Becoming A Better Putter

I believe there is a putting spectrum that every player resides in and it looks something like this:  [Fear >> Indifference>>Confidence>>Warrior].  Somewhere you will find yourself and the state of your putting.  You may never get off your current state, you may improve, or you may regress.  My views on putting have evolved after reading many books, trying just about every technique possible, and studying the habits and advice of excellent putters.  Despite all that work, I was mirrored in a spot between Fear and Indifference for a very long time.  There is a lot of truth to the old axiom that putting is 10% stroke and 90% nerve, and the solution I’m about to share is largely a solve for the 90%.

Fear is when you view your putting as a weakness and treat it as a chore within the game.  “Oh great, I’m on the green, now I have to putt.”  Or you’d rather chip than putt from one foot off the green.  Basically, you know you suck with the blade and the trepidation overwhelms any ball striking success, and your scores suffer.  I never feared putting to that extent, but I’ve always feared rolling the ball past the hole.  I never understood why (still don’t), but as a result, I left many long putts short of tap in range, and did not strike short putts solid enough to hold their line.  I still have the same fear of going long with chips and pitches and am working on a solution for that.  So the fear fully infested my game inside about 50 yards of the hole.

My first clue out was a couple of years ago after a particularly bad spell of lag putting.  I couldn’t get the ball halfway to the hole, and one day changed my pre-shot routine to just take practice strokes with my trailing (right) hand.  I noticed I was making what felt like these huge practice strokes, and I’d just put my left hand back on and pulled the trigger on the putt.  For some reason my feel for distance improved but it felt like I was killing the ball and the feeling didn’t last long because I didn’t trust it.

Last fall, I became interested in Phil Mickelson’s putting problems and how he was working his way out by going back to fundamentals.  I liked the circle drill he used on the shorties because it was a rehearsal followed by a quick stroke, which I figured shouldn’t allow him time to think; just follow his routine.  I decided to try the circle drill on all my putts, not just the shorties.  And that is the crux of my solution.

The solve:

Now I will read putts standing halfway between the ball and hole and only sometimes confirm my read from behind the ball.  Oddly enough, I’ll get a better feel for break with my feet along the line of the putt than with my eyes from behind the ball.  This is a radical change from my previous routine and took some getting used to.  Standing halfway between ball and hole gives me a great perspective on the uphill or downhill nature of the putt which is critical to judging distance.  While I’m halfway, I make sure I’m far enough back to site both the ball and hole in my peripheral vision, and then make my practice strokes, just feeling the distance.  I then step up to the ball and line it up with no additional practice strokes and try to hold the putter as lightly as possible before hitting the putt and trying to feel the motion of my practice stroke.  I do this for every putt of every length.  For the first month, this didn’t work too well until I learned to trust my practice swing and the very soft grip pressure.  You know you are trusting it when it feels a little like you are rushing over the ball and hitting it very quickly.  In essence, you are not letting doubts about read or speed creep in and you simply make a reactionary move.  Now when I practice my putting the three things I focus on are  soft hands, judging the practice stroke, and trusting it over the ball.  TRUST is the key.

Notice, the only mechanical thought I mentioned was “soft hands”.  If you are continually pulling or pushing the ball, or not hitting it solid, you may have a mechanical error that needs to first be addressed.  But if you’re comfortable with your fundamentals and are trying to improve your feel, guts, and nerve, give this method a try.

I mentioned in an earlier post that my putting stats are vastly improved for the first part of the season.  They are just numbers, but you know in your heart when something positive has taken hold and this has.  I’m definitely at the ‘Confidence’ point on the spectrum and am seeking Warrior status.  It may be awhile and will probably coincide with the solving of my chipping and pitching trepidations but I look forward to the day when my game is a total weapon inside of 50 yards.

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About Brian Penn

Avid sports fan and golf nut. I am a lifelong resident of the Washington D.C. area and love to follow the local teams. Also worked as a golf professional in the Middle Atlantic PGA for several years and am intrigued by the game to no end. I love to play and practice and am dedicated to continual improvement.
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11 Responses to Becoming A Better Putter

  1. Brian,
    I agree that TRUST is the most important thing. When I am very confident in my reads, I have faith my mechanics will get it in the hole. When I doubt a read is when I make my poor strokes and don’t give it a chance. It was amazing, at Pebble Beach when I had a caddie, how much better I putted when I had a guy with 35 years of experience at the course telling me the exact read on every putt. It was at that point I had the epiphany that key to good putting for me was trusting my reads.

