Category Archives: putting

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.

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.