One of the hardest things for people to understand when faced with big breaking putts is that there are and infinite number of “lines” you can take based on the speed you choose.
Sometimes certain putts require a more delicate approach while others necessitate a more direct route to the hole.
Regardless of the one you choose you must be mindful of both, and all the lines in between, in order to become a great putter under the gun.
Here at Punta Mita you must understand this fact as our Jack Nicklaus greens here tend to have some exaggerated movement to them, especially if you hit it in the incorrect portion of the green.
As you can see in Photo 1 I have a long putt with a ridge in the middle of the green as well as a sizable slope from left to right.
There is a range of “lines” we can take. One would be the highest line with the least amount of speed and the other would be the lowest possible line with more speed but not so much that it runs way past the hole.
The two balls in Photo 2 represent the highest and lowest possible line that you can take to this particular pin above. So which line is correct?
First you must ask yourself what type of putter you normally are, and what type of green speeds to you tend to play on in general.
If you play fast greens with some slope, you will tend to be more of a “die” putter where you play the ball at the apex and allow the gravity to pull it down to the hole.
If you play slower and flatter greens you will tend to be more of a firm-putter who plays less break and hits the ball harder.
The second thing you must consider is what the putt itself is asking you to do and what are the consequences of either speed. Because both can be incorrect choices.
Think of a putt you have that is super fast.
The higher and more break you try to play the faster the ball will come down the slope, leaving you with a longer comeback putt.
Now consider the short putt that has some movement to it; it might be easier to jam it into the back of the hole, taking out the break.
This this is where practice and experience comes in — helping you to make the best choice for your personality, nerves, and overall shot selection.
Sometimes it’s better to hit it harder and other times it’s better to hit it softer.
So, how do you learn how to play either putt? You must fine-tune your feel!
The best drill for fine-tuning your feel is to hit putts as I did above, finding the highest and softest line, as well as the lowest and most firm line you can take without the ball running way past the hole. Now mark these spots on the green with a tee. Your job is to practice the extremes — the high and then the low — to help you “feel” your speed control.
Now hit putts in the middle of these two spots and see if you can find that speed as well. You can spend as much time as you need finding differing lines that you can use.
From there you will have a better chance to imagine what the best line would be for the next big breaking putt you have.
From a mechanical standpoint the only thing you must remember on longer putts is to make sure that you hit the ball solidly and maintain quality impact alignments. I always want to maintain a bent rear wrist post-impact to ensure that I hit the ball with the correct amount of loft (Photo 3). Flip at it and you’ve turned your putter into a chipper — and you will leave the ball short of the hole every time.
If you don’t fine tune your feel or don’t understand the high and low point, you will never have the many options on the greens that the professionals on Tour have.
The key is to use your imagination, your feel, and your speed control to select the best line for the putt at hand. Take your time to fine-tune your feel and you will have no problem getting down in two regardless of where you are on the green.
Tom Stickney, PGA, is Director of Instruction at Punta Mita Resort, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico. Visit him at www.tomstickneygolf.com