Category Archives: putting

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. A little thought I’ve been using for a while concerning the driver is a way to make sure the clubhead is moving upward when it contacts the ball. Before I address the ball I think not about hitting it square on the back, but a bit below that, on the underside. Now I know that’s not possible, but it does give the unconscious mind a way to tell the body how to hit the ball with the clubhead on the rise. Make sure as well your hands lead the clubhead. By all means turn off the conscious mind when you swing. Just a smidgen of thinking about hitting under the ball will ruin the effort.

4. 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.

How I Putt (II)

A few weeks ago I went over my putting setup and stroke in detail. It’s one thing to putt on your carpet at home. It’s quite another to putt on live greens. This post is about how I get the ball in the hole.

For makable putts, of eight feetish or under, I am definitely challenging the hole. Putts around 15 feet and longer I am just trying to get the ball near the hole so luck can take over.

For the in-between distances, it depend on how I’m feeing that day. With a twelve-foot putt I might be go for it one day, or just try to get it close on another.

In any case, I use a spot putting system. When I line up my putt I will pick out a spot on the green about two inches in front of the ball. Dave Stockton likes one inch, but that’s too close for me.

When I putt, all I’m concerned about is making that two-inch putt. Then, with the right pace and a good read the ball will go in the hole.

I find if I don’t spot putt, but think all the way to the hole, I end up trying to steer the ball in, and that seldom works.

As for pace, you learn that only by practicing. I practice pace a lot, with 20- to 40-foot putts, because that is the way to avoid three-putt greens. I like to the ball to end up within five percent of the total distance.

The same goes for green-reading. You can only learn that from practice. So practice!

Good putting is as much in your mind as in all the technical matters. The one thought I have heard good putters talk about and which really works is this: as you are about to make your stroke, you cannot care whether the ball goes in the hole or not.

Get prepared for the putt, and think only about making that two-inch putt. As for the actual putt, you will either make it or miss it, and some of the difference is up to the putting surface, which you have no control over. You can hit the perfect putt and it might not go in.

So do all that, and apply the mechanics you learned in your back room, and practice!, and you’ll be a much better putter.

And what do I mean by practice? Spend as many minutes on the putting green as you do on the mat hitting balls.

How I Putt (I)

A few weeks ago I mentions that I was practicing a lot for short putts and am getting REAL good at them. I’ve been putting in my back room since the middle of August, several times a day, and have refined my technique fairly well. The description that follows might get you thinking in detail about how you make your putting stroke.

First of all, I use my forefinger interlocking grip. This grip prevents one hand other other from dominating the stroke. Both hands work as one unit. My grip pressure is very light — just enough to keep the putter from flopping around in my hands.

The ball is about two inches inside my left heel. I don’t pay much attention to where my feet go, but they almost always end up perpendicular to the target line, with the right foot more forward than the left by a inch or two.

Because I haven’t found the placement of the feet to be important, I place them before I aim the putter. I don’t want to aim the putter and then have the aim altered when my feet move.

I aim by placing the putter in front of the ball and aligning the face using a mark I drew on the topline of the putter that marks the sweet spot.

I make sure the putter shaft and my forearms make a straight line when viewed from down the line. This causes me to arch my wrists upwards a bit. The effect is to make it easier to take the putter straight back and through. When your wrists are lower, you take the putter back and through in an arc, which is a less accurate stroke in my opinion.

Once I’m aimed, I put the putter behind the ball and make my stroke right away.

The takeaway is slow. That way I keep the putter swinging on line. I know that face angle is more important than swing path, but swing path still counts for something. By keeping the putter on the right path, I ensure all the more that the putter face stays square.

I also imagine that it is the sole of the putter that is being taken away from the ball. This make the takeaway smoother, preventing me from jerking the putter back.

The stroke is fairly short, straight back and straight through. If you hit the sweet spot, you don’t need a long backswing to get the ball to the hole.

I do what Gary Player wants us all to do — keep your head down and not lift it to look as soon as the ball has been struck. Believe, me, this helps.

