Putting, the part of the game with the simplest stroke mechanics but one of the most frustrating to score well on. Overtime, the expectation of making putts from all distances inside 20 feet with less than the desired result can cause a drop in confidence and eventually the yips. Part of the issue is that we are too hard on ourselves when most of the putt is out of our control.
Short game is one of the main areas where you can reduce your score. Count how many putts you take per round for 3 months and aim to find your miss patterns and improve them. The more you practice the luckier you will be.
There are 2 types of putting practice:
- Target oriented
- Stroke Mechanics
When practicing putting you should only ever work on either the target or the stroke mechanics.
You should only practice your putting for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, after that you can lose focus easily and physically the putting posture puts a strain on the body. The putting posture strength needs to be built up over time.
This is purely just practicing hitting to a target.
I believe in straight line putting (every putt is a straight putt), as it has 2 advantages:
This takes the focus off the hole as the hole is never the target (it gets in the way) and it allows a consistent stroke with no manipulation of the hands. To find your authentic stroke, record yourself putting with your eyes closed.
- Putting to make putts –
Set out 6 balls 3 feet around a hole using tees to mark the distance. Treat each putt as if it were in a competition. Rehearse your pre-shot routine, read the putt, set up to the ball, and make the putt. When you have made all 6 putts 5 times without missing one you are finished. If you miss one you must start again – this brings pressure and focus into the practice.
- Practicing distance control –
There are several drills for this. One would be to take 5 tees and put one down to mark your starting point. Every pace (3 feet) put down another tee so by the end you have markers from 3-12 paces. If the putting green is longer you can use the fringe as another final point. Take 4 balls and practice rolling each ball to a stop at the distance of the first tee. Do this for 3 rounds then move onto the next tee. Keep a record of your groupings (photo) to see the improvement over the weeks. This practice builds feel on 2 keys of putting – Pace and distance control with some pressure if you are recording results.
- Start line –
One of the keys of putting, having read the green and picked your start line, you must have the confidence to be able to roll the ball on the chosen line. Put a tee down as your starting point and place a coin 3 to 4 foot away. The objective is to be able to roll the ball over the coin. Set a target of 10 balls in a row that roll over the coin, if you miss you start again. This again requires practice of your pre shot routine, set up and incorporates pressure to the practice.
You can practice the above on side slopes to make it more challenging and always step away before hitting the next ball to practice the routine.
Stroke mechanics practice is vital for consistency in set up, consistency of strike, putter face control and confidence in execution.
- Putting Posture –
Practice getting into the correct position each time is vital for consistency. Find a wall with a skirting board. Get into your putting posture placing your head against the wall and putter against the skirting board. This corrects your head position by placing your eyes over the ball and gives you the feeling of a quiet head movement – any swaying of the body will be felt straight away. Practice the putting stoke where the putter stays close to the skirting board on the back and through swing but do not hit the skirting board. This will highlight if you are swinging in a loop or too far on the inside or push to the outside through impact. Also check that your feet are set up square (equal distance away from the wall). To be in the bio-mechanically correct position for a straight back straight through swing, your thoracic and cervical spine should be parallel to the ground.
- Aim –
Aiming or pointing the putter is another key in putting. This requires control of the putter face to square it up at impact to the intended target line. Using the putting mirror alignment aid shows where the putter should be at set up. Using a ball with a line on it, pointing straight at the target will show if you are striking the ball square at impact. You will know when the ball is rolling end over end as it will show a continuous line. If the line is erratic there is side spin on the ball.
- Swing tempo –
The tempo of the swing is vital for distance control consistency. Practice a swing which has a smooth acceleration through impact. For long putts lengthen the back swing for better feel, control, and consistency of strike. You can use a metronome to experience a rhythmical tempo.
Green reading starts as you approach the green, 80 yards away. Check to see if the front of the green is lower than the back and which side is higher (left side or right side). This will give a general indication as to what way the slope is running.
- After marking the ball, walk around the ball going to the low side walking beside your intended line to the back of the hole, then walk back to the ball on the high side. This will give an indication if it is downhill/uphill and what way the slope is running. The putter is not allowed to touch the green near the intended line that the ball will be rolling on. Use your hand to remove any debris on the line.
- After deciding on the line, you want the ball to roll on, place the ball down with the pre-marked line on it pointing in the direction of your start line (not the apex – highest point of break).
- Standing in line (behind the ball) or parallel (side of the ball) to the start line, have a couple of practice swings while looking at the hole. This will give you an instinctual, intuitive feel for distance and if the stroke is long enough to hit the ball that required distance.
