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Developing a Better Putting Routine That You Can Take to the Golf Course
Closing The Deal On The Greens: Putting!
Bobby Jones referred to putting as “a game within a game”. Many expert golfers have opined that the game places too much emphasis on putting. Ben Hogan semi-jokingly believed that there should be a circle around the hole with some type of funnel device that would deliver the ball to the next hole once you attained the objective.
Less you think that story somewhat silly, Paul Runyan details in his Short Way To Lower Scoring how the top professionals successfully lobbied to have the hole enlarged during a tournament in the 1930s in an attempt to do away with the supposed advantage the better putters had over the “better golfers”. Runyan, who never averaged much more than 240 off the tee in his professional life, won the tournament going away by using his natural putting style and not changing his game at all. Others who charged putts at the somewhat larger cup did not fare nearly as well. The advantage was more to the better putters than with a smaller hole. This article is going to offer some tips and recommendations to improve your putting by taking the little muscles out of play and letting the big muscles do the work, while also outlining a systematic approach or routine to help achieve more consistent results. I am also going to outline a technique to help figure out green speeds that can help improve your confidence in your stroke. Finally, I will offer some advice and recommendations for those who are more “putting challenged”.
The Debilitating Effects Of Poor Putting.
Hitting long drives is great, but there is no more exhilarating feeling in golf than consistently hitting good approach shots that set you up to score. Such good ball striking builds confidence and momentum during the round. Conversely, there is nothing that will erode confidence and dash momentum quicker than failing to convert scoring opportunities because of poor putting. Continuously failing to cash these opportunities will eventually affect other aspects of your game. A classic example of this occurred in the 1960 United States Open played at Cherry Hills, Denver, Colorado. Ben Hogan was in contention for a record Fifth US Open title when he came to the par 5 17th hole. Hogan thought he needed a birdie to win, and after a layup to some 52 yards, he hit what looked like a perfect pitch to the green.
But the ball hit close to the bank, did not make it far enough onto the green, and spun back into the water. He made bogey and went on to finish 9th after double bogeying the final hole. Arnold Palmer won the championship with a tremendous final round where he made up 7 shots on the leaders. Amateur Jack Nicklaus, who played with Hogan for the final 36 holes that Saturday, would later say that if he had putted for Hogan he would have won by 10 shots. Hogan’s poor putting had placed such pressure on his approaches that he knew he had no chance to hole anything that was not stiff. Three decades later he related how that shot continued to haunt him (e.g., “not a day goes by without that shot cutting my guts out”). The lingering effects of Hogan’s 1949 accident had taken its toll on his body, including what was likely near blindness in his left or dominant eye. He was often the best ball striker in any tournament he entered in consideration of fairways hit and greens in regulation (GIR). But he was often dead last in all the putting categories. His was a physical problem that degraded into a classic case of the yips over time.
Developing A Systematic Putting Routine: A Better Technique And Three Important Elements (Distance, Line, Speed).
Much like the pre-shot routine for your full golf swing, it is important to develop a consistent methodology for putting. Such a methodology should address the three key elements of putting, including: (1) Distance (2) line (3) speed. Before we discuss the elements, we need to discuss putting technique. There are as many different putting styles as there are golfers. I suspect like most golfers I used a natural feeling putting technique for years. When I committed to improving my golf, I discovered that my natural technique did not hold up under pressure.
I was fortunate to stumble onto Paul Runyan’s excellent short game book, The Short Way To Lower Scoring. Runyan is not well known these days, but he is likely the most successful Club Professional in PGA tour history and also one of the greatest short game players ever to play the tour. Paul Runyan or “Little Poison” as he was known to his fellow professionals won 29 PGA Tournaments in a career that spanned from 1925 to the early 1970s. He won the PGA Championship in 1934 and 1938, with the latter championship often cited as the biggest upset and one of the most lopsided in PGA history. Played at match play, against Sam Snead in his prime, Runyan was out driven by an average of over 30 yards throughout the day. His 8 and 7 victory exemplifies the reason his fellow pros nicknamed the 5’7″ Runyan “Little Poison”. Runyan won 16 tournaments in 1933-1934, and his 9 wins in 1933 make him 1 of only 7 golfers to win more than 9 times in a single season.
Putting Technique Using The Big Muscles.
Runyan’s short game philosophy was based on getting the ball on the green as quickly as possible with minimal spin and letting the ball track to the hole like a putt. His putting methodology was based on creating a palms facing or neutral grip in which the hands in effect cancel each other out. The arms and forearms form a rough triangle in relation to the body on the side of the ribcage, with the putter intersecting the triangle on a line with the mid-section or upper belly button.
Taking a relatively hunched over stance with the ball positioned off the left big toe, with the eye line directly above the ball, feet spread inside the shoulders on all but long putts, with the bend of the knees just obscuring the toes, the idea is to rock the shoulders to control the swing of the putter. The job of the arms and the hands is simply to stay stable throughout the stroke. Such a technique takes the little muscles out of play and relies on the big muscles to do the job, with the premise that they are much more suited to the task under pressure. Runyan’s book also advocates a remedy for the yips, consisting of using a longer putter and a split hand grip that looks similar to that employed on most long putters.
Developing A Putting Routine In Practice And Taking It To The Course.
