Putting asks for only two functions to master: speed and direction, line and pace, spot and roll … whatever you call it, they need to be done! In this article we will address a downhill, left to right breaking putt, the most unpopular putt choice for most right-handed golfers. To become a good putter you have to “see” the line and “feel” the speed. As you walk on the green to face this putt, get a picture in your mind as to how you visualize the ball rolling. Imagine the putt in your mind’s eye from start to finish. As Nick Faldo would say, “get a good picture in your mind.” Most golfers read the line first and then try to figure out the speed. Let’s take a page from world beater Jordan Spieth who reads the speed first, then gets a picture of the line. Either way you’ve got to take both steps.
Once you have chosen your line, you can either: see the line running all the way to the hole, one long straight line that would finish alongside the hole, showing six feet break; pick a spot along that line, 12 feet in front of you, like the recent Masters winner Danny Willett does; or the “apex” point, often called the “break” point, where the ball starts to bend/break. In Photo 1 above you can see me aiming at the breaking point, illustrated by the middle ball. This is one of the hardest things to do — aim at the line, not the hole. Our eyes are attracted to the hole. That’s where we want the ball to finish, not where the ball should start! On a breaking putt you cannot aim or stroke at the hole.
The aiming of the face is essential on all putts, short or long, straight or slider. The putter face must be lined up square to the target line. In Photo 2 I’m focusing on the putter face aim. While practicing I highly recommend that you use a string (see inset), which will help you see when the face is perpendicular to the string/ line which is called “square.” Without a string, you can lay a shaft or stick on the ground to help you see if your putter face is perpendicular to the shaft aim.
In Photo 3 we can see the correct aim on the intended line, and please notice the posture. Some key points that all good putters follow: eyes over the line, hands under the shoulders, and line of the putter’s shaft runs through the forearms. These three posture putter points greatly increase your chances to swing the putter on line and square to the line at impact. This also reduces the amount of putter face rotation, which is a common fault among poor putters. The putter face needs to be square to the arc or line you swing the putter on.
So you’d like to hear more about the “lie” of the putter shaft? The lie is the angle between the sole of the club and the shaft. An upright lie is one that sits closer to the vertical, 90 degrees. This is impossible as you stand to the side of the ball and a few inches away from the ball; the lie is more likely to be 75 degrees. If you like to stand farther away the standard lie of the putter needs to be flatter, perhaps 70 degrees. A flat lie is 66 degrees. Unfortunately, most golfers choose their putter on looks, not fit. Not a good idea. If the putter is the wrong length or lie for you it will put you in the wrong posture or you may not sole the club correctly. Look how the middle of my putter sole is flat to the ground at address (Photo 4). Only the toe is slightly off the ground surface. The lie of my putter fits my chosen and correct posture.
The next step, in my opinion, is the most important part of your putting routine and practice. See the distance and feel the speed. How do we learn that, you may ask? To develop the touch and feel you need to learn starts with your eyes. Imagine you are going to bowl a ball. Where would you be looking? At your hands, feet, ground? No of course not, you would be looking at your target. (in Photo 5 I’m looking at length and line). That’s what all the pros do. Watch on TV. They look at the hole, judging visually how far they want to roll the ball. I love to use the analogy of bocce, a ball sport belonging to the boules family, closely related to British bowls and French pétanque, with a common ancestry from ancient games played in the Roman Empire. In England it’s called “Crown Bowling.” By looking at your end target with your eyes you are visualizing the distance in your brain. The eyes send the information to the brain, which in turn sends the information to the body, hands/arms/chest/, and you feel how big and hard you have to swing the putter in order to roll the ball the correct speed. That is what you do in bocce, bowling, putting. You see the distance and feel the speed. This visual to feel transformation must be practiced…a lot!
Let me give you the putting routine that I recommend, and the majority of top pros use. See the length (look at the hole), then read the line, looking along the line but also gauging distance to the hole. Then take a couple of practice strokes to feel the length and pace of your stroke that you guesstimate (which is all you can really do) will hit the ball at the correct speed to finish alongside, beside, or hopefully in the hole.
What is also worth mentioning is the rhythm of your stroke (Photo 6). Practice to be consistent in your routine and rhythm. For example, Phil Mickelson has a longer, smoother stroke, compared to Brandt Snedeker who has a shorter ‘rap’ stroke. Some are strokers, some are poppers. Whichever you are, be the same all the time. I believe the trend in putting strokes is becoming shorter and softer due to the speed of the greens seen on the PGA Tour. But if you are playing slower greens you will need a longer, firmer stroke to roll the ball the required distance. Be in your rhythm on every stroke.
But most of all, remember: feel the speed, see the line, or if you prefer see the line, feel the speed!
Donald Crawley is Director of Instruction at The Boulders Resort in Carefree, Arizona. Over the summer he travels across the country leading golf clinics and schools.