Thursday, March 10, 2011

Putting on an Arc

What skills do you need to putt well?  First, you need to be able to start the ball rolling on the line needed.  Second, you need to be able to put the proper pace on the ball so it rolls to the hole and falls in.  Third, you need to be able to understand how slopes and grain effect the pace and line so you can match what is needed to what you do.  Anyone who understands and practices these three skills can be a great putter.

In order to start the ball rolling online, you need to know how to aim and how to swing the putter and square the face up to the line.  Aiming is hard for a lot of people and I believe it is because they are trying to aim from unnatural positions.  If you were asked to stand and face the hole and roll your golf ball to the hole with your dominant hand, would your aim be a problem?  Probably not.  If you could stand and roll the ball, your shoulder would be right over the aim line so you could just swing your arm along that line.  That would be the most logical approach if you rolled the ball with your hand.  Let's say you now have to turn your body and face the line instead of the hole.  The movement gets more complicated.  You have to swing your arm across your body, but your chest will be in the way, so you need to bend and tilt a bit.  Suddenly, you are skewed to the aim line.  This is essentially what happens to us when we putt.

Your ability to aim is effected by your balance and the levelness of your eyes.  The best place to aim your putt is when you are standing behind the ball, prior to walking into it.  Some people choose a point to roll the ball over and keep it in mind as they approach the ball.  Others simply see where they want the ball to go.  This portion of the pre shot routine for putting causes a lot of unneeded stress.  I have students who do some sort of pirouette around the ball holding their putter in place and others who meticulously align a line on their ball to the hole.  I believe these folks are not giving themselves much credit.  All of us are born with an intuitive sense of our surroundings.  Once you take a good look at something, your mind is very aware of its position and your eyes will instantly go to that point when you focus on it.  Think of a shortstop fielding a grounder deep in the hole, coming up with the ball, spinning and throwing to first.  How did he know where first was?  Or a basketball player posting up with her back to the basket.  How is she able to turn and shoot without a laborious process of alignment?  Choose your aim line from behind the ball and simply go and line the putter up to that line.  Trust yourself.  That trust will go a long way toward becoming a great putter, while fooling around with minutia over the ball breeds doubt.  Remember, your mind will allow you to maintain your aim point throughout your pre shot, but if your mind wanders from the aim point to the hole, your aim will probably skew to the hole, so make sure your focus stays on where the ball needs to start rolling.

Starting the ball on line is the next step.  Your putter face needs to be square to the line each and every time you putt.  There is a lot of talk these days about putting on an arc, letting the putter swing to the inside, squaring up and swinging back to the inside after impact.  I think it is important to remember that all putters swing on an arc.  The straight back and straight through putters' arcs swing up and down, while Utley's arc swings in and out.  The path that your putter swings on doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that you can square the face of the club up each and every time you putt.  If one path or another makes that easier, than use it, but the truth lies in where the face of your putter looks at impact.
When I teach a beginner to putt, I tell them to envision two eyes in their putter faces.  The goal is to get these eyes looking dead at the aim line when they putt.  Next time you are on the putting green, lay a dime on the green, put a golf ball about a foot away and see if you can putt and roll your ball over that dime.  This will give you an idea if you are starting the ball where you are aimed.

Pace is a lot like aiming in that most people don't allow themselves to simply see what they need to do and do it.  Golf is an athletic sport and all of us are athletic enough to swing a putter and produce the correct amount of speed needed to roll a ball a given distance.  We get into trouble when the brain gets in between the eyes and the hands.  One way to learn to let your hands react to what your eyes see is to practice by looking at the hole as you putt.  Try this on short putts as well as long putts and your hands will soon make the adjustments needed to create the correct pace for all lengths of putts.

My February 28th blog, Reading Greens Like a Kid, is a good one to help you understand how to read greens.  The third skill of understanding the effect of slopes and grain is an important one, especially if you travel a lot.  If you play a home course every day, you will begin to memorize the greens and this skill becomes less important to you.  When you put all three skills together, you can become a great putter.  Great putting does so much for a golf game.  It alleviates pressure while poor putting adds pressure.  Great putting sends you to the next hole in a good frame of mind while poor putting is often carried into the next tee shot.  Great putting covers many mistakes while poor putting multiplies mistakes.  If you could choose only one golf skill at which to shine, putting would be the most logical choice.  

Don't talk about putting, just do it! Check out this study.

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