Tag Archives: scoring

Wholesale Putting Change!

Putting can make or break your golf game.  Roughly 40 % of your strokes are with your putter, so what drives putting performance?  Four things:

1: Technique.

2: Nerves.

3: The quality of your short game.

4: Proximity – i.e., how close you are to the hole for your first putt.

After some deep thinking on these areas, I’m going to make a significant change, but before discussing, let’s take a sanity check on my putting data.  I’ve captured putts per round statistics from 2007 through 2020.

The statistics tell a story of recent improvement, but when I ask myself, “Do I believe I’m truly a good putter?”  Unfortunately, the answer is “no”.  I get that everyone’s performance is relative and my improvement from 2018 to 2019 was nice.  It was the result of a March 2018 short game lesson, and a July 2018 putting lesson, and a lot of hard work to cement those changes in.  But it’s not enough.

Right now, I’d consider myself a good lag putter but when I get to the 5-10 foot range, where you should make your share of birdies and par saves, I’m terrible because I can’t start the putt on my intended line.   Missing a little off-line on a 30-40 footer won’t usually cost you a two-putt but nothing is more deflating than stuffing an iron shot and yanking the birdie putt way left.  I’ve solved an alignment problem by putting over a spot, and have tried numerous top of the line putters but to no avail.

There has got to be a better way and perhaps I’m getting greedy, but I’m thinking even if I don’t improve my ball striking one bit, if I can reduce my putts to less than 30 per round, I’d get a free handicap drop from 4 to 2.  Tempting, and I’m going for it!

The change is a switch to the claw grip with my right hand.  I’ve been using a traditional reverse overlap grip for years and have tested this change inside on the rug, and outside on the putting green.  The difference on the shorties is exceptional, but it’s not without concern.

Phil using the claw. Photo courtesy of golfmagic.com

Pros like Sergio, Phil, and Adam Scott have all gone to a variation of the low hand claw with great success, but they are putting extremely fast greens.  Indeed, this change works best on fast surfaces and one may be susceptible to inconsistencies with longer putts on slower greens.  My home course has fast greens, but I only play about 25-30% of my rounds there.  So, I may rack up a few extra three putts but hopefully make up for it in the scoring range.  Maybe I’ll alternate grips for long putts???  I’m willing to give it a try.  Has anyone had any success trying this method over a protracted time period?  Please share if you have a story.

Thanks, and play well!

Zombie State – Broken!

From vectortoons.com

Dr. Bob Rotella is fond of saying, “putt like you don’t care if you make it.”  The advice is supposed to keep you focused on your routine and not let pressure situations alter your nerves or approach. Can you take this to the extreme?  I did, and was not getting mad at myself when I’d three-putt or miss a make-able shortie and had started to wonder; do I really care?  Why am I playing like a Zombie?  That was until two weekends ago playing The Links At Gettysburg.  We were coming up the 18th (a reachable par-5) and I had ripped a long drive to within 180 yards in the left rough.

18 green seen from the clubhouse

The approach was over water and I picked a 4-iron and stuck it two feet from the cup.  As I approached the green, I sort of conceded the eagle putt in my mind.  It was one of those that would normally be conceded in a match but if you’re just playing for score, you should putt it out. . .because it’s for eagle.  So, I casually strolled up, tapped it and missed left.  Now that was surly the shortest eagle putt I have ever blown and at the time I felt a little numb but just shrugged it off – because I didn’t care.  But on the drive home I started stewing.  Why hadn’t I gone through my regular routine on that damn putt!

Now the story gets better.  I’m drawing inspiration from my friend Jim, over at The Grateful Golfer.  Jim was working all winter on his chipping and putting in his basement, waiting for the snow to melt.  He reported his short game was sharp at the season’s start, and I’m reminded of a winter long ago when I built a putting track and used it for a few months.  That spring I was automatic from inside six feet.  So after the round at Gettysburg, I decided to work short game and putting – exclusively.  I even dragged out my old alignment stick drill

Putting drill with alignment sticks

and have been banging groups of 50 4-foot putts to build good rhythm, get centeredness of contact, and start the ball on line.  I want automatic again.  Now this drill is VERY mechanical, but it has worked before and just payed off.

Fast forward to yesterday’s round at my home course, Blue Mash.  “The Mash” hits you with three par-4s at the start of 424, 428, and 453 yards – hard holes.  I hit good putts on 1 and 2 that didn’t go in and bogeyed both.  After a nice two putt par on #3, I hit a great tee shot to #4 which is a 190-yard par-3.  From 20 feet straight uphill, I blew it by six feet and three-putted, but here was the difference.  I got pissed and back in the cart, slammed my fist on the seat.  And then something happened after that burst of emotion; I felt a weird sense of relief, like some strange burden was lifted off my shoulders.  Almost immediately, I regained an amazing level of concentration with my putter and rolled in five birdies and ended up shooting 71 (even par).   It felt good to get mad again because I realized I do care and missed putts do matter.

I seemed to have rescued myself from this zombie like state.  Have you ever gone “Rotella” too far in the opposite direction?

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.

The Great Course Management Experiment

ideaAdmittedly, I am one of those golfers who gains enjoyment from turning myself into a bit of a test laboratory on the golf course.  What fun it is to hypothesize on a mental or physical problem and go test it out using yourself as the guinea pig.  Vet4golfing51 seems very adept at this with his work on the mind-body connection, and I thought I’d give it a try.  I’ve been developing an idea for better scoring and I wanted to try it out on my readers before putting into play.

The experiment is in course management on par-5 holes.  Normally, the majority of alpha males step to the tee on a par-5 and immediately pull driver.  Summoning every ounce of  strength, their effort usually culminates in a massive blow with the ball traveling a long way but not necessarily in the direction desired.  My thought was to try like heck to stay out of trouble on the tee shots which should open up easy birdie opportunities and cut down on the big numbers.  When you hit a fairway bunker or put it in the woods or a hazard, you are most surly looking at bogey or double on the par-5 because of the remaining length you have to cover to make up.  And nothing feels worse than having to scramble on a par-5.

The experiment is to spend the entire week in early June on my Myrtle Beach trip hitting nothing but 3WD on every par-5 hole during the 216 hole golf-a-thon, then try to determine if stroke average improves as a result of keeping the ball in play.

The thought came to me after playing the par-5  17th at Northwest last Sunday.  I had been struggling with my ball striking through 11 holes and made the decision to bench the driver for the balance of the round.  #17 was playing 532 yards into a light breeze.  I made an aggressive pass with a 3WD off the tee and smartly placed one in the left side of the fairway.  Another solid 3WD had me at 109 yards where I hit a smooth pitching wedge pin high for a good look at birdie.  It seemed too easy, but easy is good!  Then I thought back to a 500 yard par-5 on my home course where I used to hit driver all the time and inevitably littered my scorecards with bogeys and doubles.  The last few years I always play it 3WD then 3-iron which leaves me about 100 yards and looking right down the throat of the flag stick.  Par or better is usually the result.

When you think about it, if average par-5s are 500-530 yards, and you can cover 200-230 with a 3WD tee shot, that leaves you with essentially a 300 yard par-4 hole; and who wouldn’t want that?  A long iron second puts me at 100-110 yards, which is my wheelhouse and most course architects don’t leave fairway bunkers back around 100 yards.  Here’s the post with my scoring stats from last year’s trip.  I’m hypothesizing that the scoring average will come down, as will the double bogey total.  The birdie number is more or less dependent on how well I’m putting, so no guarantees there, but the experiment is to eliminate the big numbers.  Driver will still be in play on the par-4s because length is critical, especially on the long ones.

What do you think of this approach?