Category Archives: putting

Consistent Putt Speed

We all know how critical the right speed is in reading a putt we think we can sink.  The speed of the putt refers not to how hard you hit the ball, but how fast it is rolling when it gets to the hole.  To be a consistent green reader, you have to be able to make that speed be the same regardless of how long the putt is.

Once you have picked out your favored speed, generally fast enough to let a missed putt roll from 12-18″ past the hole (but pick one distance, say 15″), and practice how to to make the ball approach the hole at that speed consistently.

The drill below shows you how to do that.

Look At the Hole When You Putt

I know, you’ve heard this from your kooky friends who are always trying something different.  You look at your target when you throw something, so why not look at the target when you putt?

Answer: because nobody putts that way.

Case closed.

Well, let’s give that idea one more look.

The “You look at the target when you throw something” argument is a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough.  When you’re looking at the target, you brain is in constant contact with the target, and giving your body constant, up-to-date instructions on what to do to hit the target.

When you don’t look at the target, you’re relying on memory. It’s very recent memory, but still…

Try this.  Put a wastebasket maybe six feet away from you, wad up a piece of paper, look at the wastebasket and toss the paper inside.  Did you get it in?

Now toss paper at the wastebasket after you have taken a look then turned your head away so you can’t see the wastebasket.  How did you do?

I would bet that if you alternated ten times with each method, looking would produce a higher percentage of successes.

Can you feel the confidence disappearing when you turn your head?  That’s exactly what happens when we look at the ball instead of the hole when we stroke the putt.

You might not notice this, but tests have shown you keep your head and body very still when you’re looking at the hole.  You’re also less likely to flip the putter—have the left wrist break backwards on the forward stroke, a cardinal error.

You will hit short putts with more confidence because you are always in tune with the target.  I’m sinking more putts in the 5-8’ range as well.

Approach putting?  You’re going to get a much better feel for distance this way, especially if you’re using the TAP method [link].  Your mental computer is feeding you continuous up-to-date instructions, like I said before, taking much of the guess-work out of a 40-foot putt.

Now about the stroke.  Don’t worry, you won’t whiff.  With a little practice, you’ll learn that the putter comes back to the ball on the sweet spot.

The club path won’t get wacky on you if you extend your right forefinger down the shaft and pretend it’s a pencil that is drawing a straight line on the ground.  This is easier to do with a long putter than with a standard-length putter because you can extend your right arm fully.

Search you favorite web browser on this topic.  You will find lots of responses, from teaching professionals, who say this method helps you putt better.  You won’t find anyone who says it’s for the birds.

I don’t put things in these posts I haven’t tried and found to be helpful.  Play with this on the practice green of a hour, the play a few rounds looking at the hole when you putt.  You have nothing to lose but two-four strokes.

September 26 update: It is getting scary how much better this is working for me.

The No-Backswing Putting Stroke

I went to the range a few days ago with my chipping clubs for my annual chipping formula tuneup.

I also brought a putter along, because why not, and because of something I tried while I was putting I’m going to write about putting today, not chipping.

Short putts are stressful.  You have to do four things right to sink one: get the right line, get the right speed, align the putter, and make a pure stroke.  The first three are purely intellectual, and are not terribly problematic from close in.

The stress starts when you stand over the putt, about to make the stroke.  Everything you’ve done so far has been thinking, but you can’t think the ball into the hole.  You have to deliver the goods with your body.  That’s when nerves kick in.

The solution to all this is to simplify the stroke to minimize the possibility of a physical error.  You do that by eliminating the backswing.

In the putting stroke, you start the putter moving, swing it back, stop, and reverse the direction of the putter.  At any of those four moments, you can introduce an error into the alignment of the putterface, or the swing path.

By taking out the backswing, you remove all four of those opportunities for error from the stroke.  There is nothing left but a pure forward motion of the putter along the starting line, with a square putterface.  

If you made the right read and aligned your putter correctly, the ball will go in.

Here’s how it works.

Draw an imaginary line on the green that goes through the ball toward your aiming point.  The line extends on both sides of the ball.

Set the putter down behind the ball, all lined up, then set it straight back about 4 inches behind the ball without disturbing the putterface alignment.  Now just swing the putter gently forward, through the ball, along the imaginary line.

Plop!

To keep yourself from jerking the club forward, pretend that you are compressing the distance between the putter and the ball.  I know the sounds kind of odd, but try it and you will see what I mean.

I find this method to work best for putts of eight feet at most, better at six feet and under, because you don’t want to have any power in the stroke.  Again, it’s just a gentle swing forward.

Do give this a try.  Work on it a bit a home first, the take it to the practice green.  

I can’t guarantee you will never miss a short putt again, but I think I can guarantee you’ll make more of them that you do now.

