Editor’s note: Denny McCarthy (pictured) is the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained: putting picking up an average of .973 strokes on the field this season.
As we all know, putting is a part of the game far removed from the physical actions required to hit good drives, irons, and even pitch and chip shots. It should be simple, but my experience and feedback reveal that this might be the part of the game that drives more golfers batty than any other. I believe that is because it looks SO SIMPLE, but in fact, is not.
Adding to the “pressure” of putting is that success and failure is so abundantly clear. The balls goes in—SUCCESS. It doesn’t—FAILURE. With all other shots we hit, success is a matter of relativity, isn’t it? But with putting, your “failures” are right out in the open for all to see. And that implies an element of pressure that we don’t really appreciate.
Most of you don’t know that I began my golf club design career back in the early 1980s with a putter design called “Destiny.” It was the culmination of a lifetime of being a mediocre putter at best, and the result of very focused and dedicated research into the mechanics and mental aspect of putting. I read every putting book I could find and watched numerous videos to try to understand this aspect of the game that had been my glaring weakness. The Destiny was the first of over 100 putter designs and three putter patents before I became fixated on wedges and wedge design in about 1990.
In 2008, I actually wrote a book manuscript titled “The Natural Approach to Better Putting,” which I recently revisited and hope to have published by next spring. What this book attempts to do is show you how to optimize your own eye-hand coordination to make you into a better putter of the ball. I am 100 percent convinced that most golfers who struggle on the greens do so because they have allowed a preoccupation on the mechanics to dull their natural eye/hand coordination. And even a brief history of failures (i.e. short misses) makes being “natural” even more difficult.
Obviously, I cannot deliver an entire treatise on putting in a single blog post, and I have a virtual library of putting articles I wrote as “The Wedge Guy” back in the early 2000s; I will revive some of those that are just as relevant today. But what I can do here is give you a few basic tips that should help you improve your fortunes on the greens, regardless of your putting technique or equipment choice.
So here goes:
- It’s all about the target. Putting requires optimizing your eye/hand coordination, so that begins with an acute focus on the target itself. I have proven with my own research that having the hole painted all the way to the surface like they do for PGA Tour events allows your eyes to receive—and your mind to process—a much more vivid impression of the target. While you can’t get your course superintendent to do that, you can pick out a very small point to aim at and focus on for the stroke. All putts are straight. You can only affect the starting line of the putt, not its full curvature, so therefore, all putts must be hit at a specific point, right. And that means…
- The target is rarely the hole. I’m convinced most putts are missed to the low side because it is hard NOT to allow your visual focus to shift from your intended line on the high side back to the hole as the last thing before you make your stroke. But unless the putt is dead straight, you are always putting toward a specific point either right or left of the hole. Once you pick out that spot, if you will try to remove the hole itself from your focus and intently zero in on that spot that represents the starting line, you will find your success rate improving.
- All putts are “speed putts.” That just makes sense, right? One tip that I find very helpful after you have assessed the speed of the putt you have, is to “reset” your target spot to be either well short of the hole for what you believe will be a fast putt, to beyond the hole for those you think will be slower. But that spot has to always be on the starting line you have chosen not directly at the hole.
- The hands have different roles. I am firmly convinced that you putt from your shoulders but with the fingertips and thumb of your master hand. We simply do not do enough things in our lives to have a great feel “backhanding” the putt. But we do countless things every day that require eye/hand coordination with our master hand. And the most sensitive and “connected” nerve endings on your master hand are on the inside of your thumb and your forefinger. (See how those two surfaces connect when you touch them together – that’s by design.) This is where your “touch” is centered, so fully engage them. I believe the lead hand controls the putter, and the master fingertips control the path and speed.
- Finally, it’s about grip pressure. I worked with Ben Crenshaw for a few years and was amazed to see how lightly he held the putter. I believe you cannot hold the putter light enough, and the lighter you hold it, the better your touch.
Those are what I consider the basics, regardless of your putter choice or putting style—left-hand low, claw, conventional—it doesn’t matter as long as you employ these basic concepts. I look forward to your feedback, and let me know if you are interested in having me share more of my insights into putting, putter design, and selection.
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