Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Art of Putting

As I recruit and watch countless rounds of golf each summer, I'm struck by how young players react to their mistakes with the opposite approach of how they should. By that I mean that they don't understand the mistake that led to a dropped shot, but focus on a different skill.  Here is one example that is very common:

A player has a 35 footer for birdie on a par 3.  She runs it 10 feet past the cup in her attempt for birdie.  She misses the 10 footer coming back and settles for bogey.

That is what I see as an observer.  A player had poor speed control and three putted.

Here are the things that might be happening, but it would only be a guess on my part.

Desire or Try:  The player wants the birdie so much that she thinks only of making it, but not of the speed the putt needs to travel. 

Awareness:  The player might or might not have noticed it was downhill or downgrain.  

Fear:  The player might be fearful of the 10 feet coming back and thinking of results and 3 putts instead of making the putt.  

Caution:  The player might be putting the second putt "not to miss" instead of putting to make it.  

Worry:  The player might be worried about what her dad, coach, playing partner, etc. thinks of her poor putting instead of being focused on getting the ball in the hole.  

This is my twentieth year of recruiting and coaching and in that time, I've seen countless players 3 putt.  I've also seen some great putters.  The difference between great young putters and poor putters is generally not the quality of their putting strokes.  Almost all of the young players I watch now have been taught, coached and drilled to have a good putting stroke.   However, in the scenario we started the blog with, most young putters are upset that they can't make a 10 footer and will immediately go to the side of the green and grind on their strokes.   The differences between great young putters and poor putters are generally these three things:  Awareness, Adjustments, Attitude. 

You have to be able to judge whether a putt is uphill or downhill prior to hitting it.  Once judged, you have to take the slope into account as you visualize the speed you will need to roll the ball.  This skill is very poor in junior golf and often in college golf, too.  In addition to judging the speed the ball needs to travel, you have to add to that the break and how that will effect the roll.  This isn't something you learn putting 100 putts from 5 feet.  This is something that is learned with one ball and a lot of movement around the green.  Let go of the idea that real practice means lots of repetition and buy into the idea that awareness is learned through trial and error using one ball and paying attention.

If you want to be a great putter, you need to be able to control the roll of  your ball on fast greens like Augusta or slow greens like St. Andrews.  You can't love one more than another and you have to know that you're in charge of the ball's speed and being in charge is fun.  When you practice putting, find a hole on a slope and putt a few balls from 20 feet up the slope and 20 feet down the slope.  Get all the balls to stop within a foot of the hole.  Now go to the sides and do the same. Young players are constantly short on uphill putts and past on downhill putts.  They allow the slope to control their ball instead of being in control themselves.  

Great putters learn from every single trip to a green.  Each putt is data into their computer for use in a future situation.  In the first scenario, they wouldn't beat themselves up for missing a ten footer, because they know that the problem was in the pre-shot routine and their failure to note the speed the ball needed to travel to end in or next to the hole.  Their attitude of confidence and a learner's mindset extends to each moment on the golf course, not just the general idea of learning the game.

If you want to become a great putter, you will need to work on your stroke, but you will also have to work on your awareness, your adjustments and your attitude on the greens.  You will have to be in complete control of these skills at all times if you want to win tournaments.  
Zach Johnson (Golfweek)

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