I am in continuous movement. The entire procedure, from setting my putter in front of the ball to aim to to hitting the ball, takes less than ten seconds.

Make More Short Putts

Short putts are between two feet and four feet long. There is no reason you can’t sink them at professional rates. Here are four ideas on how to meet that standard.

1. Practice them. Hit putts from two to four feet over and over again. You can do this at home every day on a carpet. Hit ten putts or so. That will take you two minutes, tops. Put your putter down, come back a half hour later, and hit ten more. Repeat every half hour.

This is the “little and often” method that is used so effectively in foreign language learning. Do a little bit, but repeat it often.

2. Putt at an object. Do you have a water bottle that is about four inches in diameter? You can get one at an outdoor store.

In my first book, Better Recreational Golf, I suggested that you putt at a positive object rather than a negative hole. Putt to hit the water bottle. It is so easy you just can’t miss.

You’re training your mind to see a bottle rather than a hole. When you play, hit the ball against the imaginary bottle, and the ball goes in the hole, simple as that.

3. Start the putter back slowly, gradually. By starting the stroke very slowly you keep the putter under control. The face stays square, the putter goes straight back and naturally comes straight through.

There’s no need to rush your short putting stroke. On the other hand, don’t be deliberate. The entire stroke doesn’t need to be slow, just the start.

4. Take the putter straight back and bring it straight through. This keeps the putter’s face square at all times. The short putting stroke is short enough that you can do that without having to manipulate the club.

A Putting Drill

Go to Home Depot or Lowe’s and buy a 4-foot metal ruler. It’s just a couple bucks.

Lay the ruler down on the floor and put a golf ball in the center of the ruler at about the 40-inch mark or so.

Putting ruler

Now putt the ball down the length of the ruler so it stays between the numbers on each side.

Try not to manipulate the ball down the ruler. The ball staying between the numbers is an indicator, not the goal.

Just staying on the ruler doesn’t count. The ball has to run the length of the ruler in the center.

If you need to make a correction, do, but when you hit the ball, trust your stoke and see what happens.

The practice green, is for learning pace and green-reading. Develop your stroke at home. This is a good way to do it.

Break-Even Putting

This is a factoid (does anybody use that word anymore?) I have mentioned before, but I want to develop the point today. There is a break-even distance in putting. That is the distance from which a golfer averages 2.0 putts.

From farther away, the player would average more than two putts (three-putt more often that one-putt). From closer in, the average would be less than two putts.

The break-even distance for the average recreational golfer is 15 feet. For touring professionals, the distance is just over twice that, about 32 feet.

What I get from this comparison is to try to push that break-even distance out as far as I can. I will never have a professional golf swing, but there’s no reason I can’t be nearly as good with a putter.

One of the putting drills I do occasionally is to hit ten fifteen-foot putts, without three-putting. Then I do the same from twenty feet, twenty-five feet, and thirty feet. Sometimes I do take three putts, but sometimes, one goes in!

If you try this drill, don’t putt from the same spot over and over. You can’t groove your stroke when you play, so you shouldn’t do it when you practice, at least not in this drill.

Oh, yes. You have to putt out. No fair giving yourself the leave. Sometimes you really blow it and leave your first putt four feet short. If you do it here, you’ll do it on the course, too, so you might as well get comfortable cleaning up your messes.

When you’re finished and have hit your forty putts, test yourself. Put one ball on the green at each distance and putt them out in this order:

Twenty feet,
Thirty-five feet,
Fifteen feet,
Twenty-five feet.

As you do this drill, and start to get good at it, you’ll find yourself thinking deeply about how you putt from distance, looking for how to make long putts accurate and repeatable. That will only make you a better putter.

What I get out of this drill is when I have a long putt, I feel confident I can leave it close to the hole, and sometimes luck will take over.

That takes a lot of stress out of being on the green. Not to mention, it lowers your score.

