For those of you that play the game, you’re probably familiar with the old saying, “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough.” In an era when distance, in the way of a $500 driver, is the biggest focus on the game, I challenge everyone that the old saying is as true as it has ever been. It’s proven each week on all Professional Tours that distance is not everything…just ask Bryson. Getting the ball in the hole consistently can only be done with one club-the putter. (Well at least most of the time!)
The greatest players of all time possessed the highest level of skills in distance, ball striking, chipping/pitching and of course putting. Whether you know it or not, the two greatest players of all time, Jack, and Tiger (in my opinion) were amazing with the flat stick. Both had an extreme amount of confidence in all aspects of their games, including negotiating the greens of the toughest courses in the world. One of my favorite quotes in all of golf is from the Golden Bear himself, “I never missed a putt in my mind.” I’ll speak more about the confidence and the mindset of approaching putting later but rest assured, the best putters in the game had to start somewhere, and that ladies and gentlemen is what I offer here.
Some Fundamentals First
Posture & Setup
I’m constantly asked by students on how to setup to the ball. “Am I too far away? Too close? Should I choke up on the club?” All valid questions without a doubt. Getting into a comfortable posture position is the beginning of becoming a better putter.
-Stand as vertical as you can with the putter held at “belt buckle” height. Extend your arms away from you at the same height but keep your biceps against your torso. If you’re doing this correctly, the club and your arms are perfectly parallel to the ground.
-From there, bend from the waist only. Let the club touch the ground without any knee bend.
-Next, comfortably get some knee bend avoiding a sitting position. With a slight spine angle and knee bend, your arms should hang freely under you and put you in a great posture position!
Stance & Ball Placement
-For now, I’m going to suggest that with respect to how far apart your feet should be, let’s stick with “Shoulder Width” A shoulder width stance works well for a lot of golfers.
-Ball placement within your stance should be “forward.” Not middle of the stance and never back in your stance. Picture the ball in line with your heart underneath your eyes.
-A forward ball position encourages the ball to roll off the club face at impact versus one that jumps into the air. This is important for both speed and direction of the putt. (We’ll talk about that more in a minute.)
-You’ll see many different types of golf grips on TV or in magazine articles. The key thing to remember is that gripping the putter is not like gripping another club used for a full swing.
-I like to see the thumbs of both hands down the center of the shaft with your hands connected. I use the “cross hand” or “left hand low” grip myself which simply means even though I am a right-handed player, I hold the club as if I were left-handed. I do this because this allows me to hold the club more stable during the stroke as well as hitting the ball too hard with my right hand. A lot of tour players, both men and women, use this grip.
-Golfers should experiment with different putting grips to find what’s most comfortable but more importantly, what works best for you!
Your target on the putting green is almost never the hole itself. Most putts break to the left or right to some degree with a very small percentage going dead straight. As you consider which way the ball is going to roll when struck, you’ll need to set up properly.
-Get your feet, hips, and shoulders in line to where you want the ball to start rolling. This is called our “target line”. Getting square to the target line with your body is key to getting the ball to roll in the direction you want it to go.
-Once you have established good body position, set your club face to that same line as both your feet and your club head are perpendicular to your target line. Now imagine a straight line that runs infinitely from your target back through to the ball and then directly behind the ball. This line is what I refer to as “straight back and straight through”. This, folks, is the desired line of target that the putter head should follow. In other words, the club head should not travel inside or outside when making a complete putting stroke.
The Putting Stroke
I could write a book on putting but for now I’ll spare you all the intricate details of stroking the ball and simplify it the best that I can. Now that we have our grip, stance, ball & head position, and aim, it’s time to practice putting the ball.
-I firmly believe in a ‘Pre-Shot Routine’ for all golf shots, but especially for putting. Do the same routine regardless of the length or difficulty of the putt. This involves:
-Taking at least two practice strokes while looking at your target. This is good for the brain and to get an idea of how hard you should hit the putt.
-Visualize the ball going into the hole. You may have heard the saying “see your shot” for full swings but trust me this works well for putting also. The first key to gaining confidence on the green is to make more putts. I believe this is where it starts!
-When addressing the ball, place the club directly behind the ball and in the middle of the club face. Take a quick look at your target one last time and, without hesitation, look back down at the ball and make your stroke.
-As you strike the ball, practice keeping your head down to watch the club head go back, through to the ball, and then to the follow through position. Simply turn your head to the left or to the right to watch the ball roll.
Some Common Mistakes
As a teaching professional for the last 18 years, I given my fair share of putting lessons. From beginners to high level players, there are some common mistakes that golfers make on a consistent basis when their putting goes awry.
-Bracing for Impact- It’s not enough to just “hit” the ball in any part of the game. I see the putting stroke as a very small full swing. The club head must continue to accelerate through the ball and not stop at impact.
-Head Movement- Keeping the head still while looking at the ball is very important to making the stroke you want to make versus one where everything starts to move up.
-Wrist Action- Perhaps one of the most important topics to consider in this article is that when one hand becomes to dominate in the putting stroke, the ball is struck with too much power and/or is hit away from the intended line of target. The biggest reason that I putt left-hand low is because it allows me to take the wrists out of the equation and to make my putting stroke, what many of you probably already know, a Pendulum motion where neither hand is hitting at the ball, BUT MY SHOULDERS ARE SWINGING THE CLUB! In future blogs I will be discussing hitting at the ball versus making a proper golf swing.
-Speed vs. Direction- Repeatedly I ask all my students what is more important, speed or direction? More often than not they choose direction as the correct answer. The answer is SPEED. Don’t get me wrong, direction (line of target) is certainly part of making more putts, but without the proper speed we put ourselves in a three-putt situation or one where making a par or birdie is impossible because we either hit it too hard or not hard enough. Generally, we can tell which way a putt is going to break, but without good speed, they’re not going to find the bottom of the cup!
The Importance of “Feel”
The golf swing and the putting stroke are learned. They are taught to golfers through professional advice, on-line videos and in golf magazines. We learn the game by watching, listening, and then practicing. The practice part is where you develop feel. The kinesthetics (the physical activity) part of the game is the one that I feel is most important for all golfers.
Before you, you have an entire article on how I approach putting fundamentally. Feeling the difference between a good putting stroke and one that might be flawed can only be determined kinesthetically. What do I mean? Simple, I want everyone reading this article to try this drill at least once. You can do this anywhere and with or without a ball.
•Select a target- In my house it’s either an inverted tee or one of my son’s action figures.
•Set up to the ball, using a pre-shot routine and visualize the putt you’re about to make.
•Look back down at the ball (or imaginary ball) and right before you start to make that stroke, CLOSE YOUR EYES!
Are you taking the club away with your shoulders and not your hands?? Are you decelerating the club head or are you making a smooth golf stroke versus hitting at the ball? Is the club head traveling straight back and straight through? Is your lower body stable and not moving in any way? Are you using too much of your wrists? Is your head remaining still? Do you feel your core muscle tighten? (It should by the way) Do you feel like you have the proper speed with which to stroke the ball? I can guarantee you by simply not looking at the ball, you will be much more in tune with what it feels like to make a great putting stroke!
The key to having more confidence as a putter is to make more putts. That’s why the great ones put so much time into the art of putting. I hope that this information helps you to become a better putter and to knock three to four putts off your score…how great would that be?
In the words of the legendary teacher Harvey Penick. “A good putter is a match for anyone. A bad putter is a match for no one.”
Written by: Duane Lent
To register for our instructional clinics or lessons with Duane visit us at https://www.honeybrookgolf.com/duane-lent