Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Your Putting Will Mature

In a Teaching the Teachers presentation, I once heard Hank Haney say the best juniors don't putt as well as the best college players and the best college players don't putt as well as the best pros.  He went on to say that when a parent tells him his kid is a great putter, Haney takes it with a grain of salt, because what he should say is, he's a great junior putter.  After teaching on the PGA Tour, Haney is very familiar with great putters and the skills they possess.

Hank Haney watches Tiger Woods putt.  From www.examiner.com


For the last twenty years, I've watched a lot of golf in recruiting and coaching.  One thing I've noticed is that good ball striking allows players to excel at an early age.  If a young girl can compress the ball and move it long off the tee, she will win tournaments at a young age.  Her ability to compete at a level higher than her age-group will allow her to stand out.  Some good examples of this are Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson.  These players might be great ball strikers, but rarely are they as good as the more mature players on the greens.  They are able to showcase their ball striking skills, but their putting skills often haven't caught up.  They soon get labeled as bad putters and must work to not only offset the slower developing skill of putting, but also the self-perception.

Putting is a skill onto itself.  As Ben Hogan said, "There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground." Putting is also reliant upon more than a player's physical ability; it is reliant upon awareness, judgment and visualization.  If you've been around young adults very much, you know that awareness and judgment are often absent or at the least, hit or miss.  In my opinion, putting requires a skill set that is reliant upon experience and maturity.  It is developed due to necessity in all of the best players and takes resolve and determination to achieve greatness.  It is both a mindset and a skill.  The answer to putting is time, experience, practice and a positive mindset.  Hogan also said, "The only thing a golfer needs is more sunlight."

If this is a common thread in young player's development, the important thing is to understand that we need to notice what is good and positive about the player's putting instead of talking of the missed chances and the misses.  A young player who is a good ball striker is often evaluated on what could have been instead of what was.  The words SHOULD and COULD are spoken in every sentence.  Watch this film of Wie, Thompson and Tseng putting.  All presumably walked away with a par, but what story would you tell after watching it?  What story are the players telling themselves?





The story you tell is important.  Is Wie's story one of opportunity or one of disappointment?  Does Wie have GRIT?  Can she be resilient enough to miss this and walk to the next opportunity with no memory of it and a positive attitude or will she carry the miss with her?  What story is she telling herself?  Champions have a lot of GRIT.  If you want to know more about GRIT, check out this video. After watching the video, ask yourself, will you be the player who emerges as a great putter or will you succumb to believing your past results instead of "sticking with your future, day in and day out and working really hard to make that vision a reality."

When you play golf, you will probably have 18 opportunities to make a putt.  Will you tell yourself stories on each one or will you be able to take a fresh approach and be in the moment over the ball?

Read this account of Lexi Thompson that appeared in ESPNW:  By Mick Elliott | Apr 7, 2014
Special to espnW.com
"Both physically and mentally, Thompson is far beyond her 19 years. She leads the tour in driving distance and is among its best in greens hit in regulation. She now has four career wins and ranks No. 6 in the world.
But no golfer has it all, so, just to keep things fair, Thompson has always fought with a balky putting stroke.
"I'd have a good amount of birdie chances and miss a few and get a little impatient," she admitted.
Otherwise, the general consensus of women's golf insiders has been that little else even hints as being a barrier between greatness."
Lexi Thompson holes a putt.  From www.golfdigest.com


Now move to this account from the  Desert Sun: 




It wasn’t that long ago that Lexi Thompson would leave the golf course in tears. For all of her talent and her ball-striking ability, Thompson just couldn’t get the ball in the cup on the greens.....The statistics back up Thompson’s improved play on and around the greens. In her first three full years on the LPGA starting in 2011, the 19-year-old Thompson had never been in the top 50 on the tour in putts per green in regulation and has never been in the top 100 in putts per round. This season, Thompson is 14th in putts per green in regulation (1.781) and 59th in putts per round (30.31)......

Another change for Thompson is recent months has been trying to give herself a break on the golf course rather than being so tough on herself she breaks into tears over missed putts.
“These last few weeks have been huge for me with Benji (her caddie), and we’ve pretty much laughed our way through a lot of the rounds and just had fun, relaxed, and that’s really when my game comes out the most,” she said. “Like even when I’m just at home playing with my brothers, we’re just having fun, listening to music, and that’s when I play my best.”

Lexi is now a major champion, as is Wie, but they have both battled their own perception of their putting and overcame it to win that major.  If they had played in college and waited four years to join the tour, would their putting have been an issue?  Probably not.  In college golf, we spend a lot of time working with putting.  We talk about speed control, getting the ball on the high side, what to look for in green complexes, how to read slope and most importantly, we encourage our players.  We don't fit them with labels and the press isn't around very much if at all to do it for us.  College players spend four years learning awareness and judgment, the two skills that are often lacking.  With those skills, they will still be behind the pros on tour, but they will be closer than if they joined the LPGA at age 18.

If you are a young player who is a great ball striker, have patience and work hard and your putting will improve.  Keep your head up and work on your awareness.  Have the goal of being the most observant person in the tournament.  You will start to notice how greens are built and where the drains are or how the water flows.  Decide that you will have the best attitude and approach each putt with a freshness that only the most positive person could have.  Know that a putt is both a challenge and an opportunity for you instead of seeing it as chore or being fearful.  If you can do all of this, your putting will improve and you will see more putts fall.  There are no shortcuts and no trackman to give you the numbers.  There is only you, the ball and the moss.

If you are a parent, teacher or coach, listen up.  Quit using the word should after a round.  It isn't appropriate or educational.  Could isn't great either.  If you say to your player, "Wow, you hit it great today, you should have made four or five birdies!" you are simply saying, "You failed!"  What if you replaced that sentence with, "Wow, you hit it great today!  When more putts fall, you will get your score into the 60's and I can't wait to watch that."  It is a positive response that focuses on the possible instead of the failure.  It also gives the message that something can change and lead to better scoring.

Another scenario of a post-round conversation goes something like this:  "If you could have only made your 5-10 footers, you would have really had a great day."  Change that to this:  "You hit it great today.  Let's go to the green and roll some 5-10 footers and see if we can get a feel for them for tomorrow."

Over the years, I've seen a lot of great ball strikers fail to win majors because they didn't do what Lexi Thompson did.  They didn't figure out how to have joy on the putting green and give themselves a break.  They didn't do what Michele Wie did and figure out how to own their strokes and not worry about what others thought.  We can learn a lot from both the struggles these two had and the way they have battled through to the other side.  My thought is, their putting caught up to their ball striking in the most natural of ways, through maturity. 
Michelle Wie putts at the NW Arkansas LPGA event.  From thegolfnewsnet.com


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