    Good write up!

    Josh

    • Brian Penn says:

      Josh, I didn’t mention that the Putting Out Of Your Mind book by Rotella has had a large and positive influence on me. His recurring theme is to trust in your mechanics and get immersed in your routine. Part of that trust is knowing that your mechanics aren’t perfect and to trust in the fact that you are going to miss putts, even shorties; because that’s golf and we are aiming at a small target. On the caddy thing, I’ve only played with a few in my lifetime but have experienced the opposite effect that you did at Pebble. I did not know or trust the caddy and it took me out of my green reading routine, which was one problem, and festered a lack of trust. If you trust your caddy, it’s got to be a HUGE benefit with the second set of eyes and another quality check on your read. TRUST is big in all aspects.

      Thanks!

      Brian

      • Brian,

        I should definitely give that book a read. Now that I’ve picked up a Kindle, I can’t use the excuse that I haven’t gotten around to going to the bookstore. Interesting experience you had with your caddie. To be honest, on the first hole, I had trouble trusting his read (because it was different than mine). I made a mediocre stroke and realized that his read was probably correct. On the second hole, from about 15 feet for birdie, he gave me the line and told me to hit it firm because it will snap towards the ocean at the hole because of the grain. I decided to trust him, and low and behold, it snapped right into the middle of the cup when at first it looked like it was going to miss high. From that point, he gained my trust, and his reads didn’t let me down. Apparently the guy we got is the “go to” caddie for all the celebs that visit. He has pretty much caddied for everyone, pretty cool.

        Anyway, thanks for the info. I love the sounds of this book and some of the suggestions you have. Will let you know how it goes.

        Cheers
        Josh

        • Brian Penn says:

          Josh, cool story about the celeb caddy. You are now equipped to take on the likes of Bill Murray and Clint Eastwood around the Pebble complex!

          Brian

  2. svgolfer says:

    trust is key especially in the pre-shot routine for me. keeping it identical from reading to line selection to speed/tempo selection helps me take the fear factor out of it. then is just accept that it’ll be what it’ll be. if i miss-read the line or miss-calculated speed – no matter, stick to the routine and it will ring true many more times than not over time and that helps build trust – at least for me. i like you’re halfway thing. I like to do the same and try to do it from below the hole/ball-hole line. i still need to practice feeling the slope with my feet but i hear it is also the truest judge. nice write up and perspective on the mental phases….thx

    • Brian Penn says:

      SV, great point about reading the putt from below the hole. How long have you been doing that? I tried that after reading Stockton’s Putt To Win in 2011 and have been doing it ever since. Not sure why you get a better read from the low side but you do. Maybe it activates the judgment chemical in our brains 🙂

      Thanks for weighing in!

      Brian

  3. Brian

    Great tips for improving your putting. I have had a few woes of my own lately, but I am slowly working my way out. I was using the line on the ball to help me square my putter head, but it is not producing the results I am looking for. So, I am going back to my old way and trust definitely plays a critical role in putting well. Sometimes, the old way is better. Thanks for the reminder.

    Cheers
    Jim

    • Brian Penn says:

      Jim, I too tinkered briefly with the line on the ball but then abandoned when I determined I wasn’t trying to solve for an aiming problem. I guess that’s the allure of the line? Were you trying to solve an aiming problem? I generally aim well but my challenge is pace, as I described. That’s why I went with the new pre-shot routine. Oh well, if it’s not one thing it’s another; thus is the beauty of the game. Play well!

      Brian

      • Brian

        No I was not trying to fix my aiming problem, I was trying something new to see if would improve anything. It does not. I find the line takes away much of my feel when putting. I have marked two dozen golf balls, so I will I use them up. But the line trick aiming technique is not in my future.

        Cheers
        Jim

  4. Adam says:

    I’m pretty new to the game and definitely need some improvement! And I think fear is a part of it – I’m so afraid of looking like I don’t belong out there that I think it’s messing up my game. And yes! What if the ball goes past the hole! That is so my thoughts as well!

    • Brian Penn says:

      Adam, I understand your trepidation being a new player. The best way to conquer your fear is to practice your putting under pressure. Get a friend and play a friendly match on the putting green. Once you get used to the pressure in rehearsal, game time should be no problem. Good luck and play well!

      Brian

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