Putting, in its simplest form, is about line and pace. A golfer studies the slopes and undulations on a green to determine where to hit the ball, makes a judgement on how hard to hit it, and then puts his trust in the golf gods. Even the best putting surfaces have inconsistencies, and there are no guarantees once the ball starts rolling that it will go into the hole.
A solid putting stroke is vital scoring well, and while it calls for some touch and feel, it also demands precise mechanics. A good grip, set-up, and repeatable swing action are as necessary in putting as they are when hitting a driver or a wedge shot.
If your putting lacks consistency, this and next few articles will help you focus on any fundamental flaws and, overall, help you be the best you can be on the putting green. At the Leadbetter Golf Academy we tutor everyone from beginning golfers to PGA and LPGA Tour pros. But no matter what level of player they are, all they have one thing in common: they need either to learn or refine their putting if they entertain any hope of success.
The correct putting set-up is a vital to this little stroke as it is to your full golf swing. The key is to get into a relaxed, balanced position that allows you to swing the putter in a smooth, pendulum-like motion. To do so, bend a little from the hips, flex the knees slightly, and allow the hands and arms to hang down comfortably in front of your upper torso.
Keep your upper arms close in to your chest- what we call “connected” in golf- as this helps link the motion of the upper torso to the arms, hands, and putter. Now the goal is to relax and keep any tension to a minimum, particularly in the hands.
One relaxation strategy that we teach our students at the Leadbetter Golf Academy Bangkok is to part their lips when taking up their address. This subtle cue reminds the golfer not to hold their breath when putting – how can you not inhale when parting the lips? – and helps eliminate any facial and upper body tension that can creep into the stroke and ruin their feel.
Ideally, we like to see the motion of the putting stroke emanate from the upper body – the chest, shoulders, and upper back- while the motion of the hands and wrists are relatively passive – though not tight or rigid.
But it should be noted that having a hint of wrist action – despite what you may have heard about always keeping the wrists passive – is just fine with us. Not only does that encourage a freer swing, but it also gives the golfer the sense of a little lag in the stroke, just like it does in your full golf swing.
This is especially important on long putts, where you need some extra feel and energy in the overall stroke, and a better sense of the putter head.
Another important ingredient to good putting is how to get the ball rolling “true” – or “end over end” – as you start it online. To do this, put the ball slightly forward in your stance, as this encourages un upward strike, or angle of attack on the ball. Because your putter has very little loft, the combination of that, and an upward strike, produces top spin.
Correctly positioning the ball is easy. Simply place the ball in line with your left eye. But if you want to make sure you’ve got it right, just dangle the putter from that eye, and see if the blade is even with the ball. If it is, you are in the great set-up position.
As for overall eye position in the set-up, make sure both eyes are on the target line – in a parallel position, of course- or just inside of it. Again, this is an individual choice, and one each golfer should experiment with. But never let the eyes get outside the target line.
Finally, we we like to see the shaft angle of your putter match the angle of your forearms at address. But if your putter doesn’t suit you, that might be impossible. As a result, we always recommend that golfers take the time to visit with a PGA Professional and have a putter-fitting session. You wouldn’t buy the wrong size of shoe, would you?
Having your putter correctly tailored to your own unique build, and stroke action, promotes consistency in both set-up, and the stroke, while freeing you up to “read it, roll it, and hole it” more often. Many golfers aren’t even aware that there is an ideal shaft length for them- they tend to buy the standard, off-the rack type – or that putters actually have some loft. Having a basic understanding of these important variables, and having an expert fit you accordingly, can make a world of difference.