Sink More Putts By Aligning Yourself Correctly

No one expects to make 10-foot putts all the time. Probably the major reason we don’t make as many putts as can be made is that we don’t align ourselves properly. The read was right, the pace was right, but the ball didn’t go in because we didn’t set up in the right direction. Here’s an easy way to get this fundamental down pat.

Any golf ball manufactured today has an arrow drawn on it, off to the side of the manufacturer’s label. This is an alignment arrow. You see the pros lining up their ball with this arrow, even on short putts. It allows the player to see the starting line of the putt better, and provides a baseline on which to square the putterface and align their stance.

Using that arrow is a simple matter, but not a haphazard one. Here’s a procedure that works.

Your ball marker is on the green, and it’s your turn to putt. Put the ball down in front of the marker with the arrow pointing directly at the hole, and leave the marker there. Read your putt. Bend down, pick up the ball, and hold it out at arm’s length so the arrow points along the line you want the ball to start on. No carefully lower your arm so the arrow stays pointing along that line, and place the ball on the ground in front of the marker.

Stand up and step back from the ball. Check to see that the arrow is pointing where you want it to. Correct if necessary. Now you can pick up the marker and take your putting stance. Align your putterface square to the arrow and step into your stance, in that order.

Here are three bonus tips that will help you sink that putt you are so precisely aligned to.

One, look at the hole and visualize the ball falling straight in. Don’t try to see it running all the way to the hole. What the ball does on its way to the hole means nothing. You want the ball to fall in, and that’s all you need to visualize.

Two, you will make more putts that you dreamed possible if you hit them all on the sweet spot. The ball rolls true and the right distance.

Three, set up on a tile floor occasionally to make sure that what you think is a square putterface, really is. I tend to leave mine open a few degrees, which is enough to miss an eight-foot putt on the right edge, so I check this all the time.

See also Knit Your Way to Better Putting

My new book, The Golfing Self, is now available at It will change everything about the way you play.

How Far Do You Hit Your Irons?

The key to scoring in golf is hitting the green with your iron from the fairway. To get on the green, though, the ball has to get to the green. Too many golfers overestimate the distance they hit their irons, leaving their approaches short. To get the ball pin-high you have to know how far you hit each club. Here’s how to find out.

Go out to the course early, before there’s much traffic on the fairways. On a hole that has a level fairway, find the 200-yard marker. On most golf courses that’s a blue cement circle laid into the ground. Walk from it to the 150-yard marker, counting your steps. Now turn around and take half that number of steps back toward the 200-yard marker. You’re exactly 175 yards from the green.

Drop a few balls and hit them with what you think is your 175-yard club. They need to hit the center of the green. Front portion doesn’t count. You want the center. If they land short of that, try one more club. When you hit the center of the green on the fly, or maybe a little beyond, that is your 175-yard club.

Do the same thing on another hole from the 150-yard marker, and again on a third hole from 125 yards. You’ll end up with three distances from which you know which club to use. The important thing is to do this experiment on the course, under playing conditions and with the ball you play with. You can’t figure this out at the range with perfect lies, do-overs, and range balls.

You have eight irons (3-PW), though, so why am I recommending you hit from only three distances? First of all, you found each distance in a precise way, so you know they’re right. Second, these three distances give you all the information you need.

When I tried this, the irons I came up with were 4, 6, and 9. The 4 and 6 were about five yards long, but the 9 was just right. So I determined these three iron/distance combinations by experiment: 4/180, 6/155, 9/125. The remaining clubs can be easily interpolated into that sequence.

Note: If you have hybrid irons in your bag, check them out individually. The intervals between them could be larger than between your traditional irons.

Once you really know how far you hit your irons under playing conditions, you can account for in-between yardages, wind, the lie, elevation changes, and other factors that affect playing distance so that you can start hitting pin-high irons. It will change the way you play the game.


Your Scoring Potential

Do you want to find out how good you really are? Find out what shots you really need to practice? Try this next time you go out to the course. Play a one-man scramble.

Take a mulligan, just one, for every shot you hit that is, well, pretty awful. Give yourself one do-over any time you want. After you’ve hit the mulligan, move on, but to keep things honest, your next shot has to be from where that second ball ended up. It’s not hit and choose. It’s hit and commit (sort of).

