Putting by the Numbers – Part Two
Consistent low scores in golf require an ability to make proper putts. At a high level, this means a proper grip, stance, aiming the ball on the intended path and making a smooth putting stroke. This sounds easy but there is more involved than meets the eye, even with short putts.
“I don’t fear death, but I sure don’t like those three-footers for par”
– Chi Chi Rodriguez, Famous Pro Golfer
The Roll of the Golf Ball
The first element of good putting is a clear understanding of golf ball roll. The ball will always roll according to how it was hit, the condition of the green and the laws of physics. I will not magically slow down, break or stop to help you make a putt. It must be hit properly to get the ball rolling on the intended line as quickly as possible. I’ll address the elements of the putt process a bit later.
Ball Roll Dynamics
The biggest influence on ball roll is square-ness of putter impact. If the putter is not square at impact by even a few degrees, the ball can be off path by several inches every 10 feet, even on a flat surface. Golfers must also avoid out-to-in and in-to-out putting strokes as well as any wrist rotation at impact that opens or closes the putter face.
Ball Roll Due to Putter Impact Angle and Wrist Rotation
The ball will also slow down if the greens are wetter and speed up when the greens are dry. The ball will break according to gravity and the speed of the ball. It takes practice to build the skills needed to properly address ball roll.
Get a “Fitted” Putter
A putter is the most used and most neglected club in a golfers bag. Too many golfers underestimate the importance of putting and do not invest in a high quality putter. This trend needs to change as more golfers are discovering “fitted” putters to improve their skills and confidence.
“Before they establish a putting stroke, they have to make sure they get properly fitted for a putter”
– Carol Preisinger, LPGA Top Rated Instructor
Several of the top pros in my book, No 3 Putts, mentioned putters from Dave Edel Golf. Their fitting system provides golfers a putter “fitted” to their putting style and stroke. Some of the variables in the process include putter stance, hosel design, head shape, loft, lie angle, length, shaft style and counterweights, putt lines and some putter bling for appearance. The result is a beautiful putter that works with your putting style to improve your aim and stroke.
Making a Proper Putt
Making a putt depends heavily on setup and making a proper putting stroke. In this section, we look at the key elements of a proper putt. This includes grip, stance, aim and stroke.
“Take time and care to set up, know where to putt and then have the ability to putt it there with a simple mechanical stroke ”
– Becky Dengler, LPGA Master Golf Teaching Professional
Aiming the putt
The first thing in making a putt is to decide where you will hit the ball and how hard to hit it. The best read is from behind the ball looking towards the cup to determine the slopes in the green and how the ball will roll to the cup. You will need to visualize the putt path all the way to the hole. Many pros walk the path between the ball and cup to get a feel of the green. Several of my interviewees provide Aimpoint green reading classes which will take you from “green guessing to green reading”. Properly aiming the putt is a skill that golfers need to spend time learning and practicing to improve their skills.
“90% of the players that come into our shop cannot aim their putter over the hole from 6 feet away”
– Andy Thompson, Top Rated Golf Instructor, Totally Driven Golf
A proper Grip
The grip can make or break a putt. Once on the green many golfers create excess tension by having a very strong grip. This creates excess tension decreases putting effectiveness. If your grip is too tight you lose feel of the putter and the putt. A preferred grip is the interlocking, two handed grip with both thumbs centered on the shaft. A nice easy grip will allow the rest of the body to settle down. Relax, take a breath and maintain an easy grip.
“I asked Sam Snead “How tight do you hold the club?” and he asked back “How tight are you going to hold a baby bird””
– Sam Emerson, PGA Horton Smith Award Winner, Instructor and Club Fitter
A Proper Putting Stance and Alignment
he teaching pros in my book tell me too many golfers have a poor stance with moving heads, arms, legs, hips, etc. The key is to get into your stance, STAY STILL and focus on the putting stroke.
To start a proper stance, place your putter next to the ball with the head of the putter flat on the green. Then use a two handed, interlocking grip with thumbs square on the shaft of the putter. Align your body up over the ball; square feet, hips, shoulders and head. Position your eyes directly over the ball. Once you are in position, DON’T MOVE ANYTHING. A common mistake is eyes inside the ball which can force the putt off the intended path. This is where a fitted putter works in combination with the stance to provide synergy to the stance to improve stability for the putt.
A Proper Putting Stroke
A key to winning is a smooth, consistent putting stroke. This seems easy but requires skill to do it consistently. All of the stance and alignment is setup for executing a proper putting stroke.
The actual putt stroke is a back and forth motion that brings the putter head in square contact to the ball. The distance of the back and forth motion sets the speed of the putt to get the required path of the ball and distance. The putter will travel in a slight arc during the stroke and it is crucial that the contact with the ball be square at impact. The only thing moving during this stroke is your shoulders. The arms and wrists stay in position.
Building the Proper Putt Routine
Everyone has a putting routine and you need to discover and refine your routine for improved putting. The elements above give you a starting point to understanding your routine. The main thing here is to use your routine at your tempo. Too many bad putts are made by golfers ignoring some of the steps above and speeding up to make a quick shot.
In general, a putt routine is taking a good look at the ball path to the hole to properly aim your shot, visualize the path of the ball and determine how hard to hit the ball, set up to the ball and get a proper stance, then make a smooth putting stroke. Focus on making the stroke not making the putt. The ball will either go in or it won’t. Just make the best stroke you can. Make sure you record your 1st putt length and number of putts so you can watch your improvement.
It will take practice to build up these skills and I’ll address practice in my next blog. One way to improve your skills is to watch the pros on weekends. Watch how the do the steps above and see where you can improve. Watch how they aim, their setup, their tempo, etc.
In this 3 part blog series, I will be addressing the importance of putting in the game of golf in an effort to help golfers play better, score lower, have more fun and play more golf. In my next blog, I will address “Making the Putt” and improving key putting skills.