Five "Musts" for Great Putting
by Geoff Mangum
The five "Musts" for great putting are: 1. Tempo, 2. Touch, 3. Targeting, 4. Technique, and 5. Psychology.
Tempo. Tempo is the foundation of Touch, Technique/Stroke and Targeting/Reading. Pick one and use it all the time. In picking one, recognize that the putter itself has its own tempo, which you can observe by simply letting it swing to and fro by itself holding the top of the grip lightly with your fingertips. Most putters have a tempo of about one second (60 beats per minute) from side to side, regardless of the length of the stroke. This "hitless" base tempo is about as smooth as you can get, and you do not power the stroke at all, but simply "ride the grip" as the putter falls in a natural gravity-sponsored acceleration into impact. If you choose this or another tempo, fine, but pay close attention to how the stroke's motion pattern going back to the top coasts to a stop and then changes direction and gradually and smoothly accelerates into impact. Duplicating this motion pattern in the follow-through is nice, and is better than worrying about making the stroke length's back and through match up. The tempo is about smooth, symmetric motion. Hun - trusting.
Touch. Touch is distance control on different greens, so it starts with recognizing green speed. Once green speed is recognized, touch depends on a stable tempo and precise targeting for distance and uphill / downhill effects. The stable tempo allows your targeting to produce a backstroke (and thus a putter speed at impact) that factors in green speed for just the right "weight" (as the Brits say). Touch also depends upon the putter's design and weight and the type of ball, so changing these can affect your tempo and you'll need to adjust. The mental process for touch is instinctive, so don't try to manage it too closely -- just allow your adult movement skills to roll the ball all the way into the hole. Yi - connecting.
Targeting. Targeting is your conscious and intuitive assessment of distance, starting direction, path shape, and energy pattern of the putt. Good targeting depends upon accurate physical procedures for generating perceptions that correspond with reality, as these perceptions will determine how the body makes the stroke. Assess distance both visually and physically during your "hunting" the read, and again once the address setup is adopted. Read the break backwards out of the hole, like a reverse movie, with accurate imagination of the speed of the roll near the cup. Follow this reverse break through the apex until it turns back more or less in a straight line to the ball's location at address. Pick a target or aim spot that is a little higher than aiming for the apex or break point, as the ball will break at least a little before it reaches the apex, and at the apex the direction of roll is changing from uphill to downhill. Target the startline at this aim spot from behind the ball with your dominant eye on the line, and then walk the line into the ball for accurate putterface placement and careful alignment. Adopt your grip and setup only after the putterface is aligned properly. From beside the ball, check the alignment for squareness through the ball to the target using a gaze that is straight out of the face, and not with eyes looking down the nose or cheeks. When ready to pull the trigger, return again to your sense of distance and your visualization of the final 2 or 3 feet of the putt's path, and send the ball off so it enters this last piece of the putt with proper energy to sink. Zhi - aligning.
Technique: Technique is making a straight stroke out of a square setup that consistently sends the ball straight away with a good roll and maximum energy transfer at impact. Setup to the ball-putterface relation by using the putterface orientation through the ball as the line to square the feet up to, and then the hips and shoulders. Play the ball about two inches forward of the middle of your body (off the heart for right-handers), and place the putter's sweetspot aimed straight through the ball's center, with the sole of the putter flush to the surface. Soling the putter correctly insures you setup your body to the surface, rather than to gravity. Once the body is square to this putterface orientation, check to make sure you're actually aimed at the target, and if not, adjust the putterface accordingly and reset the body as a unit (feet and all) to the new putterface orientation. Or recycle the whole aiming process from behind the ball. Once satisfied with the face alignment and squareness of setup, note the spot directly out from the big toe of the forward foot that is on the startline and commit to a stroke movement that rolls the ball out of the setup over this line for every single putt. Make the backstroke go straight back or at worst slightly inside back, but NEVER allow the sweetspot to travel outside the putt's startline going back. Keep the hands and elbows moving as if sliding along a rail aimed parallel to the starline, and keep the grip pressure established at address constant throughout the stroke movement. Keep your body's pivot still during the stroke, and make sure the sole returns to flush in the middle of your stance and keep your hands as low as they started and allow the putterhead to rise ever so slightly on its own arc into the back of the ball. P'o - releasing.
Psychology. Psychology is easy. If you don't know how to do the above, then learn. If thinking too much or your emotions interfere with your putting, then don't think and don't care. Find a point in the cycle of your routine to banish thinking and emotion from that point forward. The brain in controlling movement to a target needs all the resources for staying in the moment of the space of the green, and thinking or emotional turmoil hurts performance. So get calm and clear in mind and then continue the routine and just do what you know needs to be done to give the putt its best chance of sinking. Shen - opening.
Wu Xing: Shen Yi P'o Zhi Hun
For more tips and information on putting, including a free 10,000+ database of putting lore and the Web's only newsletter on putting (also free), visit Geoff's website at http://puttingzone.com, or email him directly at email@example.com.