When it comes to putting, personal preference almost always wins. It's safe to assume there's more than one way to become a successful putter, since so much of being a better putter has to do with finding a style and stroke that's comfortable for you. If you're comfortable, you'll be more confident; and if you're confident, it's more likely you'll make a better stroke through the ball. But, there remain some absolutes that I think are critical for better putting that everybody should work into their game. These are the kinds of things that, no matter what type of putting stroke you have, ought to be ingrained into your putting routine. Let's take a look at a few, and learn how you can work these absolutes into your game to become a better putter.
Rehearse The Break
If you're faced with a breaking putt, it's imperative that you rehearse in your mind the impending path that the ball will need to roll on to make the putt. In this photo, as I set up, I'm still visualizing not only the hole, but also the path. If I were to focus only on the target, which in this case is the hole, I'd likely lose sight of the break and, as most amateurs do, not play for enough curve. Also, for example, when you play a breaking putt, remember that a breaking putt is always longer in length than the actual distance between you and the hole. Meaning, even if I'm only 10 feet away on a given putt, the ball might actually have to travel 12 feet on a curve to reach the hole. Hence, when playing the breaks, rehearse your stroke for the length of the putt with the break, not the length you are from the hole.
The Hands Matter
How you hold the putter affects how you stroke the putt. I like to see golfers use their hands together as a unit, since it both helps to get the hands working together in unison and prevents one from dominating the other. A quick tip to remember to keep the hands together is to make sure you can only see the top of one thumb (your lower hand) when you make your grip. I prefer to grip more in the fingers than the palms, but it really comes down to personal preference. Nevertheless, if you're sticking with a traditional grip or even a left-hand low grip, make sure the hands are together as a unit.The reverse overlap is a great grip. It may not seem like such a big deal to extend the index finger over the upper hand, but what that actually does is help prevent the breakdown of the wrists through the stroke. Give it a try. If that doesn't feel right to you, keep the index finger wrapped around the grip, but again, it should overlap the pinky of your upper (right) hand. The hands don't need to act as a quick-release power source, so anything you can do to inhibit excessive hinging through the stroke can and will help.
The Forward PressWhat you don't want to do when you make the forward press, is rotate the putterface open. Instead, make a forward press and keep the clubface square. And don't worry if it looks as though you have excessively delofted the putter. At impact, the putter will be square and upright.
Phil Mickelson won The Masters this year by putting with a forward press. Like him, I'm a big believer in this motion since it helps get the stroke in motion before there's any significant motion in the putterhead. This translates into a smoother takeaway and delivery into the ball on the forwardstroke. It also helps ensure you make contact with the hands either over or slightly in front of the ball, resulting in a truer, faster, end-over-end roll. To do a proper forward press, simply adjust the wrists toward the target a few inches before you start your backswing. Think of it as the first step, when you set the hands forward, and then the arms and shoulder take over and lead the stroke. Once you do that, make a normal putting stroke. You'll quickly see that a forward press adds some length to your backswing, so don't be surprised if, at first, a few putts roll past the hole.
Eyes Above The Ball
This is a definite absolute! While there may have been a few players on Tour who preferred a stance away from the ball, most of the best putters unanimously agree that the best place to see the line and initiate your stroke is with your eyes directly over the golf ball. This is especially helpful for golfers who may struggle with strokes that drift too far inside or outside the intended path. Also, another benefit for positioning your eyes over the ball is that it ensures your head and eyes are in the same spot every time you putt. This will aid in your consistency and, again, make it a lot easier to aim directly at the hole.
Straight Vs. Arc
Depending on what putting stroke you prefer, you need to know how to optimize it. If you prefer a straight-back and straight-through stroke, you need to make sure you allow the putter to swing higher both on the backswing and forwardstroke. If you try to keep the putter low with this putting style, you'll lose any forward lean of the shaft and you'll have a hard time being consistent. Conversely, if you arc your stroke from inside to inside the target line, you'll want to keep the putterhead lower to the ground on the backswing and forwardstroke. This will help you better move the putterhead on an arc. Just remember, a true arcing stroke isn't necessarily a stroke that opens and closes. The putterhead should always stay square to the arc, even if it opens and closes relative to the target line.Too Tall If you're too upright, the toe will lag behind in the stroke. This position works for Steve Stricker. If you have trouble pulling putts, give it a try. Standard The standard putterhead position is rested flat on the ground. This will accommodate virtually any stroke and promote a square face at impact. Too Flat If you need a quick band-aid to prevent putts from going to the right, try flattening your putterhead and lift the toe slightly in the air. This will really help you square and close the putterhead through the stroke (make sure you have an arcing stroke, though).
Watch It Drop!
One of the biggest mistakes I see a lot of amateurs make is that they keep their head down through the stroke. By doing that, you not only lose your sense of feel for distance, direction and speed, but also inhibit the arms from swinging freely through the putting stroke, resulting in the body rotating, the hands taking over and so on. Instead, go ahead and watch that ball! See the effects your putting stroke has on the ball–notice how it rolls, the direction it goes, the speed it has. If you watch your putts, you'll get a better idea of how they roll and you can simply make a few minor adjustments in your aim or stroke length and quickly be on your way to making more putts. Just remember this: Watching your putt doesn't mean lifting at any point during the putting stroke. Instead, keep your head in position over your spine and rotate your head from side to side. Don't lift it back and forward.A stable lower body helps me make a solid stroke. Notice my head, and how it tracks the ball by rotating with the putterhead. Through the stroke, my head is again tracking the golf ball. This helps me get a better idea of how far my putts roll with strokes of different lengths. After the putt, I'm watching the ball roll toward the target. By watching the ball, I'm able to better judge how well my stroke is and how external factors such as slope and green speed affect my stroke.
Match Your Stroke To The Putt
No matter where you find yourself on the putting green, whether you're four feet or 40 feet, the basic rhythm and tempo of your swing should always be in sync. What that means is, the longer your putt, the longer your stroke. The shorter your putt, the shorter your stroke. Don't try to force a short stroke on a long putt, or a long stroke on a short putt. Allow the length of your backswing and forwardstroke to adjust, depending on how far you are from the hole. This will then help you swing more rhythmically and in balance.
There Are No Lag Putts!
When it comes to making putts, why not try to make them all? In most cases, if you try to make a putt, rather than play it safe and lag one close, you'll have better luck if you go for it! Try to make your putts, no matter how far you are from the hole. After all, the hole is the same size, whether you're two feet away or 20 feet away, so don't be intimidated by long putts and relegate yourself to trying to two-putt. Study every putt like it's your last chance to save a stroke and be confident! You may find that not only will you make the occasional long putt, but your lag putts will get a whole lot better, as well.
Bobby Hinds, PGA, is well known throughout Southern California for his innovative short-game teaching philosophy. To learn more and to book a lesson, call (323) 363-7761.