Like many aspects of golf, putting often flows better if you forget complicated instructions and just trust your natural instincts.
Many of our golfing forefathers demonstrated this with great success. When I look back to the earliest photos of great golfers, taken well over a century ago, I notice three things.
1. Their stance is open and wide. 2. Their left elbow is away from the body and pointing slightly towards the hole. 3. Their eyes are always directly over the ball.
If any of my students experience difficulties when putting, I get them to try this position. The results are simply spectacular. Invariably they start to putt better, their confidence increases dramatically and any fear of putting virtually disappears.
Gaining confidence is a major step to finding success on the greens.
When watching a child, or someone who has never played golf, trying to putt for the first time, I notice they always adopt a position similar to the one described above. It is quite natural for them to face in the direction of the target as much as they can.
Facing the target is also the customary position when playing darts, bowling, or making a throw. On the green, a wide stance creates a feeling of great stability and the elbow slightly towards the hole improves aiming along the putting line.
This invariably means using the wrists and hands more than in a conventional “pendulum” stance. However, this more natural and instinctive approach has yielded excellent results in virtually all my students.
Completely excluding wrist action, as often recommended in modern day teaching, is so unnatural that it creates stiffness, tension and loss of feel. The result is an enormous difficulty in judging distance. Dave Pelz, a prolific writer and expert on the short game, states that 80% of bad putting is a result of poor judgement of length and not of direction.
Slope Indicator: When studying the line of your putt, just imagine water coming from the hole and seeing what direction it would flow.
Exercise: Hole increasingly long putts
1. Start by putting 2 feet from the hole. Each time you hole out, move the ball an additional two feet from the hole and putt again. If you miss a putt, stay at the same distance until you hole out. 2. Now repeat the previous exercise and see how far you can get in 15 minutes. This is one of the simplest but most effective putting improvement exercises I know. 3. Finally, repeat the previous exercise but this time look at the hole while you putt. This will seem odd at first, but quickly it will become quite instinctive. Just think of other sports such as darts where you look at the target while making your throw.
Exercise: Centre your putts for consistent length
During my early years as an assistant at the Roehampton Golf Club near London, my former employer and coach George Gadd (who was incidentally one of Britain’s best putters in his prime) held the opinion that to putt well, you must strike the ball perfectly.
I totally agree with this point of view. The following exercise will help you learn how to strike the ball perfectly when putting.
Start around seven yards from the hole and use the same strength of putt for each of the following exercises:
1. Putt three balls striking the ball on the toe of the putter. 2. Putt three balls striking the ball on the centre of the putter. 3. Putt three balls striking the ball with the heel of the putter.
If you use the same force for each putt, only balls hit using the centre of the putter face reach the hole, while the others will be short. Many bad putts are caused by poor ball striking rather than by bad judgement – this exercise will prove this.
Great green reading
While a good putting stroke is essential to good golf, learning to read greens is fundamental to putting successfully.
When walking towards the green, take a look at the general topography. Where is the high point and where is the low point? This will give you a general idea of the slope that you can expect and the direction your ball is likely to take.
If you see no slope at all, do not invent one. Just putt straight and concentrate on getting the distance right.
Study the grass itself. Has the green been cut recently? Is the green damp or dry?
Watch and learn from your partner’s putts and how the ball behaves on the green. By being observant, you will gain a lot of valuable information in a very short time, further enabling you to make the right decision before you putt.
Grass can grow at an amazingly fast pace! Beware of the difference in speed between the earlier and later greens, particularly if the round is played over a five-hour period (which unfortunately can often be the case these days).
If you start your round early, the morning dew will burn off as the day warms up, and the greens will speed up. Conversely, if you are finishing in the evening, humidity can start to settle on the grass as the day draws to a close. That plays an important role in green speed and how much a putt will break. This gives the player even more reason to take just a little more time when reading the greens.
Remember that it’s your duty as a considerate golfer to avoid slow play, so always do your reading while waiting your turn to putt.
John Norsworthy’s book Good Golf is Easy is available from the English Book Centre in Valbonne.