(Much of the following is what I learned with James Sieckmann in Omaha, Nebraska. To me, it makes a heck of a lot of sense!)
Just think about it….
43% of all shots struck in a round of golf are with the putter!
If you are an average player and can improve your putting by just 10%, you would lower your handicap by 4 strokes!
Even if we are convinced that putting performance is critical and we want to get better, how do you go about it? Unfortunately, time and effort on the practice green is not necessarily the answer. In fact, you may get worse!
Most experienced golfers putt worse today than they did five, ten or twenty years ago.
Clearly, there is a fundamental problem associated with learning to putt that most players don’t see or understand.
Most people make the critical mistake of going to the practice putting green, with 3 balls in hand, trying different setups, techniques…until something seems to work.
What if you ran a business that way? No plan, temporary results, constantly searching for the magic solution? You would probably go broke in a hurry!
To fix a business, we first identify our problems.
Once we have identified our problems, we find solutions and develop a business plan.
Without a plan, we might be able to create some good moments, but we might not achieve long term success.
To fix our putting, we need to develop a plan!
The proper place to begin is how you view your putting.
Viewed as a single act, it is often times confusing.
Clarity and understanding occur when putting is broken down into essential skills and components that affect execution.
The 3 skills in putting and their components are:
1. Starting the ball on your intended line.
- PATH of the putter during the stroke
- FACE ANGLE of the putter during at impact
- IMPACT POINT of the ball on the putter
- AIM of club at address
2. Touch – predicting and then rolling the ball with proper pace.
- Ability to SWING IN RHYTHM
- IMPACTING and creating correct launch condition on the ball
- IMAGINATION and INSTINCT
3. Green reading or ability to see the correct line
- Knowing what to look for
- Imagination and instinct
The key to developing these skills is in how you practice as well as your mental focus and discipline!
Anika Sorenstam had a great approach to practice. She said, “I always tried to pay attention to my intention.” In other words, if you are going to putt for 5 minutes, what specifically is your intention for those 5 minutes? What skill or component are you going to focus on and improve. If you don’t know, you are wasting your time!
“Learning Theory” – has proven that “in order to learn effectively, we must have knowledge of the result of our actions.” In other words, how can you improve, if you do not know what you are doing wrong? If you desire to learn an effective repeatable putting stroke, putting balls on the practice green in its traditional sense does not fulfill this requirement.
Every day for a short period of time, you should put yourself in a learning environment and focus on the individual components of the fundamentals that make up your technical plan.
This type of practice is call “Block Practice.”
Block Practice will help you develop motor control and neural connections as you implement changes. It will help eliminate doubt as you play. It will allow you to maintain continuity from day to day and year to year.
1. UNDERSTANDING AND BELIEVING IN A METHOD.
Not only must we have a picture in our head of what our ideal putter swing is, but we must also commit to 4 setup fundamentals and a few essential in-swing mechanics. Without belief or commitment to the specifics of a method, either poor performance or a well meant, but incorrect tip, can send you down the wrong path.
Understanding creates certainty and belief breeds commitment. Together, they add up to continuity.
With a great plan, you don’t have to search for the secret, you just need to work hard to execute better.
In order to make the optimal pendulum stroke, you must setup so:
- Your hands hang directly under the shoulders, and
- The imaginary line between the ball joints of the shoulders, runs parallel to your intended aim line.
- You will be able to “see the line” and aim your putter more accurately if the ball lies directly under or just outside your eyes from the down-the-line view. Your dominant eye should fall two inches behind the ball from the face-on-view. (Right eye dominant right-handed players may need to set their lower body “open” (slightly left) in order to see the line and aim most effectively).
- Your ball will bounce less and tend to roll most efficiently if the ball is consistently positioned so that the putter strikes the ball at the bottom of the swing arc with approximately 4 degrees of effective loft on the putter.
We will be using alignment sticks to create a “benchmark” measurement for ball position and check it through “setup checks.”
Additionally, the ball should impact the putter in its exact center.
3 IN-SWING STROKE FUNDAMENTALS
- Suspension Point
The simplest and most repeatable stroke is that of a pure pendulum. In order for the putter to be swung as a pure pendulum, its suspension point must be fixed throughout the stroke.
Mechanical breakdowns that create movement in the suspension point often include excess shoulder rotation relative to aim line, wrist angle or elbow angle breakdowns, excess forearm rotation, or hip, knee, and head movement.
The medium through which the pendulum is swung is the arms. If the stroke is executed properly, the putter will swing symmetrically moving either along the aim line or plane line (*depends on comfort and your natural stroke) with the face angle square to that line.
For long swings, the putter’s path must at some point swing inside the aim line and the face angle must open and close slightly relative to that line. This should happen naturally since the ball joints in your shoulders are not friction free bearings, but have muscles and tendons restricting their movement. Putters who resist this natural movement tend to over control their putters. In a pure pendulum stroke, the ball is not “hit” but rather the putter is swing and the ball is simply in the way. “Hit” connotes “muscular effort at” or “leading into” impact in order to propel the ball. In order to have great rhythm and touch, we must eliminate this tendency. The best putters in the world let their putters “swing.” There is a big mental and physical difference between the two.
*The importance is not which method or picture of the stroke you believe in, but rather that you understand and believe in something and have a way to cultivate that stroke. In addition, performance always trumps method! Regardless of the “how,” the bottom line is that you can either perform the essential skills or you can’t.
