Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Art of Putting

If there is one skill that you could choose to make yourself a great golfer, putting is the obvious choice.  Judging by how most golfers allocate their practice time, most would choose to be a great ball striker.  How you manage your practice time is a clear indication of the importance you place in each skill required to play good golf.  Two perennial club champions at Vail GC are Todd Novak and Claudia Ruoff.  Todd is a new father and laments the practice time he has lost.  However, I often see Todd sneak out for an hour on the putting green.  Of all the skills needed to play good golf, he is clear on the one he wants to keep sharp.  The same can be said for Claudia, who carries her putter in her car all summer in case she gets a free hour to roll some putts.  I would guess that club champions around the country are aware of what to focus on when given some time to practice.


What makes a great putter?  Here are the elements of a great putter:

1. Confidence
2. Vision and green reading
3. Speed control on any length putt
4. Ability to aim well
5. Athletic
6. Non-reactionary

Have you played golf with a great putter?  She knows she has a shot to make every putt she looks at and when it doesn't happen she is surprised, but unfazed.  That is confidence and it shows.

Great putters see what the ball needs to do from the putter to the hole.  They envision not just break, but speed prior to rolling the ball.  This keeps them totally into the moment and out of mechanics or result thinking.

Speed control is the basis of being a great putter.  I have seen players at the highest level who weren't experts on speed control within 15 feet of the hole.  This inability makes putting streaky, makes it tough to make putts on bumpy greens, and makes reading short putts a guessing game.  Great putters can stop the ball on a dime from any distance and that makes everything about putting so much easier.  

A crucial skill is to aim well and have the ball start where you are aimed.  If you aren't good at this, it would be a good starting point to practice.  All you need are two irons and a hole to set up aiming rails and get some repetitions. 

How can athleticism be important on the putting green?  First, an athletic posture allows for hours of practice, but a contrived, stooped set up will make your back sore in 15 minutes.  Second, athletes allow their eyes to speak to their hands.  What I mean by that is, athletes act on what they see without allowing too much analysis to creep in.  There is a freedom to their movements.  Doubt, hesitation, fear or wariness don't enter the mind of an athlete.

Non-reactionary could be used to describe all phases of a great players game, but especially putting.  Great putters act on what they know and see.  What I mean by that is, they don't react to previous misses, fellow competitors putts or severe conditions.  Poor putters will often leave one short, run one by, leave one short, run one by, etc.  Instead of acting on what they see in front of them, they instead carry around an inventory of previous putts and react to them.  Dave Stockton, who is known as a great putter, said in his book Putt to Win that he never watched his fellow competitors putt.  He trusted his own experience and ability more than what he saw from others putting.  The last condition that causes reactions is severeness on the greens.  Big slopes, extreme quickness or tiers cause players to react and lose their normal process.  Great putters pick a speed and aim point that matches what they see.  They make adjustments and continue to let their eyes talk to their hands.

(You might notice I haven't included any mechanics or how to's in this list.  Those things are for another blog or for a private lesson).
Now that you know the elements needed to be a great putter, your practice time should reflect these.  Anyone can become a great putter.  It takes a strong mindset, the ability to not become bored with practice and good eyes. In case you don't believe me, check out this video.

Getting a putter fitted to your set up is very beneficial as is a lesson to make sure your stroke is simple, efficient and repeatable.  There is no room for recovery in such a small motion, so your putting stroke needs these qualities.  Good luck and you can get started now, whether the green is open or not.  Putting on carpet is okay!

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