.
GC: Once you understand it, it’s something you can practice?
TT: Absolutely. I’ll take you over to the practice green and show you. Like anything, there’s always a little settling-in process of getting totally comfortable, but it’s not 40 days and 40 nights.
GC: With an AimPoint lesson or two – because you don’t have all this full-swing jargon — “clear the hips,” “keep your head behind the ball,” “drop it in the slot,” etc. — it’s something you can grasp fairly quickly?
TT: Fast, quick, and easy. It’s just the green reading. It isn’t the mechanics of putting.
GC: How many students have you taught AimPoint to here in The Villages?
TT: 250 people in two-and-a-half years.
GC: If you were sitting at a bar with a guy and you had to explain AimPoint to him, what would you say?
TT: What makes a putt break? Tilt … side slope. AimPoint puts a value to the slope. That’s what you get in a lesson: methods to put a value to the slope. It’s a feel-based technique, not a visual technique. Let’s go out to the practice green.