As hard as it is to believe for a long drive champion, I had many instances of Tour level putting. If you don’t believe that, having played with guys like Stan Utley and Frank Lickliter, I have witnessed consistent Tour level putting first hand. I have found what the three most important elements are and none of them are mechanical.
1. Reading the green
1. Green reading is a skill that anyone can develop. Not all people can read greens at a world class level, but all can be competent. Here are a few simple thoughts and this is nowhere near a comprehensive list.
Plumb bobbing is a waste of time unless you already know which way the putt breaks and it doesn’t work on putts that break more than a few inches. If you line up the putter shaft even a fraction of an inch to the side of your eye, it can give you the opposite break.
The best way to decide where a short putt breaks is to find the low side of the hole and everything will break there. If you stand about 5 feet away, the more you can see of the inside of the hole, the more on the low side of the hole you are.
On long putts, you always need to know what is going to happen the last 5 feet of the putt, because that is when the ball will be slowing down and taking all of the break.
EDITED: Sometimes I don’t remember everything. A reader reminded me that your feet are great at measuring the slopes and contours on the greens as you walk. I do this often, especially on the days my eyes are lying to me. When the slope, not matter how subtle, bends and contort your feet, they feel it and give you an idea of what the slope holds for you.
2. Confidence is the most important factor in putting. A 5 handicap with a strange stroke, on a hot putting streak and believing he is going to make every putt, will beat a PGA Tour player who is questioning his great stroke…every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Believe it. Frank Lickliter has one of the best strokes on the PGA Tour (even though he recently lost his card), but I watched him lose a putting contest to a 5 with a right hand slap, because the 5 thinks he’s the greatest putter on earth and makes a bunch.
Look at some of the old timers and the nasty wristy stokes some of them had. I know the greens are different, but the point is that being confident is way more important than how good your mechanics are.
3. Perception is part of confidence, but I will give it it’s own section. If you perceive that you like your putter, you are going to make more putts. If your perception is you are going to hit a solid putt and it will go in or it won’t…you will make MANY, MANY more putts.
People perceive they have some control over whether or not they can make a putt go in. Sorry folks, from outside of 18 inches, once you read the putt properly, you have no control over making a putt other than just hitting a solid putt…so that is what you need to do.
Imperfections in the green no matter how perfect they are, will make good putts bounce out of the hole. People who try too hard to make the putt end up steering it and not hitting it solid…especially on short putts.
Which brings me to my next point. Speed versus line. I ask people once they have read the putt and lined up, what % to they pay attention to speed and what % do they pay attention to line. I get all sorts of answers and almost all of them are wrong.
Once you have read the putt and lined up…line is all taken care of and 0% of your thinking goes toward it. You need to pay 100% attention to hitting the putt solid and the correct speed to make the putt on the line you are aiming.
Someone asked me about lag putting. I don’t like to adjust how hard I hit putts, so I adjust speed with length of back swing. Some people like to change the width of their stance to the length of putt to help them adjust the length of stroke. Guess what? both of those things are great if they work and terrible if they don’t. Putting is extremely individual and whatever works, do it. It all goes back to confidence. If you are confident you are going to make putts if you site lines from the movie Caddyshack to yourself…you are going to make more putts if you do that. Putting is not about perfecting a stroke, it’s about a mental and physical approach that will give you the best chance of hitting a putt solid and believing it will go in.