Don’t worry about the time this might take. It’s winter, so you can go out solo and not hold anyone up.

Now this is a modified scramble. You don’t have to take a mulligan if you don’t want to. In many cases, you wouldn’t. If you take one every time you miss the green, you never get to test your short game. If you take one when you miss the fairway by a hair instead of 10 yards, you never get to try out how you do from the rough.

This exercise is meant to take you through every aspect of your game, and show you what needs a lot of work, what needs a little work, and what is doing fine.

Here’s how to make this scramble work for you. Odds are the mulligan will be the shot you wanted to hit. Reflect clearly on what you did differently to make the second shot turn out well. It might be a technical point you’re forget from time to time. It might be that your mind was wandering.

Whatever these points are, remember them, because adds are they will crop up again and again during your round.  Your job now is to learn to hit that second shot first, more often, when you can’t take mulligans at the drop of a hat.

The way to do that is to go to the range after you have completed your round. With the clear idea of what you did that make things work still fresh, hit balls emphasizing those things, and those things only. Give yourself immediate and quantitative feedback on the things that make you play your best.

That’s extra time at the course, true, but you don’t have to play 18. You can get the information you want in only nine holes.

What about your scoring potential? Keep two scores for the hole–one score counting all mulligans and one score without mulligans. For example, you hit your drive, and approach that wasn’t so hot, another approach, and two putts. Your scores would be five (counting the mulligan) and four (not counting it).

At the end of the round, the difference between the two total scores is how much you could improve by ironing out the wrinkles in your game.


Villegas DQ’d at Kapalua

Camillo Villegas was disqualified last week for signing an incorrect scorecard. He broke Rule 23-1 and did not know he had. He signed his card without the penalty, and when TV viewers spotting the infraction called in, rules officials determined the viewers were correct and disqualified him. His comment as, “There are a million rules, and no one can know them all.”

The debate crops up once more: should TV viewers be able to phone in violations, and should players be DQed if the notification happens after they have signed their card?

Unlike other sports, where there are rules officials on the spot covering a small area of the field of play, golf is played over 150 acres with only a handful of rules officials acting where requested.

So we expect the players to be the referees their own game. It is asking too much that we also expect them to know the rules we trust them to enforce? What else could we think? The players, though, don’t know the rules. No one is certain if they even care to.

Rocco Mediate is quoted in the January 14, 2011, Golfweek magazine when asked how well PGA players know the rules, on a scale of 1 to 10. “Maybe a 5 — and that’s being nice,” he said. Bubba Watson, who was in the Villegas group, said, “I probably wouldn’t have known that rule, either.”

The issue that tournament officials want to avoid is having to walk the line between ignorance and dishonesty. Is a player truly ignorant of a rule, or just claiming to be so he or she can get away with something?

The way to avoid walking the line is to not have a line. When a rule is broken, and no penalty is taken at the time, whatever penalty the rules provide must be assigned retroactively if the violation becomes known. The question of cheating never gets asked.

We’re left with the fact that the absence of on-the-spot referees means matches are being supervised by people who know less about the rules than guys I play with on Tuesday morning do. Not only that, but even though I’m not a rules maven, and I didn’t know about Rule 23-1 until this issue came up, I do know that when your ball is moving, all you do until it stops is watch it. Couldn’t we expect a world-class professional to have the same amount of sense?

Of course a violation should be phoned in if it is noticed, and relevant penalties applied. One golfer suffers if it does, but the entire sport suffers if it does not.


An Easy and Valuable Swing Drill

There’s a rule of the golf swing that good golfers everywhere apply. Fourteen clubs, one swing. Well maybe not your putter, but no matter what club you have in your hand, use the same swing with it as you use will with all the other clubs.

Golf is difficult game, and a good golf swing is difficult to learn. We all know this. Golf is even harder if we think we need one swing with the short irons, one with the middle irons, one with your long irons/hybrids, and another with your driver. That’s just too much to ask, and thankfully, you don’t have to pay golf that way.

Learn one swing and swing very club with that same one swing. Of course, as you go from longer clubs to shorter clubs, the swing plane changes, but it’s the same swing otherwise.