The Essence of Golf (Advice)

If I were to give recreational golfers advice on what would do the most good to get them hit the ball better, I would say these things:

Golf Swing

Get a good grip that fits your swing. This is two things. A good grip is one that has a chance of success. Many rec golfers I see play with a grip that is too strong or doesn’t leave the hands working together. See a pro, get a lesson, to be sure about yours. Also, you might have a fine grip, but it doesn’t go with your swing. If you have a neutral grip and a slice swing, that’s trouble.

Learn the correct rhythm, and the tempo that is right for you. Rhythm is the same for everyone. This blog post shows you what rhythm is and how to get it. Tempo is different for everyone. Yours is probably too fast. Try this post to find your best tempo.

Your hands must lead the clubhead coming into the ball. Most of you do the opposite, because you’re trying to hit the ball with your right hand. This is an easy idea to understand, but difficult to execute because our “hit” instinct is so strong. See this video.

Pitching and Chipping

This one is really simple. First, get lessons on how to hit these shots. One lesson for each shot. They are their own kind of shot and need to be learned that way.

Then, hit them using the iron method — one swing, different clubs. For pitching, you really need two swings, of different length, but for chipping, only one. Calibrate each swing and you can’t miss.

Practice your standard strokes A LOT so they don’t slowly drift on you and make you wonder why you aren’t getting the ball close anymore.

Putting

I commonly spend an hour on the practice green chipping and putting, mostly putting. I see other rec golfers come on, putt for about ten minutes, and leave. Who is going to become the better putter?

Use a pendulum stroke that moves in one unit from your shoulders to the clubhead. Do not let your wrists get involved.

Find an alignment spot on the green in front of your ball and hit the ball right across it.

Practice short putts, from two and three feet, A LOT. Hit these putts with authority. Do not finesse them into the hole.

Calibrate your stroke so you can hit to fifteen feet, twenty-five feet, thirty-five feet, and forty-five feet at will. Practice these stokes at a hole to maintain them, and to learn how to add or take off a few feet because of differing green speeds.

That takes care of ninety-five percent of golf. Learn the other things, bunkers, uneven lies, wind, a multitude of short game shots, after you have mastered the material above.

The Forefinger Interlock Putting Grip

I was at the range a while ago fooling around on the putting green. I like to try different things out there to see what happens.

Remember in the British Open a few weeks ago, the amateur Paul Dunne had this putting grip where both hands were side-by-side?

Dunne

I thought I’d try that, but I couldn’t make it work. There wasn‘t enough of the putter grip in my fingers to control the club when I swung it. But I didn’t want to give up, so I tried an interlocking grip with my left forefinger between my right middle and ring fingers.

That didn’t work. I still didn’t have control of the grip. There’s one more finger to go, I thought, so I put my left index finger between my right index and middle fingers. Bingo.

That brought my hands neatly together and put the grip in my fingers the way I was looking for. I call it the Forefinger Interlock grip. (You heard it here first.)

FIgrip

Notice in the second photo how close together my thumbs are. The left thumb nestles into the pocket of my right palm, and the pad under my right thumb fits right on top of my left thumb. The effect is that you hold the putter entirely in your left hand. The right hand provides stability.

Both thumbs point directly down the shaft.

FIgripb

Notice also how square my hands are. I don’t try to do this, it’s just what happens when I take this grip. That’s where my hands end up.

One of the problems with a standard putting grip, where one hand is lower on the shaft than the other, is that you have two hands that you have to keep working together so one hand, usually the right, doesn’t run off and do its own thing.

That problem disappears with the Forefinger Interlock, because all you have down there is one clump of hands — one thing moving the club, not two. In this way the putter face does not twist out of square. You get a swinging stroke, not a hitting stroke. Your hands are taken out of the stroke entirely.

Results? I’m putting just as well on average days as I did on good days. Because my hands are not involved in the stroke, I’m more relaxed mentally. That gives me more confidence, which leads to better putting.

So. Is the Forefinger Interlock the grip of the future? The grip that will take five strokes off your score? The grip that will take the Tour by storm? Maybe.

But it is definitely something for you to try. Can’t hurt, and it might help. A lot.