My Spring Golfing Tuneups

We are starting to have sunny days in western Oregon now. It might even get warm enough to let the overnight dew dry off the course before a 10:00 a.m. tee time so we don’t have to play on a wet golf course.

I’m putting the finishing touches on my winter practice to be ready to go from the very start. Here’s what I’m doing.

As usual, I’m practicing rhythm–three beats up, one beat down. I don’t care how sound your swing is otherwise, if this part is off it’s usually three parts up and a half beat down, nothing else will save you. And rhythm is never something you can say you have once and for all. It takes continual practice.

To avoid letting my right hand take over in the forward swing, both when starting the club forward, and as it comes through th ball, I’ve taken to starting the forward swing with the left arm. More specifically, the left upper arm. The left forearm and left hand are not included. That arm stays in control through the ball.

This is something the Manuel De La Torre taught. I’m finding to be very effective, once I figured out how to do it.

This doesn’t mean I’m taking my right hand out of the swing. This move merely prevents it from making a premature contribution. The instant before impact I have a strong hitting feeling with the right hand, but it is something that is generated naturally by the momentum of the swing, not by anything I’m deliberately doing with that hand.

My right elbow has a habit of flying out instead of staying tucked in where it should be in the forward swing. This causes me to swipe across the ball and hit really bad-looking hooks. To fix that, I concentrate on keeping my elbows close together. That is, I maintain the feeling of closeness they have at address throughout the swing. Though they might not be that close all the time, as long as they feel like they are, everything is fine.

Lastly, my hand-eye coordination is pretty good. Not outstanding, but I generally hit what I aim for. This is a big problem if I aim for the back of the ball when I swing. If I am just a little bit off, I’ll hit the ground just a tiny bit behind of the ball, or just underneath it. You don’t get much out of either one of those.

The fix, I have found, is to look at a spot on the ground about an inch ahead of the ball and aim for that. Works like a charm with my irons. Even with my driver. If I look at the ball with my driver I want to HIT IT (and you know what that leads to), but looking at a spot ahead of the ball slows me to SWING THROUGH it, giving me much better results.

And, of course, there’s putting. I practiced 2-footers every night in my back room, and I never missed. Now I think putting is easy. A lot of putting is about confidence.

A Few Odds and Ends

I was looking through a notebook I keep that contains notes from golf lessons I have taken. The last playing lesson I took emphasized the tee shot. My note says, “Tee shot is paramount to making par. Work on these.” So work on your driver, but work on hitting it straight, not far. If you can hit your irons straight, but not your driver, get a lesson. You’ll never figure it out yourself.

There are several other notes that pertain only to me, but another general note is, “Make your targets very precise from the tee and the fairway.” Think not only of which direction you want the shot to go, but on what spot do you want the ball to land. And it’s a spot, not an area.

You know the bottom of your swing needs to be ahead of the ball. How do you do that? I practice this indoors with a fairway wood. I set up and take note of the place where the leading edge of the sole is. Then I make a slow-motion swing and try to lightly tap the rug with the sole of the club ahead of that place when I swing through. Hint: if you’re not getting your weight to the left in the forward swing, and early in the forward swing, you won’t be able to get the club out there.

I’ve been playing around with a short stroke for short putts this past week. It started out as the old pop stroke, but I quickly found out that the rapid stroke and percussive hit the word “pop” suggests is the wrong way to go about it. I’m finding success with a rhythmic stroke that nudges the ball to the hole. That might be a better starting point for you if you want try this out. I should also mention my upper arms rest against my sides for security. The advantage of a short stroke (about six inches for a 10-foot putt) is that the clubface stays square throughout. I’m only using this stroke for short putts I think I can sink. For longer putts, I go back to my sweeping pendulum stroke and the TAP method.

I read a tip in a current golf magazine that I thought might help. So I went out and tried it. The results were terrible. What I realized very quickly is that I was already doing what the tip suggested. In trying to follow the tip I did more of it and that was too much. Beware of tips you read in golf magazines.

Triangulated Approach Putting (TAP)

Often I will try something out for a few weeks and if it seems to be a good thing I will write a post about it.   This one is different.   I discovered it in 2015.   I didn’t want to let you know about it until I was sure it was sound.

It is.

The method, which I call Triangulated Approach Putting (TAP), will revolutionize your approach putting.

The commonest reason you three-putt is that you leave your first putt too far from the hole.   You get the distance wrong.   TAP lets you leave that first putt right beside the hole.   It is almost scary how good you will get.

TAP is based on this axiom: For any length of putt, if the length of the putting stroke is the sole distance generator, there is one, and only one, length of stroke that will send the ball that distance.

TAP shows you how to find the length of that stroke.   I’ll explain the theory first and then get into the fine points.

