This is the story of how I am working a significant change in my putting and how you may be able to leverage some of my changes to help yourself. While I generally try to improve every aspect of my game, rarely do I attempt a component overhaul as I have done with my putting in 2019. The decision was driven by my frustration with poor distance control, and inability to hit short putts with confidence. The timing of the change was ideal in 2019 because every year I travel to Myrtle Beach to play a week of golf and the transition to the southern putting surfaces (mostly Bermuda) drives me nuts. To grapple with the slower green speeds and grainy surfaces, I found myself altering my grip pressure, changing the pace of my stroke, and struggling to get the ball to the hole. But this year, we are not going to Myrtle Beach and have opted for a week at the Boyne Highlands resort in Michigan. At Boyne, all the surfaces are Bentgrass and are consistent with what we play on in the mid-Atlantic. I figured with that parameter controlled, what better time to go for a putting overhaul.
To frame the problem, you first need an honest assessment of yourself. Here’s mine: In the past, the closer I got to the green, the worse I’ve played. My strength has always been my driving and course management and my Achilles heel; my putting and short game. For the past three seasons I had averaged 32.5 putts per round which was unacceptable. Prior to the overhaul, this season I was averaging 33.6.
My struggles have been twofold: distance control on the lags and confidence on the shorties. Last year I paced off my putts and tried to groove a stroke for different distances. This worked for a while until I found myself on greens with different speeds. I couldn’t adjust, and the system fell apart. In accordance, I had a reluctance to hit the ball hard enough on the shorties. I could not make myself do it, and putts not hit with pace are affected too much by break and usually miss low. It was truly an endless source of frustration. After a particularly costly miss of a short putt in a round on May 25 of this year, I decided to launch the overhaul. I wanted to ram in my short putts and develop a great feel for distance on the long ones. A simple metric to prove success or failure would be an average of sub 30 putts per round after the changes.
Conventional thinking says you shouldn’t get too mechanical when you practice golf because you’ll never be able to transition from practice to the course and there’s a lot of truth to that. But I felt my primary problem was one of consistency borne from a lack of confidence. So, I designed a practice routine blending fundamentals with feel. Here it is.
To improve my short putting, I started by committing to taking 50 4-foot putts every time I practiced. Whether I was at the range or putting green or doing some chipping, some part of the practice had to include these 50, and since I started, that’s amounted to at least 150 per week. I began by putting into a hole framed by two alignment sticks but found that two tees spaced 4 inches apart worked better and were slightly smaller than a regulation cup (at 4 ¼ inches). Additionally, I could set up this station anywhere on a putting green and not interfere with other players. I’ve recently enhanced the drill by placing a couple irons behind the tees (see photo) to catch my golf balls. IMPORTANT: The key in using this configuration is to always have enough pace to have the ball roll through the tees, hit the front club, pop up, and settle between the two clubs. Seriously, it works! Use this feedback to teach yourself what a firm well struck short putt feels like. If you don’t make that ball pop over the first club, you are putting too tentatively. To measure success, I will count how many passed through my tees without touching one. On good days, I make all 50. My worst has been 43, and I’ve learned to use this drill to focus on making a good rhythmical swing. I’ll use a mantra of “Tick-Tock” to get the ball rolling with enough oomph to pop over that first club. I borrowed the thought from Paige Spiranac who uses “One Potato – Two Potato” in her video.
Use whatever works that helps you build rhythm, because rhythm is the best yip fighter on the planet and you will trust yourself to bang those shorties in the back of the cup.
To build feel for distance, I’ve experimented a lot and have settled on a very simple method. During your setup for any length putt, set your putter behind the ball and align it at your target. Sight your target next to or in the hole and stare at it for a couple seconds. Burn the vision of the target into your mind’s eye. Then look down and immediately begin your stroke. The more time you spend looking at your target and the less spent looking at the ball helps associate your brain with the force required to cover the distance. Do not sit there locked up over your putt staring at the ball. That builds tension. Inevitably you will get more balls to or past the hole using this method. It’s analogous to shooting free throws with a basketball. You toe the line, bounce the ball, maybe spin it a little, regrip it, but the whole time you have your eyes on the back of the rim, your target. You never look at the basketball right before you shoot, do you? Watch any professional baseball pitcher. They have all kinds of different windups but are always looking at where they wish to locate the pitch, not at the baseball in their hands. Same concept.
It’s been a month and a half since I started the overhaul and my putts per round average has fallen to 30.17 so I’m encouraged. This is difficult and what I learned about improvement on this scale is that there is no magic bullet. It’s about consistent practice and small tweaks to your approach. If you keep working the fundamentals over time, the odds will rebalance in your favor.
Give this a try if you want to improve your putting and let me know how it goes. I’m off to bang another 50 free throws. Play well.