- Set up to the ball and take a couple of looks at the hole. On the last look at the hole as your eyes return to the ball, start your back swing. This is putting by reaction. The longer you stand over the ball, the more you putt from memory which is less accurate then reacting to what you are looking at. A dart or basketball player look at the target and react to the distance, putting is the same.
There are many important parts of putting, pace, green reading, face control and putter path. The best approach is to be confident. Commit to the decision you have made and do not react if it misses. There are so many external variables that can cause a putt to miss. You must aim to do your best in the pre-shot routine and focus on rolling the ball. As soon as the ball leaves the club face, it is out of your control.
Putting is largely out of your control so we should not be so hard on ourselves once we have followed our pre-shot routine and committed to the decision.
The Green – The surface of the green, regardless of how well manicured, is full of high and low points which affect the direction the ball rolls. The ball jumps and bounces as it makes its way to the intended target. The type of grass can cause a ball to run quicker or slower depending on the direction it is growing. Small impediments can cause a ball to go offline which we may not have noticed before striking the ball.
The Ball – We assume that every ball is a perfectly balanced sphere with a dimple pattern but, very few golf balls are perfectly round or perfectly balanced. If you were to roll a ball on a perfectly flat surface (levelled snooker table), it can go offline due to the ball being weighted more on one side or due to the slight shape distortion of the ball.
The Wind – The wind can have a big influence on the ball, especially in high winds. With putting it can cause a ball to run out more than expected (downwind), pull up a lot shorter (into the wind) and move offline to the side (crosswind). The wind in some cases needs to be factored into the read of the putt as it can have such a big influence on how the ball is going to move. Which can sometimes counteract the effect of a side slope.
Debris – Debris like leaves, papers, seeds, muck etc can greatly affect how the ball will roll and can be seasonal like in autumn or always a possible issue like another player that dropped packaging from their mid round snack. All debris should be removed as to not affect the roll of the ball.
Bugs/Insects – Small insects and bugs should be looked out for as they can be the difference between success and a frustrating miss. The line you intend the ball to travel should be looked at and any little bugs or insects should be carefully moved as to not harm them or knock the ball off its line.
Rain – In Ireland, this is a common occurrence with the rain affecting both the ball and the green speed. Depending on the level, it can drastically reduce the speed of a putt and if the putter face is wet, it can reduce friction causing inconsistencies with strike.
The grip – There are so many types of grips that people have tried out over the years and you should be encouraged to try them out to see if one suits you better than the one you are currently using. Also, the Grip thickness that is on the putter itself plays a big roll in how the putter is released so it is very beneficial to take the time to find your release pattern and match the grip thickness that best matches your natural pattern.
The Putter – There are so many types of putters which release and swing differently. Some are high in forgiveness and alignment while others focus on feel. The putter head shape can cause you to aim left, right or centre of the intended target. Time should be taken to find out what combination of shape and shaft bend suits you visually so you know you will be set up online to your target. Other areas to consider are, swing weight, length, loft, offset, alignment, insert, grip thickness, counterbalance, and colours.
Ball alignment line – There was study carried out to determine which colour was most noticeable against the green grass on a white ball to use for alignment. The most noticeable colour was red. Try this colour out on your golf ball to see how it suits you. A point to note is that depending on your head position in relation to your start line, the line can look left or right of the target as you address the ball.
Training aids – There are a huge amount of training aids available to help with your putting weather it if for stroke mechanics, alignment, feel, distance control etc. If you feel you need help with this part of the game, to save yourself time, it is highly recommended to get a lesson so you know exactly what you need to work on and what training aids would be most beneficial to you. Using the wrong training aid can enhance the issue or create new bad habits when the issue could have been easily corrected.
Having taken all the above into consideration it is a miracle that any ball ever finds its intended target. The professionals play on near perfect greens, with green reading maps, highest quality balance checked golf balls, best conditions, have hours of practice with custom equipment and all the latest technology which gives them vital feedback of what is happening during their stroke and still they can miss what seems to be the simplest of putts. The psychology of putting is massive with numerous tools that can add joy back into the part of the game.
So, the next time you miss a 12-foot putt that you expected to make, think of all the external influences that can cause a putt to miss and ask yourself if you did all you could with what you could control. The pre-shot routine, commitment to your start line decision and a committed stroke with a neutral or positive attitude, if you did, then the outcome does not matter as most of the putt is subject to multiple external factors while rolling on an imperfect surface. Always aim to learn from each putt taken so the next time you are faced with a similar putt you will have more confidence and knowledge which increases your chances of making the next one.