The foundation club for your swing is the 9-iron. This is an easy club to hit, does not encourage you to swing hard, and is a small swing, which lets you feel very clearly what is going on with your body when you do swing. Practice hitting the 9-iron a lot at the range to build into your head the principles your teaching pro gave you. When you are hitting shot after shot with a 9-iron and smiling every time, you’re ready to extend this swing to the rest of your bag.

Take your 9-, 7-, 5-, and 3-irons or their equivalents in hybrids and fairway woods, and your driver, to the range with you. Warm up with your 9-iron only. Now hit one ball with a 7-iron, imitating your 9-iron swing. Put the 7-iron away and hit another ball with the 9-iron. Now take out your 5-iron and hit a ball, again imitating your 9-iron swing. Repeat with 9-iron and 3-iron, and 9-iron, driver.

So again, your sequence of shots looks like this: 9-7-9-5-9-3-9-D. Work that eight-shot sequence over and over. Every swing you make, no matter which club you’re swinging, should feel like it’s a 9-iron.

On another day you can bring the even-numberd irons and hit 9-8-9-6-9-4-9-2-9-FW.

There’s movie of Ben Hogan hitting irons, shot from a down-the-line viewpoint. A caddy waits in the distance to shag the balls Hogan hits. He works his way from the 9-iron to the driver, and the only way you can tell that he is swinging a different club is that his caddy is in a different place than before. And I mean the only way. The swings are identical.

If you school yourself to hit every club with just one swing, not only will you make the game a lot simpler, you will get this benefit in addition: you will hit the ball better. Too often when we take longer clubs we think we have to take over the shot instead of letting the club do what it was designed to do.

Distance? You will be amazed at how far you can hit a 5-iron if you just let the club do its work. Accuracy? The One Swing concept leads you straight to it.

Try it. I guarantee you will hit the ball better, shoot lower scores, and have more fun.


Golf’s Nine-Shot Drill

Last fall I started a series of golf lessons to move me beyond my self-imposed limits. The instructor told me to do a nine-shot drill: learn to hit each combination of trajectories, high, medium, and low, and combine that with three shot shapes, fade, straight, and draw. That’s nine different shots.

The reason? To unlock my mind from the technical aspects of making a swing and learn instead to visualize a shot and let that visualization be the mental basis of my swing.

Since I’m a high-ball hitter, and fade easily, those shots were pretty simple. But any shot that had to fly lower than normal, or any intentional draw, that was tough.

So I worked on what I knew, and figured out what I didn’t. I came up with four different ways to fade, to find the one that was the most reliable. I knew how to hit a low shot, but didn’t know that I knew. I just didn’t know what a low shot is supposed to look like.

Then there’s the draw. A draw can turn into an ugly hook without notice. It’s here that I would get my double-cross–setting up for a draw and hitting a fade–because deep down I was nervous about it. Until I figured out how.

“Tell me how,” I hear you cry. All right. Here’s how it works for me.

Fade: Set up left of target, clubface aimed halfway between stance and target, swing along stance line.

Draw: Set up at target, aim clubface right of target, swing inside-out to the right of that.

High: Set up with the ball more forward, weight more on the right. Transfer less weight than usual to the left on the downswing. Tends to go left.

Low: Set up with the ball more to the back of center. Use normal weight transfer and follow through low. Also called a knockdown shot. Tends to go right.

If you want to try this drill, you’ll have to experiment with just how big all these adjustments need to be. Hint: less than you think.

There’s no reason anyone who makes solid contact 3 out of 5 times can’t learn to do this, and your everyday straight shot will improve immeasurably, too.

Go ahead. Open up a new world of golf for yourself.


On the Green: Charge or Die?

