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.
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.