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Putting, The Game Within A Game

  • Posted January 14, 2007
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Approximately 30-50% of your shots take place on the putting green, so if you’re a poor putter, you are needlessly increasing your score every time you play.

The average golfer’s frustration on the putting green boils down to faulty technique and no clear conception of where the ball is supposed to go after it has been hit.

Presented in this article is a simple putting system which will suit the majority of average golfers, simply because it is sound, repeatable and based upon proper fundamentals rather than upon odd idiosyncrasies which an excellent professional golfer may possess, which works for him/her but nonetheless would not be right for the average golfer.

The system is started by the golfer marking his/her ball, cleaning it (preferably with a towel) and then replacing it. Putting is difficult enough without having to contend with inconsistent rolls due to the fact that the ball has dirt on it.

Now, squatting at least 5-10 feet behind the ball, ‘read’ the green. This technique will, with practice and experience, indicate to you on what line the ball should be started on, if it is to follow the green contours and fall into the hole. Squatting too close to the ball will disallow you to properly study the contours between you and the hole.

Allowance for the contours, or ‘break’ as it is commonly called, not only depends on the green’s contour profile, but on it’s ‘speed’. A green will be ‘faster’ than another if its grass is shorter or more scarce, it is dry and if you are putting ‘down grain’ (‘grain’ referring to the general direction that the grass is pointing – if one is putting ‘down grain’ or ‘with the grain’, the grass is growing in the direction of the hole and the surface of the green exhibits a ‘glazed’ look. If one is putting ‘into the grain’, the grass is growing towards them and the surface of the green looks darker.). Conversely, a green is ‘slower’ than another if its grass is longer, it is wet, or if you are putting ‘into the grain’.

A slower putt must be hit harder; a faster putt must be hit softer. Furthermore, more break must be played on a faster putt as the ball is hit less firmly; less break must be played on a slower putt as the ball is hit more firmly.

Now that you’ve decided on what line you will start the putt (taking into account both contours and the speed of the green), walk up to the ball from behind and place your putter head flat on the green with the intention of making several practice strokes.

I believe that at least two practice strokes should be taken before each putt: the first one should be taken while looking at the hole, to judge the length of stroke needed; the second one should be taken as you would for a real putt, looking at an ‘imaginary ball’ on the ground, imitating your first practice stroke as regards to length.

As soon as enough practice strokes have been taken that you have gained a definite idea of the line on which your putt must to start on and the firmness with which the ball must be struck, you should then address the ball immediately.

Be decisive – address the ball without delay, get comfortable, take one look at the hole, then imitate your last practice stroke. This system of imitating your last practice stroke puts the emphasis on making a stroke of the correct power, rather than on making the putt.

Many great golfers, including Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, hit the ball hard even on short putts, preferring to ‘aim for the back of the hole’ rather than attempting to ‘die the ball at the hole’. I recommend that the average golfer dies the ball at the hole, as they lack the putting accuracy required to putt well with the more aggressive method. Hitting the ball firmly towards the hole effectively narrows the hole, whereas a slow-travelling putt can fall into the hole (from the ‘side’) even when the ball is several inches from the center of the cup. Dying the ball at the hole also leaves a shorter return putt should the first putt be missed.

I recommend that the short return putt be taken more aggressively than the first, as there is nothing more frustrating than knocking your first putt by the hole, then leaving the return putt short. However, aiming to die the ball around the hole should help to overcome the problem of long return putts anyway. If the return putt is long enough to warrant playing some ‘break’, always recall which way the first putt broke and to what extent.

That is the putt, from start to finish.

There are a few fundamentals to mention here.

The stance should be neither too wide nor too narrow; there is a happy medium which finds the feet just a little narrower than shoulder width. Of course, this is just a rule of thumb and the exact ideal width varies from person to person. Too narrow a stance allows the body to move too much, which is not a desirable thing when putting, as little if any shoulder turn is required when putting. Furthermore, balance can be lost which makes accurate putting more difficult.

I strongly recommend a square stance. For the average golfer, this paves the way to greater consistency. Attempting to use a ‘closed’ or ‘open’ stance (pulling the left foot backwards from the line and bringing the back foot backwards from the line, respectively) just because a professional golfer has putted well with it is pointless, since pros are often able to play well using techniques that the average golfer cannot play well with.

The ball should be an inch or two off the left heel, allowing the entire ball to be struck solidly on the sweet spot of the putter. With the ball ‘too far back’ in the stance, a choppy stroke is inevitable, adding spin to the ball, possible causing it to ‘bobble’; with the ball ‘too far forward’ in the stance, the ball tends to be ‘topped’, which, like the opposite problem of having the ball too far back, causes inconsistencies in the roll of the ball.

The head should be directly above the ball, to increase hand-eye coordination and to enable one to see the ‘line’ better. To check whether you have your head directly over the ball at address, drop a ball from the area between your two eyebrows and the dropped ball should strike the ball you intended to hit.

The hands should always be ahead of the putter head; thus, they should be ahead of the ball at impact. Using a ‘flipping’ or ‘scooping’ motion in putting produces poor distance control and inconsistent rolling of the ball, as it requires the use of small but powerful muscles in the wrists, fingers and forearms that are too clumsy for use in proper putting.

The putting stroke should be the same distance back and forth, just like a pendulum.

A slight ‘forward press’ when putting works well for some people. This involves rocking the body slightly in the direction of play before commencing the backstroke. This helps make the backstroke more ‘smooth’ and relaxed, instead of quick and jerky.

That is fickle art of putting discussed and dissected. Having read this article, I suggest you learn the technique and then practice, practice, practice! Practice is the only sure fire way to becoming a good putter with a delicate ‘touch and feel’ on the putting greens.

Michael Russell

Your Independent guide to Golf

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  • Posted On January 14, 2007
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