Over the years, golf philosophers have debated whether a player should charge putts toward the hole or knock them gently up to the cup. Both styles have their advocates with strong records on the green. What should you do? The answer is easy: both.
If you think about it for a moment, it’s easy to see that this is the best strategy. Each putt must be dealt with on its own terms. When you adopt one style, you wind up being good on some putts, but weak on others. Here’s how to decide which approach to take and when.
Start by looking at the length of the putt you face. If you look at a putt and think to yourself, “I can make this,” it’s probably a short putt of 10 feet or under. Your confidence that it can go in needs to be supported by your efforts. Hit this putt hard enough so that when it falls in the ball will hit the back of the cup before it hits the bottom.
What you should be concerned about are small imperfections around the hole, little bumps and dips you can’t see, that will knock the ball off line if it’s traveling too slowly. When you have a makable putt like this, give it every chance to go in. If you miss, you’re likely to have less than two feet coming back. Never up, never in.
Let’s step farther away from the hole now, and look at a putt that you know you don’t have a great chance to make, but you know you can leave close. This could be 20 feet away. Your object is to get down in two. Believe me, that’s all the pros want from here.
This is where you become a die putter. Judging the force of the stroke is more critical from this distance. Running the ball beyond the hole could leave you with a testy putt coming back and now you’re looking at a three-putt green. Just think about hitting this putt up to the hole. If you do, you’ll have an easy tap-in left over, and you’ll be around the hole often enough that some of them will go in.
Go back farther. We should be about 40 feet or more from the hole. Making this putt isn’t even a consideration, and leaving it tap-in close might be to much to ask. Here’s where we adopt a third strategy. Imagine a circle around the hole, maybe lined out in white chalk, about five feet across, and you want your putt to end up inside that circle.
Thinking about the hole from here will get you to thinking too much about direction and not enough about speed. Speed is the only thing you should think about from here once you have a general idea of the line. Having such a large target also serves to take the pressure off making a precise putt from a long way off. With a more realistic goal, there is a greater chance that you will achieve it.
Three kinds of putts, and a different way to think about each one. That’s the way to become a better player on the green.

Golf’s Magic Move Is All in Your Head

In all my investigations of the golf swing, in all my attempts to improve my swing or repeat a workable swing, no matter how many different physical techniques I try, I keep coming back to the same thing. What allows me to play my best golf lies in how I use my mind. Repeating my best swing, applying the techniques I’ve learned, all go through the gate of the subconscious mind, not the conscious mind. Learning to control your conscious mind is how to play the good golf that you are capable of right now.
Look at it this way, and I know you’ve had this experience before. All my golfing friends have, and I know, because I’ve asked them. You go to the range, get your bucket, get warmed up and ready to go. The first ball you pull over, maybe you’re hitting it with a 9-iron. Easy club to hit. You hit that first ball clean and flush, and it goes high and straight, a perfect shot. Maybe the next ball does that, too. But from then on, it’s hit and miss and you never hit one again that’s quite as good as that first shot. Sound familiar?
I’ll tell you what happened. You hit that first shot with your subconscious mind. You were guided during that swing only by what you had stored away about how to swing a golf club, and the result was perfection. After a few balls, though, your golfing brain turns on, and you start to wonder how you can keep doing it, and you look in the wrong place. You look at your body. “What part of my swing technique was responsible for that shot?”
The right question is, “How did I use my mind to hit that shot?” You should have looked at your mind. Go back and review your mental state when you hit your very best shots — the ones you hit maybe once a round that are so good you wonder to yourself, “Where did that come from?” What is in your mind when you hit shots like that is this: Nothing.
I don’t mean that there isn’t anything going on in your mind. I mean there is something going on your mind and the name of that something is Nothing.
When you’re awake, your conscious mind goes full tilt. It is always engaged in gathering information, considering, deciding. When you’re about to hit a golf ball, this is the last thing you want your conscious mind to be doing. It has to do something, though, and what it needs to be doing is Nothing — staying out of the way so the subconscious mind can be in charge. Training your mind to do this on command as you’re about to hit a golf ball is golf’s fundamental skill.
The next time you go to the range and have those marvelous first shots, pay attention to what is going on in your mind when you step up to the next ball. If swing thoughts start coming into your head, if any thoughts at all come into your head, stay there and wait for them go away before you start your swing. Do not start your swing until you have the same feeling of Nothing that you had in that first beautiful swing.
Also, if you are O.K. when you start swinging, but those thoughts appear during your swing, arrest your swing immediately and hold that position. Wait until your mind is clear, then continue your swing from that point. The reason you don’t start over is that you were fine up to that point. If you keep starting over, you’re practicing how to get stuck at the same spot. You learn by staying there until you figure out why you get stuck there and how how to get past it.
This might be frustrating at first, and you might not hit many balls, but stick with it. You are teaching yourself the skill that will let you take your best swing to the course, and make that same swing time after time after time.