In the diagram below, you see a line from the ball to the hole.   That is the baseline of a triangle.   The spot marked apex is where you stand to find the length of stroke.   The line from the ball to the apex is the eyeline.   The line from the apex to the hole, not being a factor, and is not labeled.   Distances are exaggerated for clarity.

lateral bend stretch

The apex is located at a standard spot, half the length of the baseline and offset three paces to the left (to the right for left-handed golfers).   These distances are adjustable.

Stand at the apex and swing your putter back and forth while looking at the ball.   Make a stroke such that the clubhead intersects the eyeline (an imaginary line coming straight at you from the ball).   That stroke will send the ball the exact distance from where it now lies, to the hole.

That’s the theory.   Here’s the practice.

(1) The length of the swing must be the sole distance generator.   You cannot add any “hit” with your hands.   That would be introducing another variable, which we do not want to do.

(2) You must hit the ball on the same spot of the putter’s face every time.   The sweet spot is best.   Erratic contact in this regard plays havoc with how much energy is imparted to the ball, and thus how far it goes.

(3) The speed of your putting stroke must be constant.   Otherwise, you will unknowingly impart more or less energy to the ball, again affecting the distance it travels.

(4) The location of the apex is not fixed.
(a) If greens are slower or you are putting uphill, the apex must be more than halfway to the hole–point (A).

(b) If greens are faster or you are putting downhill, the apex must be less than halfway to the hole–point (B).

(c) Your putter can make a difference.   If you are consistently leaving putts too long or too short, stand more or less than three paces from the baseline–closer to make putts go farther, or at more remove to make them travel shorter.

(5) An essential point is remembering the length of the stroke.   After all, you have to walk over to the ball to hit the putt, and in that time you might forget.   While at the apex, make several strokes that intersect the eyeline and pay attention to how that stroke feels to your body.   There might be a slight stretching somewhere in your back, or your arms might brush against you in a certain way.   When you get to the ball, recreate that sensation.

(6) Hit the ball with trust.   TAP works if you let it.

Regarding the adjustments in (4), the more you practice TAP, the more accurate your adjustments will become.

Use TAP when distance is more important than line.   How far from the hole that switch gets made is up to you, but ten feet is not too close.

I have tried this method on different practice greens, on different courses, and after I have adjusted to the conditions it always works.

You could take out all my posts from 2009 to date and nothing would be missing because you can read all of it somewhere else.   I have just been adding emphasis or perhaps clarity.

But TAP is new.   There is nothing remotely like it to be seen anywhere else.   If you want to save strokes on the green starting almost overnight, here’s how.   No kidding.

Try Two Putters

You carry a driver and a fairway wood or two, maybe a few hybrid irons, six or so irons, a few wedges—and one putter.

Why only one putter? Well, up to the green, we need all those clubs because all the shots we need to play are different. But once we get the ball on the putting green, all the strokes are the same, aren’t they?

They are certainly not!

There are two kinds of putts. There are the long ones that you only want to get close to the hole, and there are the short ones you think you can sink.

You not only plan each kind of putt differently, if you examine your putting carefully, you will find that you hit them differently, too. That is why you need two putters.

They need to be putters with a difference. Any old two won’t do. The difference has to do with balance.

If you balance your putter shaft on your hand, you will probably see that the shaft rotates so the toe of the putter points to the ground. If so, you’re holding a toe-balanced putter (bottom in photo).

But there is another kind of putter which, if you apply the same test, ends up with the toe of the putter pointing straight to the side and the face facing the sky. This is a face-balanced putter (top in photo).

You might have read about whether your putting stroke should take the putter back on a straight line or on an arc. There are proponents of both schools.

The fact is, a toe-balanced putter naturally swings on an arc, and a face-balanced putter naturally swings straight. So you don’t have do to do anything. Just pick the right putter and use your normal putting stroke to get one result or the other.

Now, here’s the point. Approach putts hit from a distance need power supplied by an arcing stroke which allows us to move freely as our bodies are built to. That calls for a toe-balanced putter.

Short putts, where direction is paramount, are better struck with a shorter stroke that stays on line from start to finish, which gives greater assurance to the putter face being square to the starting line when the ball is hit. Enter the face-balanced putter.

So if I told you all you have do to save three shots per round is to take out one club (probably one of your longer clubs) and put in a second putter, would you do it? I did, and that’s why I’m writing this post.

Dawdling on the Putting Green

I have to be honest with you. If you have a 20-foot putt, your chances of sinking it are really small. Tiny. PGA pros sink about one out of ten of them. Your results might be half that.

What you should be thinking about is how to get down in two putts from twenty feet (or more), because amateurs are more likely to take three putts from longer distances than one.

So first, stop spending so much time reading the green and getting what you think is the exact line to the hole, which, unless you are very good at reading greens, it isn’t.

Just get a general idea of whether it breaks right or left, and especially of what it does around the hole. You can get all that standing beside your ball and taking a brief look.

