Mark Sweeney has putting down to a science. A science complete with rulers, Stimpmeters, grass grains and green charts. If a putt is within 20 feet of the hole, Sweeney believes there is a scientific way to get the ball to go in. It figures Sweeney would take a scientific approach to golf. He has a technology background and is the inventor of AimPoint Technologies, which is used on Golf Channel broadcasts to show the exact break of a putt as the player is hitting it. That technology has been in use since 2007, and since then Sweeney has given seminars on how easy it is to read a green. He even worked with Vijay Singh at the Players Championship this season. His technology is based on the theory that greens have slope and all break the same way water runs downhill. If a player circles the hole and finds the proper slope, he can tell how much the ball will break and make more putts. Sweeney has even made a chart to help. "Think of a clock around the hole,'' Sweeney said. "Find six o'clock, find how far your ball is from that, look at the chart and then get your break from that.''
Sweeney, who lives in the Orlando suburb of Celebration, has always been an avid golfer.
"I'm a 10 handicap, but it's not because of putting,'' he said. "I average about 29-30 putts per round. I just spray it around before I get on the green.''
And he has always tried to figure things out. He said he was watching the British Open a few years ago and noticed players were misreading the same type of putt. He figured there had to be a way to accurately read a green, especially on putts from 20 feet and closer. He eventually came up with the AimChart.
His theory is that all greens have slope to allow water to drain. If not, golf course superintendents would have to replace the greens every year. By circling the hole to find where water drains, a golfer can determine where 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock are on the green. He then can find where his ball is on the clock, consult the chart and find out how much break to play.
"Instead of reading the putt, you want to read the green,'' Sweeney said. "We're trying to find drainage, from high to low. You want to first find the straight, uphill putt. Then, every putt on the right side of the hole from that will break right to left, and everything on the left side of that will break left to right. The farther you are away from that line, the farther the ball breaks.''
The chart has two sides. There are readings for an eight on the Stimpmeter and readings for 10. A Stimpmeter measures how fast a green is by rolling a ball at the same speed.
"Take a 5-foot putt and see how it breaks,'' Sweeney said. "If it breaks an inch, you're playing an eight; if it breaks 3 inches, you're playing a 10.''
For example, if you're playing a green that is 8 on the Stimpmeter and you are 20 feet away and at 9 o'clock on the green, your putt will break 12 inches. If you are at 4 o'clock and 15 feet away, the break will be 9 inches. It's all right there on the pocket chart.
"If you know your eight-iron or seven-iron goes 150 yards, then putting should be the same,'' Sweeney said. "The idea is not to memorize numbers; the idea is to read the green properly and be aware of the angle you're putting to the hole. If you know your angle, then you can predict pretty accurately how much the ball is going to break.''
A more complicated extension of the AimChart is the AimPoint, which is what the Golf Channel uses during some of its broadcasts. It shows the spot where the golfer stands and a blue dotted line that indicates the route the ball needs to take to find the hole.
Sweeney factors in grain, Stimpmeter readings and even wind speed before laying down the line.
"We'll go out to a course and we'll laser scan five or six holes,'' Sweeney said. "We'll choose the ones with the most severe contours. The line is based on a three-D model of the green and physics.''
Sweeney said he had been working on AimPoint for about five years before the Golf Channel decided to use it. He hopes other major networks will use it in the future for their broadcasts.
For now, Sweeney continues to travel to courses around the country teaching the AimChart to anyone who will listen. He was recently at St. Petersburg Country Club talking to about 50 members and guests.
His mission is to help golfers make more putts and limit the dreaded three-putt.
"The focus is really on 20 feet and in,'' Sweeney said. "You get outside of that and you're pretty much on your own. You should probably work on your irons a little more, in that case. But the idea is that inside 20 feet, the grain is actually consistently the same on every hole.''