The Other Game

If you want to be a complete golfer, you have to become a masterful putter

TO PARAPHRASE BEN HOGAN, golf is two games, the full swing and putting. For the layman, watching these two parts of the game, one would think that putting would probably be the easiest to master, and yet so many people—from Tour pro to amateur—struggle with it. Why? Well, for one thing, a putting stroke may look very simple, but there's a lot that can go wrong. For another, the game's great putters have used many different styles. Consider that Bobby Locke used to "hook" his putts, Jack Nicklaus looked like he "willed" the ball into the hole from his famous crouch, Ben Crenshaw stood very tall to develop his silky style, and just recently, Adam Scott used a long putter to help take his game to a new level. Just holding a flatstick poses a myriad of questions: Do you use a standard grip, a cross-handed one or the claw? Do you swing straight back and through or on an arc? Do you use a mallet or blade? Short, mid or long putter? The options go on and on. As students of mine can attest, it can all feel a bit overwhelming.

With that in mind, I've compiled nine tips that will help you separate what you do need from what you don't. But before you read any further, I want you to consider three things about your current putting pattern. Do you make solid contact? If not, you'll have to change your technique. Do you miss consistently to the left or right of the target? If your misses have typical divergent patterns, you must look at your technique to see if your aiming is flawed or the stroke is producing an off-line result. And finally, if distance control is an issue, you have to work on drills that can solve the problem.

Now, once you've answered those questions, read on and start integrating my tips into your practice sessions. I hope you see your scores fall.

It's virtually impossible to sink a putt if you don't know which way it's going to break. To give yourself the best chance of making more putts, you have to learn how to read the greens. I do it in two different ways. First, I look more at the direct line of the putt. Does the cup look like it's tilting one way or the other? Is there any slope directly between me and the hole? How long is my putt? Answering these questions gives you the first bit of information you need. But also look at the general area around the green complex. Is there a nearby hill or mountain that might influence the putt's shape? Is there a lake or lowland area like a drain where water would run to? If so, it'll probably influence the putt's break.

All this information is vital so you can "guess" correctly on your read. Taking a quick look at your ball and the hole just won't cut it. Instead, look around to see what the general lay of the land is and use it to help you make more putts!

Great putters control their distance well and make just about everything inside five feet. Although I teach my students to try to make every putt, different lengths require adjustments in one's thought process.

From within five feet, I make a very specific read of the putt and then hit the putt on that line with the proper pace. On putts that measure five feet, I focus more on the putt's line, with speed control a very close second, as speed always determines how you hit the putt.
From 15 feet away, I want to make a putt that both has perfect speed and is well read. I focus equally on the line and the appropriate-length stroke. If it doesn't go in, however, I want an easy follow-up putt, so make sure you get your speed right.

From over 30 feet away, I still want to make the putt, but I focus first on speed control and then on line. I want to make sure I'm comfortable with controlling my distance so I don't make a mistake that leaves me with a tough next putt. I'm certainly paying attention to the break, but distance control is the most important ingredient for these putts.


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