Much like the full swing, it pays dividends in the long run to have a consistent putting routine. Such a routine will help in the clutch by giving you a procedure to follow that culminates in a confident stroke. That is what putting is all about. One way to build confidence on the course is to get comfortable with the elements of your routine in practice; to take that routine to the course for your pre-round warm-up; and to transition it to the course. The easiest way I have found to do that is what I call the two tee method. I like to look at where the sun tracks across the putting green and to work off of that line.
I stick a tee in the green and walk off twenty feet and place another tee in the ground (representing the average approach putt I expect to have). Although this seemingly takes the (1) distance element out of the equation, part of the reason to do this is to help you visualize 20 feet. This is important when you get out on the course and you need to judge how far a distance your ball is from the cup (I do this by walking the distance to the cup after I mark my ball, partly so I can keep track of it but also to equate to my 20 foot practice routine). Using Runyan’s methodology I described above, I putt to the tees judging the backswing in relation to my right foot. After a few times back and forth with three balls, I have a good feel for the speed of the green at that distance. I treat each of these putts like I would a putt on the course, but I don’t want to think about a cup or worry about the ball going in when this drill is intended to work on distance and speed. Try putting to a cup if it suits you, but I find I gain confidence when I hit the tees but don’t much care when I don’t, whereas a miss of a putt at a cup is a miss of a putt at a cup. That is not a good visual image at anytime.
Integrating The Other Elements.
For my routine I get behind the tee facing perpendicular to the other tee until I can see the line without bending too much. Once I decide on (2) the line to the tee and (3) the speed, I take a practice swing that equates to the distance I want to hit the ball, with the emphasis on the backswing in relation to the right foot. I pick out a spot or discoloration to align to when I get over the ball. I then take my position over the ball, aligning the putter to the spot I want to start the ball over and I align my feet to the putter blade. While I am setting my feet, I take the putter back the amount I practiced earlier behind the ball and I follow through above the ball. I track from the hole to my spot back to the ball and make my stroke. The only thing I pay attention to while over the putt is the line, as I have already accounted for the (1) distance, (2) line and (3) speed when I was behind the ball. My alignment is to my spot and not to the cup. For longer putts, I follow the same technique but widen my stance a bit and the stroke may require a little more movement than a simple shoulder rock. It takes a very long putt to require any hands or wrist be added to the stroke.
Picking Out A Target.
On longer putts, Runyan advocates the use of a three foot circle as a target guide (the target is the cup). I find this really helps on chips, as well, since a three foot circle around the cup gives you a very large margin of error. I practice three to six footers before heading out on the course to get used to seeing the ball go in the cup. It helps with visualization if you practice to a cup with tees around it to give you a sense of the distance. Dave Pelz, noted short game specialist, has demonstrated that you will make more putts if your ball has the equivalent of approximately 17 inches of speed or roll beyond the hole. I find it difficult to judge this distance beyond the cup consistently on longer putts and have gotten into trouble focusing on this aspect of putting. I don’t dispute the figure, as Pelz has amply demonstrated the effects of the “lumpy donut” around the cup and the manner in which the speed helps counteract the effects.
I just find it easier dying putts inside the front of the three foot ring from long distance and keeping my clean up putts relatively stress free. But I like the story about Arnold Palmer, who was an unbelievable putter in his day. If you watch some of the old black and white matches from the 1960s with the “Big Three Golf” (Palmer, Nicklaus, Player), you will see phenomenal putting from Palmer. He was once asked what he tries to do on the longer putts, since he seemed to make more than his share. He had a puzzled look on his face and said, “Well, I’m trying to make them!”
For Challenged Putters.
I see a lot of poor putters who could benefit greatly from developing a more systematic approach to putting. Using the larger muscles as part of a methodology such as that described above can’t help but improve your putting if you go about it systematically. It does take some time to learn and it took me almost two years to master the short game methodology advocated by Runyan. I was playing part time during the period so it probably took me longer than most. But the bane of his existence as a teaching professional is that very few professionals adopted his methodology. He believed the reason for that was attributable to the fact that all pros have excellent short games already and the potential loss in revenue while a pro learns a new technique was just not palatable to the majority of the golfers he taught. He truly believed that his prescription to help those having difficulty with short putts, involving using a split hand grip on the putter, was the best way to make short putts whether one has a problem with the yips or not. I should add at least one caution in applying the techniques described above. Do not get in the habit of watching the putter go back to judge the amount of backswing to use, even in practice. In the early season while I am finding my stroke, I have a bad habit of following the putter back during my practice stroke to help gauge the distance I should take it back. If you do it while putting, you will develop a sense of the yips as you attempt to get the eyes back on the ball.
Putting can be an easy part of the game if you develop a systematic approach in practice and then take it to the course. Much like the full swing, putting can be improved through routine, which can also help occupy the mind during stressful situations. I use and recommend the Paul Runyan short game methodology advocated in The Short Way To Lower Scoring. The premise of allowing your big muscles to control the swing while the little muscles “do no harm”, can make for more consistent results. Focusing on the 3 elements of putting, including (1) Distance (2) Line (3) Speed will help you develop a better thought process on the green. Working on a set distance before a round helps determine the speed of the greens, which will help achieve your objective of hitting the ball within three feet of the cup or 17 inches past it, whichever you are most comfortable with as an objective. If you have trouble with the yips or jumpiness, try a little bit of a longer putter and a split hand grip. Runyan’s book covers chips and pitches, as well as bunker play and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Good Golfing! Mark Choiniere
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