The putting stroke
THE PUTTING zone has been called many things: to some it is the “game within a game”, to others the “money game”. This article should help you to develop the technique of swinging the putter in a repeatable manner.
The technique must be separated into different skills: the pre-swing positioning of the club and body (see last article), the aim and alignment, along with the movement, all must come together to become a stroke. Once the stroke has been built, there is a need for a consistent pre-shot ritual, which allows all the relevant facts, such as speed, line, the current position of the game and so on to be considered.
The aim of the putter face is, without doubt, one of the key fundamentals of building a pure putting stroke. For those who already have an established putting stroke, the aim will normally reflect the errors that are present in the stroke, a kind of compensation if you like. For a new player, it is important to learn an accurate putter face aim (picture 1).
It is my belief that there is not one perfect stroke for all players. Take a look at some of the great putters over the years, and we can see that they did not all utilise the same technical approach. Jack Nicklaus, considered by many to be the greatest golfer that has ever lived, was also, perhaps, the best pressure putter ever to walk the greens. His technique involved a crouched position with the right arm held close to his side and a kind of piston movement straight toward the hole. Ben Crenshaw was another great putter; his more upright style allowed the shoulders to work in a more swing-type stroke, with the hands very quiet. Moving forward to today’s top players and Tiger Woods, who is, without doubt, one of the best short to medium range putters ever, has many conventional aspects to his technique; although his grip encourages rotation of the club face.
Over the years, there have literally been hundreds of different ways of holding the putter, but there is one vital point that must be stressed, which is that the player must feel comfortable and position the hands in a way that allows them to gain maximum control, without losing feel.
By positioning the putter grip in the lifeline on both hands, it is possible to reduce the amount of rotation applied to the face of the putter and, in the case of mechanical breakdown; this will result in a greater margin for error. This type of grip allows the back of one hand, and the palm of the other, to be aimed parallel to the target line.
Advances in putter grips now allows a player to hold the club easily and keep the shoulders level. The two thumb putter grip is now used by several players on various tours and, in fact, achieved it’s first worldwide tour win in June 2006. Some players hold the grip with the thumbs level, others hold it conventionally or cross-handed, but, in any case, the grip allows the putter to be held in the lifeline (picture 2).
Take a look at the tour, and it is clear to notice that each player has what could be best described as a routine, or ritual. In fact, some players are very distinctive, even in the manner that they walk around the green while they study the fall of the putting surface. Once the player has read the speed and fall of the green, the next stage tends to be one or more rehearsal strokes. Some players like to do this away from the ball, perhaps half-way down or behind the line, or near to the ball at the side of the line. Then comes the holding and aiming ritual.
The time taken for this depends on the individual player, however, it is wise to keep it as short as possible, as it is easier to repeat. Once the putter face is positioned at the ball, it is important that everything is done to achieve a smooth take away. A good routine will give comfort in even the most pressurised of situations.
Players who have good distance control will rarely take three putts. Not only that, they will hole more than their fair share of five to 10 metre putts. A putt that has the correct pace will normally not rim out of the hole, whereas a putt that is too strong will frequently hit the edge and spin out.
It is important to understand that the contact point on the face of the club has a bearing on how far the ball rolls; an off centre hit will produce a different distance than a centre strike, so the first practice drill is to ensure that you create a consistent strike pattern. Once this has been achieved, you need to understand that the length of swing will have a direct effect on the length of the putt. If you are attempting to use a swing type stroke, then the length of back swing and through swing will be more or less equal. It is then a simple matter of increasing, or decreasing, the length of stroke to adjust the distance that the ball travels (pictures 3 & 4).
Next article: Chipping
• GOLF is written by Tony Bennett, the head coach of Bennett’s Golf Learning Centres (BGLC), with centres located in Alto Golf, Alvor. Quinta da Ria, Tavira. Montado, Palmela. Santa da Serra, Madeira. For more information, advice on a specific point or general enquiry please e-mail [email protected] or call 932 524 253. You can also hear Tony every month on Kiss FM’s ‘Straight Talk’ with Phil Gilbert.