Do not hit a putt hard enough to get the ball to the hole. Hit it hard enough for the ball to hold its line all the way to the hole. Those are not the same thing.
Lately I’ve been trying a little putting stroke for short putts—under six feet. It’s a short, wristy stroke.
I figure the reason we miss short putts is that the putter wobbles at some point going back and forth before it gets to the ball. By then, the face is no longer aimed at the hole, and the ball slides by.
The key, then, is to keep the face square to the starting line at all cost.
So I started by taking the arms and shoulders out of the stroke. They can wander. Then I took the hands out of the stroke. They can twist and turn.
All that is left are my wrists. Just a slight bit of horizontal hinging is all I need to get the ball going. The putter goes back maybe thee inches and about that on the follow-through.
Since the only things moving are your wrists, and they can only hinge around a fixed axis (law of anatomy) there really isn’t much that can go wrong.
And with such a short stroke, the face stays square without having to deliberately hood the face going back, then undo that coming through.
If you have read the putt correctly and aimed the face square to the starting line, the ball will go in.
Now here’s the important part. This is not a pop stroke. It’s not a jab. It’s a relaxed stroke that takes the head back gently and brings it through gently, but with a little “hit” on the ball. Just a little. These are short putts, so you don’ t need much hit at all.
If you find yourself popping the ball anyway, hold the club very lightly. It’s hard to be poppy with such a light grip.
Try this on your carpet at home. Remember, wrists only, gentle back, gentle through, with a tiny bit of hit.
Over the years I have sprinkled certain themes throughout my posts. I say them over and over because they work—not only for me, but for everybody.
To save you the trouble of searching for what you might not know is even there, here it all is. This post summarizes my thoughts. If you do all these things (and there aren’t many) you will play better golf.
When you’re standing over the ball, think of the swing as one unit from takeaway to finish. Impact is an event like another other along the way—do not give it extra importance.
Swing at a tempo which allows you to hit the ball on the center of the clubface consistently.
Your hands must lead the clubhead into the ball. They must arrive back to the ball before the clubhead does.
With a chip and a pitch, think of sliding the sole of the club underneath the ball. Do not hit down on the ball.
With a chip, use one swing and several clubs to regulate distance.
With a pitch, use two or three lengths of swing (your choice) and several clubs to regulate distance.
Hit the ball on the sweet spot of the putterface.
Let the length of the backswing be the sole distance generator.
Technique is less important than mentally bearing down the hole.
Those of my readers who have been around for a few years remember my displeasure with the anchored putting ban. Search the tag “anchored putting” to read about that. There’s no point here in going over plowed ground.
You can still anchor your stroke, though, and I do it to great effect. I was doing it long before the ban. I putted then, and now, really well with it, and it is the foundation of my putting stroke.
What I do is bring my upper arms in contact with the sides of my torso. Light contact, not pressing. Pressing would make it almost impossible to move the putter. Just light contact so the upper arms stay in contact with the torso the whole time–slide over it, if you will.
That’s how I anchor my stroke. If my upper arms ride free in the air, they can go places they shouldn’t go to. By letting them slide freely in contact with my immovable body, they are guided along a predictable path consistently.
Combine that with a putting grip that does not allow my hands to wander, and I have the greater part of the stroke pretty well taken care of.
This anchoring gives me a mental boost, too. It creates a feeling of security that prevents any worry about moving the club from creeping in. I can concentrate on the only thing that is important–the ball going into the hole.
Anchoring works, or the USGA wouldn’t have outlawed it. This way of anchoring works, too, and it is legal.
The latest sideshow on the PGA Tour is watching the greatest golfers in the world play like they never heard there were any rules changes, and then saying how hard it is to remember to drop from knee-height instead of shoulder height.
Rocket scientists, they ain’t, apparently.
But rule causing the most discussion is the repeal of the two-stroke penalty for hitting the flagstick with a ball putted from the green.
That penalty was adopted in 1968. I started playing in about 1960, when you could leave the pin in, and no one seemed to mind. If you have access to old All-Star Golf videos you can see pros putting while the pin is still in and not being tended. I can’t find the reason why the rule was changed in 1968, but it’s history now.
The USGA alleges that keeping the pin in can speed up play. I would agree with that to some extent. When I play a solo round, I never take the pin out. It speeds up play considerably by not having to walk up to the pin, take it out, lay it (not drop it!) on the green, and walk back to my ball to hit my approach putt.
It’s true that for long approach putts, you get a better sense of how far away the hole is, but you got the same sense in the “old” days by having someone tend the pin. It’s just now you don’t have to take the time to ask. Just putt.
In a foursome, though, what if some players want the pin left in and others want it taken out? Catering to each player’s desires, which they have every right to insist on, could end up taking MORE time when putts get shorter.
As far as scoring goes, leaving the pin in helps you considerably in two ways.
First, it gives you something positive to aim at. Aiming at a hole is trying to hit something that isn’t there. In Better Recreational Golf, I discuss this point on pages 54-55.
Second, the pin acts as a backstop. This is where the controversy lies.
Recently, Edoardo Molinari, brother of 2019 British Open champion Francesco Molinari, did a series of experiments testing the effect of the pin on putts of different lengths and different speeds. His answer is, it depends.
As you might imagine, Dave Pelz also weighed in. He thinks you should always leave the pin in when you putt.
I agree with Pelz, mainly because my putts don’t approach the hole like a freight train. Any putt of mine that hits the pin will go in, not bounce away.
At what distance to the hole does it become silly to leave the pin in? I don’t think three feet is too close, especially if the putt is a downhill breaker. Again, having something positive to aim at makes a bigger difference than you might expect.
What I would suggest is to leave the little pin in the hole on the practice green and find out for yourself if you benefit or not.
Finally, if you play with someone who is a real stickler for leaving the pin in, and you think it’s being carried too far, show some respect and go along with it. It’s their golf, it’s how they want to play within the rules. What we really want to get out of golf is having fun with friends and making everyone glad that we played with them. Right?
[Update] See this site for some solid data on the subject–the verdict is, leave it in.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.