John Renslow: Master the putt
Putting might be the biggest small thing in sport. It should be easy. The motion is the smallest in the game and the length of the shots are the shortest in the game. Yet, each putt counts just the same as a full swing.
A 300-yard drive down the middle of the fairway or a well played long-iron shot that comes to rest on the green have the same numeric value as the putt from a few inches. The old adage, still valid today is, “you drive for show, but you putt for dough.”
The word ‘“putt” likely comes from an old Scottish pronunciation of the English word “push.” Granted, we don’t drag or shove the ball into the hole, but we shouldn’t get lost in translation. We just want to push the ball in the hole. Easy, right?
Yet, every one of us will struggle at one time or another (or what seems like forever) with this seemingly simple shot. It takes some players two shots to send the ball 500 yards, only to spend four more trying to get the ball in the hole.
There is even a name for the truly downtrodden who have serious issues with short putts, the ones you’re expected to make. Like throwing rings around a duck at the fair, it should be easy, but they just won’t go in. Then our mind starts playing tricks on us, tricks that go all the way down to our hands.
Rather than a smooth, rhythmical stroke, the motion becomes abrupt and jagged. We have the “yips.”
Tour players are no exception. Great players and weekend players alike are often handicapped by a poor performance from the “flat-stick,” which is followed by a series of desperate attempts to solve the problem.
Players try putting left-handed, players stand astride the line of the putt try to ‘bowl’ the ball into the hole. Sam Snead, one of golf’s legends, straddled the line with the ball just in front of his shoes and would swing the putter between his feet, like croquet. (This was subsequently banned by the USGA.) Word is that Arnold Palmer had 4,000 putters in his garage.
Knowing all of that, let’s go over one putting drill that is bound to help you whether you are currently a confident putter or you think I’ve been writing about you this whole time.
Start with a least five golf balls and position yourself about 18” away from the hole. Address the first ball (hello ball!). Make sure that your putter is pointing directly at the hole and your feet and hips are parallel to the line between the ball and the hole.
Next, make sure that your head and eyes are generally over the ball. One way to check this is to take a golf ball and hold it alongside your eye, near your temple. Then, drop it. Keeping your target line in mind, the ball should drop on this line or within an inch or two of it.
Now that you’re all set, push the ball in the hole without using a back swing (motion away from the ball) and without using your arms and hands. Your shoulders and your arms rotate just enough to get the ball to the hole.
For those who would normally use their hands to manipulate the putter in the motion, this is going to feel really odd. That is OK for a while and good to realize. Put the next ball into play and try it again.
The shoulders, arms, hands, and putter essentially become one unit, rotating forward to nudge the ball into the hole. You can verify this is correct by viewing the position of your shoulders, arms, hands, and putter after sending the ball on its way. It should be virtually identical to the address position, just rotated toward the hole.
We only use enough motion to get the ball to the hole, no more. Do this a total of 10 times.
When you have finished those 10, we move on to another round of 10. But this time we are going to allow a very small back swing. Again, this back swing will be very small, just enough to get the ball to the hole. Do this a total of 10 times.
Ensure that the area around the hole is fairly level and move back to about 4 feet away. This back swing will be very small. Again, just enough to get the ball to the hole. Do this a total of 10 times.
Finally, move back to about 10 feet and hit 10 more putts. Of course, the back swing will be larger, but no more than is necessary to get the ball to the back of the hole. A sure sign of a good putt is an assertive motion forward.
If you miss one, start all over. That sounds tough, but no pain, no gain. Besides, over the course of a few weeks, your putting stroke will improve so much, you will make all 10.
Soon, during a round of golf, rather than hearing crickets when your ball is near the hole, you will hear those beautiful words…”It’s good.”
John Renslow is a PGA professional, VP of Yugi Golf Management, and provides golf instruction at local courses.
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