Regarding distance, if you practice approach putting every time you go to the range, you will have a good sense of how to cover the distance as soon as you see what it is.

All that shouldn’t take very long at all, maybe fifteen seconds. Then step up to the ball, line up the putter, and go.

No time to worry, no time to second-guess yourself.

You see, the pros on TV aren’t really our model for what to do on the green. They have thousands of dollars riding on sinking every putt they look at, and since they’re good enough to do that just often enough, they take their time.

We, however, are barking up the wrong tree by imitating them. By making a putt less of a production, I believe you actually stand a good chance of putting better, and you will certainly spend less time on the green, which the groups behind you will appreciate.

(Then there’s the endless tweaking to line up the line you drew on your ball with the starting line of the putt. From 30 feet? Please!)

Ranting much this week? Maybe just a little, but not without good reason.

A Few Golf Things

Not a very catchy title, is it? I couldn’t think of what else to call this post and still build in a little SEO. So no great ideas this week, just a few things I’ve been fiddling with, and a story.

1. Practice your putting stroke at home, maybe ten or so strokes a day. Not a lot, just enough to keep the feeling of how you do it from slipping away. Putt a ball to a target while doing this. I use a jar opener for a target. You can get one at a grocery store. It’s a thin sheet of rubber about five inches on a side, with a lot of raised bumps. If you trace out a circle on it using a 24-oz. can of tomatoes as your guide, you can cut out a “hole” just about 4¼” in diameter. You can also take this ersatz hole to the practice green and drop it where you want a hole to be, if the ones already cut out aren’t where you want to putt/chip to.

2. Lately I have taken to swinging a 7-iron in my living room late at night with the lights out. Don’t worry, you won’t hit the ceiling. Just make sure you’re clear of ceiling-mounted light fixtures. Swinging in the dark will improve your balance, since you don’t have the visual cues you normally use to stay in balance. It also slows down your swing so you’re actually swinging, not clobbering.

3. Once at the range my son asked me to hit a ball as hard as I could. I think I had a 6-iron or so in my hand. So I did, and it went a long way. Then, I said, “Watch this.” I put my normal swing on the ball, which doesn’t have any “hit” in, and the ball went five yards less. How much can you slow down your swing with a particular club and still get the same distance out of it? Try it.

Actually, I didn’t really hit the first ball as hard as I could. I did that another time while playing in a 4-club tournament. I was 170 yards from the green. I had a 7-iron, my 140-yard club, and a 19* hybrid, my 200-yard club, in the bag. I didn’t want to ease up on the hybrid, because you can really hit a terrible shot that way. So I had to clobber the 7. I stood beside the ball for about a minute, psyching myself to swing as hard as I could, yet still control the strike. I swung, connected, and the ball took off and landed on the green. I put the 7-iron back in the bag and promised myself I would never, ever do that again.

A New Approach to Approach Putting

A few days ago, I commented to my wife of 34 years, “I tend to think differently than other people do.” She said, “Oh, I hadn’t noticed.”

Well, here’s my newest unique, never-before-heard-of idea. At least I’ve never heard of it. It has to do with approach putting, or even putting in general, but its highest use would be in approach putting.

Right off, I’m going to tell you this idea is based on logic, not experience. I have not spent several years testing out this new idea with hundreds of golfers, as I have with all my other bright ideas, before I share them with you.

(Right.)

But here it is. The problem of approach putting is distance control. That problem breaks down into two parts. One part is developing the sense of how to putt the ball different distances. I have addressed that problem with this video tip, and I still stand by it.

The other part is developing a putting stroke that is consistent, thus removing itself as a variable from part one. You do this by hitting the ball off the same spot of the putterface every time. It can be any spot, as long as it’s always the same one, but the sweet spot is best. The rebound is robust and it thus takes less effort to send the ball a given distance.

So my brilliant idea is (here it comes), vary the distance you hit a putt by making a short same-length stroke faster or slower, and not by making a same-speed stroke longer or shorter. Keeping the stroke short and the same length makes it easier to hit the intended spot on the putterface consistently. Different speeds of stroke will necessarily impart more or less energy to the ball, and the ball will go different distances. It’s that simple.

Be very careful about what I said here. I said to have a faster or slower stroke, which makes putterhead speed the distance generator. I did not say hit the ball harder or softer, which implies doing something with your hands, probably your right hand.

Now. Full disclosure. I have tried this in my back room a few times to learn how long to make the stroke. Twelve to fifteen inches, somewhere around there, will do. I have tried this on the practice green one time to see how it works in in real life. (I came up with this idea only several days ago.) I put a foot-long ruler on the ground beside the ball to ensure the length of the stroke was constant. All I can say is that the method shows promise.

If you want to try it, go ahead. It’s just an attempt at a solution to a difficult problem. Maybe it will work. If so, you heard it here first. If not, well, never mind.