FINDING AND DEVELOPING YOUR RHYTHM
A pendulum swings rhythmically. For the putter to swing rhythmically, it must be swung so that it always takes the same amount of time to complete the swing, regardless of the length of the swing. Longer putts require relatively longer, faster, even swings.
Everyone’s natural rhythm is different. In order to find your rhythm, take a metronome and two pillows spaced equally away from the address position, start swinging your putter back and forth timing the contact with each pillow to the beat you have selected on the metronome. You should chose a pace between 65 and 85 beats per minute (PGA average is 78). Listen to your subconscious as you vary the speed of the metronome. One pace will feel too fast and another too slow. After a little trial and error, you should be able to commit to a beat or rhythm. Now that you have a cadence to practice to, vary the distance between the pillows and experience the putter velocity requirements for different length swings.
In the first month, I strongly suggest practicing your putting stroke with a metronome every day. Once your ability to swing in rhythm has been adequately developed, you must learn to clear your mind and putt subconsciously by reacting to the target. A proven strategy for many players is to develop a physical ritual to a rhythmic cadence for every putt other than tap-ins. Upon completion of this school, you should have a physical ritual that is right for you.
A physical and mental ritual occupies your conscious mind during the critical moment when a negative thought or distraction can prevent you from performing your best. With discipline, you will repeat the same physical and mental process for every single putt and your mind will take great comfort in knowing what to expect which will allow you to execute more confidently.
One of the key components to a consistent repeatable stroke is STABILITY. Your body becomes stable through an athletic posture and an engaged core. Your mind becomes stable by quieting your physical focus (Dr. Joan Vickers – “A Quiet Eye”) Like all fundamentals you must consistently train for stability so that it becomes a subconscious skill. In the beginning, you may have to force this process. However, over time, you may discover how great putters “let it happen” even in the most stressful circumstances.
Touch is the ability of “your minds eye” to pick a swing length (in rhythm) that is appropriate for each individual situation. Feel or sensory perception in your hands or fingertips is often taught as the key element of touch, which is incorrect. Touch is a function of consistently solid contact, rhythm and imagination. Learn to focus externally on touch by making proper use of your practice stroke. Take one while looking at the hole. Get into the target and sense how the ball will role. Stroke the next with your eyes closed and sense if the swing length is appropriate or feels right to the picture in your mind. Once your subconscious gives you the green light, simply address the ball and repeat the feeling.
FEEL AND REACT TO THE TARGET – DON’T THINK!
Short-Medium-Long Putting Touch Drill
PURPOSE: To develop the ability to putt the ball with optimum speed, by training your subconscious to be intuitive with slope, wind, green speed and grain.
DESCRIPTION: Turn on your metronome to the desired rhythm. Stroke a short approximately (10 foot), a medium (25 foot) and long (40 foot) putt to a cup in succession. Putt your first set of three downhill and your next set of three up hill. Putt at least six sets of three in a random and variable manner.
LEARN: When practicing touch, anybody can putt the ball the correct distance if they give themselves enough chances at the same putt. Your practice should replicate reality which means random, one at a time. In golf, you get one chance at any putt and then are faced with something completely different on your next attempt. We must learn to get into the target and be adaptive to all the conditions that affect touch and learn to get it right the first time.
Set a goal appropriate for your skill level. Putt all 18 putts (6 sets of 3) and shoot a score. In this game you receive 3 points for a make, 2 points for getting the ball to the hole, but not further than one club length beyond, 1 point for a putt short of the hole but within a club length, and zero for everything else. Measure your progress and continually upgrade your goals. When possible, compete against like minded individuals. This drill should not take much more than 10 minutes. Focus intently, gets your work done, and move on to something else. Hanging out on the putting green just putting without intense focus is counterproductive. If you want to develop great skill and get the most from your hard work, then you must learn to practice with intelligence and focus.
CULTIVATING YOUR STROKE
Now that you have a plan to improve your touch, you need one to work on the other five acts of putting (aim, path, face angle, impact point, and green reading).
SAMPLE HALF HOUR PERFECT PRACTICE PUTTING SESSION
- Two minutes of stroke shape, face angle, or suspension point work putting along alignment stick.
- Four minutes of Setup Checks with the “Coin drill.” Focus on Aim, Path, Face Angle, and Impact Point (add tees just outside heel and toe). Within four minutes try and succeed on or make 10 perfect putts. Add breaking putts if necessary.
- Six minutes of the Star Drill. Work on matching line and speed and as always run your complete process, including green reading and post shot processes.
- Ten minutes of the “Short, Medium, and Long Putting Touch Drill.” Run your full mental program and shoot a touch score.
- Eight minutes of Test – play a game of “Three in a Row,” “Darts,” Big Foot,” or “7-11,” and as always, run your Full Mental Program.
If we are to become great putters then we must at a minimum commit to the following:
- We must understand and commit to a method with regards to how the putter is to be swing (There are varying methods, and which one you choose is a lot less important then absolutely committing to it).
- We must practice in a learning environment so that we can master the different aspects of putting individual of one another. Commitment to the method coupled with intelligent practice will ensure continuity.
- We must immerse ourselves in both an effective pre-shot and post shot ritual that will allow us to focus our minds and relax our bodies. The ultimate prize of mental skill is confidence.