For most golfers, finding time to practice putting is difficult. In fact, it's no easy task to find time to improve in any area of the game. Therefore, it's essential that players not only create practice opportunities whenever they can, but also budget practice time to maximize effectiveness and create better habits.
For putting practice, I recommend the following routine, which places an emphasis on the most important aspects of becoming a good putter. This practice schedule is simple to follow and doesn't require a lot of time (an hour to be exact). So the next time you face difficult, lightning-fast greens, such as those featured here on Kiawah Island, you'll be prepared to hole more putts and post your best scores ever.
Green Reading (5 Minutes) In order to get aligned correctly, a player must know where he or she is trying to aim, then get the putterface and body in the proper positions. Start each practice session by practicing green reading. Here are some keys to learning to read greens.
- Survey the lay of the land and the general terrain before you reach the green. Look for high and low areas and sense the basic slope of the surrounding area. - The lower you can get on the putting surface to view these characteristics, the better. - In choosing your line, first determine the speed, then choose an aiming line. When in doubt, choose a minimum speed with a maximum amount of break.
After judging the contours of the green and hitting the putt, compare your read to the way the ball actually behaved. For a badly misread putt, stop and take a moment and see what was missed in assessing the slope.A good habit to get into is to align the logo of the ball (or a straight-line marking) along the intended aiming line. This will take the guesswork out of alignment and make it easier to diagnose any mechanics problems.
Putting Mechanics (25 Minutes) The goal of a good putting stroke is to consistently strike the ball solidly in the direction the putter is aligned with the proper pace. This is the essence of putting and, accordingly, this will be the biggest part of your putting hour. Concentrate on five main areas.
1) Setup And Alignment: With the logo on your golf ball aligned at the proper aiming point, it should be easy to set the putterface to this line. Often, it's helpful to have a putter with lines or marks to help visualize the alignment. Make sure your arms are hanging freely, that your eyes are over or slightly inside the ball/target line and, most importantly, that your shoulders are square to the target. I use a small mirror to check my alignment and eye position.
2) Stroke Length: Place a piece of tape on a yardstick at the 18-inch mark (center). Then, place tape every four inches from this center mark. Address the center mark and make strokes to the first piece of tape on the backstroke and the corresponding piece of tape on the forwardstroke. Incorporate this length with the good rhythm from the metronome drill (see #5). Next, place a ball adjacent to the center mark and make your four-inch backstroke and four-inch throughstroke with good rhythm. Hit several putts, then average the distance they travel. Repeat at different length strokes and soon you'll have a good understanding of how long a stroke is required in any situation.
3) Body Stability: During the putting motion, it's imperative that the body remain very still. Any motion will cause your putter path to be inconsistent, which makes solid contact almost impossible. My favorite thought is to imagine a small coin under the ball at address. After my stroke, I don't look up until I can identify the denomination—usually, this takes a count of one. Keeping your eyes focused on the impact area will greatly limit any tendency to move the body.4) Arm Swing:_Ê In a good putting stroke, the arms should move freely from the shoulders and swing so that there's no wrist activity. A good tool to check your arm swing is to place a golf tee in the end of your grip. With a good motion, the golf tee, your arms and the putterhead will move together to the target. Trouble occurs if the putterhead moves forward as the golf tee moves away from the target.
5) Rhythm: (20 Minutes) A successful, consistent putting stroke must have rhythm, one that takes into account your inherent sense of tempo and the need to create equal backstroke and forwardstroke lengths. The best way to practice rhythm is to use a metronome. Set it between 54 and 64 beats-per-minute. Experiment until you feel a beat that's attuned to your personal body rhythm. Next, try to make some practice strokes with the end of the backswing occurring on one click and the end of the forward motion on the next click. Keep swinging and let the rhythm ingrain itself into your system. With practice, the tempo will grow to become a natural part of your swing.
Touch and Feel The problem with most players is that they focus too much on mechanics and contact and not enough on how much energy is needed to produce the correct distance. That's putting touch. If yours is a little off, add the following three drills to your putting practice regimen.
1) Eyes Have It Drill: Attempt three long putts, a minimum of 50 feet. If you follow the norm, most of your attempts will come up short. Try the same putt, but this time look at your target during the entire motion. Odds are you'll hit these putts past the hole. The reason is that your eyes have an uncanny way of communicating feel to your body. This is a great drill that leads to a good pre-stroke routine in which you look at the target during your practice motions until you're confident of your stroke's power.
2) Safety Zone Drill: On the green, make a semicircle around the back edge of the hole using the length of your putter as a guide and mark the perimeter with a few tees. From different lengths, practice until you can get 10 putts in a row to come to rest either in the hole or inside this semicircular safety zone.
3) Closest-To-The-Hole Contest: With your golf partner, play a putting match in which you get points for being the closest to the hole. Award five points for making a putt and two points for lagging inside the length of your putter. A bonus point is awarded to the ball that's closest to the hole. For any putt outside the safety zone, deduct one point. Play to an agreed-upon total for your beverage of choice (save the champagne for the winning putt at the Club Championship)!
Confidence: (10 Minutes) The best putters in the world have the ability to read greens and judge distance correctly. They also have solid alignment routines and fundamentally sound putting mechanics. Their rhythm is flawless and consistent. But these things wouldn't make them great putters unless they got used to making putts and getting the sensory feedback of seeing and hearing the ball dive into the hole. There's only one way to get this confidence: Make more putts.
Finish your hour by making as many short putts as you can in a row. My personal best is 56, but set yourself a goal of, say, 10 or 15. Make them short, two or three feet. Place them on different angles to the hole and treat each putt as if it was for a big tournament win. Use your imagination and envision yourself sinking a three-footer to beat Tiger in a sudden-death playoff. Dream a little and build a better mental outlook on your putting.
PGA professional Steve Mitchell is the Director of Instruction for Kiawah Resorts on Kiawah Island, S.C.