Friday, September 12, 2014

Distance Control with the Putter

One of the most important skills to hone as a competitive golfer is the ability to control your distance on the putting green.  When your speed matches the need of the putt, you have a greater chance of making the putt.  That sounds like the most obvious statement possible, but it isn't always understood by players learning to score.  Players are often caught up in the end result of making the putt and they don't always give themselves the best chance.  A putt rolling at the proper speed has a higher chance of falling in.  Here is Masters Champion Jackie Burke showing a great drill for speed control.
He putts three balls at the hole at three different speeds.  The first just drops in the front edge, the second goes in a bit stronger and the last with some pace.  Before you can effectively control your speed from 20 or 30 paces, ask yourself, can you control your speed from 5-10 feet?  Start your practice with this exercise.  It is great for visualization, decision making and speed control.

Now, take the same idea to a 10 feet breaking putt and pay attention to where you need to play the first ball that barely gets to the hole.  It takes a different aim point than the final putt that goes in with pace.  I love it when Mr. Burke tells Steve that only bad putters hit the back of the cup.  The reason a golf professional who has won a major would tell you that is, there are few straight putts in this world.  If you are playing a putt with break and hit the back of the cup, it will generally spin out or pass by the hole over the lip.  Anyone can match speed and break if they hit it hard and straight, but that is a risky way to live as a golfer.  If you want to score with your putter, you will learn to match your speed and break and see the ball fall into the hole, not hit the back of the cup.

When you feel good about controlling your speed from 5 feet and then on a breaking putt from 10 feet, move back to 20 feet.  Break the putt into two sections and understand that the first 10 feet will have some break to it, but the second 10 feet will be more pronounced, because the ball will be traveling at a slower pace.  Here is a drill to help you make more putts from 20 feet.  Put a quarter on the green at the half way point of a 20 footer just inside the point you believe the putt needs to travel. Roll some putts on the line at 2 speeds.  The first with the putt barely making it to the front of the cup and the second putt with pace that will carry the putt about 2 feet past the cup.  Was the quarter in the right spot for both putts?  This drill will help you understand how important speed control is in the art of green reading.  Now do the same for a 30 footer with the putt broken into three equal sections.

Here is a game that is great for making more long putts:
Putt 15-45 footers.  If the ball goes in, you get 5 points.  If it is high side and past the cup, you get 3 points and another if you make the next putt.  If it is low side and past the cup, you get 1 point and another if you make the putt.  If you are short, you get 0 points, but you can earn one if you make the next putt.  Play to 21 and move around and play another teammate after each match. 

We played this game at practice on Tuesday and then on Thursday, we moved the distance to 10-30 feet.  Our goal is to learn to get the ball to the high side and give it the best chance of going in.  You can leave a putt short and be much closer to the correct speed than if you run it past, but for the drill, we are still focused on giving the ball a chance to go in.  You can play this game alone and play to a total.

Here are some things that great putters do well.
1.  Steady head.  Speed control is reliant upon a consistent motion.  If your head moves through the shot, your center is disrupted and you will lose the feel of a pendulum stroke.  A steady head may seem like a mechanical fix, but it is usually a result of where your intention is when you putt.  Keep your intention on something abstract, such as the black dot that replaces the ball after it rolls or a little song in your head as you putt and your attention will be in the now instead of in the future on the result.  It's obvious to your mind that you want to make the putt, so let it go and find a softer place to go with your mind over the ball.
2.  Roll vs. hit.  Great putters roll the ball.  The ball is struck with a motion that is smooth, flowing and rhythmic. 
3.  Acceptance.  Watch the greats putt on Sundays and you will see plenty of putts that get away from the pros.  They watch it calmly and are preparing for their next putt.  When I watch young players, I often see a lack of acceptance which doesn't prepare them for a calm and focused effort on the next putt.  Ask yourself if you are watching your putt roll or if you are judging yourself for the putt you just made?  

Here are some of the best putting or sharing their secrets:
David Leadbetter on length of stroke
In Bee Making Putts (A+ speed control)
Faxon on being instinctive
Nike pros on putting (don't do it all, pick out what helps you!) Also, notice that no one talks about results in this clip.
Gary Player on Putting (learn to listen)
Seve Holes an Incredible Putt

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