The one major thing that people want in golf is to get their handicap down. Every golfer wants to get better. They want to improve, they want to win medals and score better.
It’s a fact that 43% of your score is made up of putting so, to be honest, about 50% of your practice time should be with your putter. I would say most amateurs, if they are completely honest - and I’m talking about players who actually practise - probably spend about an hour a week on putting.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you spent any time practising your putting with any real purpose? And let’s not pretend that a few putts before you tee off is practice. No, that’s warming up.
I’ve got nine tour players on my table and, with every single one of them, I insist that they have a putting pod (a putting green that can go in your house) where you can putt from 15ft and in. I’ve always been a great believer that, from 15ft and in, there is a technical aspect to your putting. Outside 15ft, it’s largely just feel.
Also, is your putter made to measure? Most people fit their driver and their irons - but why would you not fit what is, essentially, the most important club in your bag?
Look, I get it: practising putting is boring. I defy anybody to look me in the eye and say that holing a 4ft putt feels the same as hitting a 290-yard drive. The buzz just isn’t the same. That’s why more drivers are sold than putters. It’s all about driving distances. But the guy who wins the Masters is the guy who putts the best and that’s a fact.
Here are a few things you can do at home if you don’t have access to a good putting green. Hopefully, they will give some structure to your putting practice.
The putting stroke is the shortest movement of all golf shots. One of the biggest influences on where the club starts is the clubface and yet, something as simple as that, people still manage to get wrong.
When I’m checking face alignment, I always get some Blu-Tack, stick it to the face of the putter, and then get a Bic pen and attach it to the Blu-Tack. I pick a line and then check to see if the putter is aiming in the right direction.
Remember, where you think it’s aiming and how it feels can be very different - and you wouldn’t know that until somebody pointed it out. This is an easy way to do that.
Good putters reap benefits
Strokes Gained - Putting is a relatively new addition to the PGA Tour’s list of massively complicated statistical calculations of a player’s performance - but it’s also one of the best. Essentially, this stat measures the number of putts a golfer takes relative to the PGA Tour average, taking into account the initial distance of the putt.
The guy who came up with the formula, Mark Broadie, said he did so because traditional putting stats - such as putts per round - can be skewed for a number of factors. This stat, though, only deals with putting and it’s one the putting purists are talking about the most. Broadie said the quality of every shot should, after all, be measured from where it started and where it finished.
It also seems to prove that good putting has a massive influence on where players finish on the leaderboard. Look at the stats below from a run of four big events on the PGA Tour recently and their winners if you require any further proof.
- Wells Fargo Championship :: Rory McIlroy :: Strokes Gained - Putting rank: 1
- Crowne Plaza Invitational :: Chris Kirk :: Strokes Gained - Putting rank: T10
- AT&T Byron Nelson :: Steven Bowditch :: Strokes Gained - Putting rank: 1
- The Players :: Rickie Fowler :: Strokes Gained - Putting rank: T8
If you needed convincing that better putting has massive advantages, then this is it.
Start on right line
Once you’ve taken your aim, you need to be able to start the ball on the right line. You’ve got your line right at the start, but you’ve got to be able to return the putter back to this position at impact.
To do that, you’ve got to feel as though the palms of your hands are facing each other. Your hands should be comfortable and the thick grips available these days help with that. Your backswing has to be smooth. Don’t worry too much about the length of your swing. Just remember that whatever you do on the way back, you should do on the way through.
The backswing comes down to what power is required and, as such, that itself comes down to green speed. Your grip pressure determines your stroke. Light is right. The tighter you hold it, the shorter the backstroke. The lighter you hold it, the more freedom you have with your stroke.
I don’t think there’s any putter that deliberately controls the length of the stroke. That should be based on feel. Nobody says “take it two inches back” or “six inches back” - that’s one way to take feel out of your stroke. If your grip pressure is correct, use your natural instinctive feeling to get the length for your stroke. A light grip and a smooth stroke will give you a much better chance of getting the club coming back to the ball in the right position.
I don’t think people practise speed enough. It is absolutely key. Speed is in-built and it comes from practising. The pros are lucky in that they can practise on greens that are very consistent. Sometimes, for club golfers, green speeds can vary from month to month, so your speed has to be tuned in from time to time. As you follow-through, think about how hard you’re hitting it.
When I worked with Colin Montgomerie, I remember him telling me about his putting. “In the Ryder Cup, I hit it two feet harder than I do in a normal tournament,” he said. I remember it took me a while to get my head round that. He told me that by hitting it two two feet harder, there would never be a chance of the ball being short. In matchplay, there’s no point in being short. He never really putted like that in regular events.
When teaching, I often ask pupils if they can hit it two feet past, or three feet past. It’s about being able to control your speed. As long as I’ve been coaching, I’ve never seen a ball go in that’s short. The next time you’re on the green, see if you can knock it two feet past.
Kevin Craggs coaches a large number of tour players and amateurs. To book your own lesson with Kevin, call 08451 303433. Follow him on Twitter @kevincraggsgolf.