Developing a sound stroke is the starting point to becoming a good putter. But that’s the easy bit. Where the best putters separate themselves out from mediocre putters is not in their technique but rather in their feel; that’s where the real skill and art of putting lies.
Once you can strike your putts consistently out of the sweet spot and roll the ball on the line you see, then your technique is sound. Most golfers under a 20 handicap or so that I see can do that reasonably well. Once you reach that level of competency, the focus must then turn away from mechanics and move onto developing your feel; specifically, for reading greens and controlling speed.
Here are my 10 top tips for improving from a good putter to a great putter.
1. Forget mechanics: In your thought process, you want nothing to distract you from simply rolling the ball along the line you see. That is where your brain must be focussed, not on moving your putter in a certain way.
2. Keep your eyes on the line in your practice strokes: It’s not essential to have practice strokes but, if you do, keep your eyes looking out at the line, not down at the ground. That will keep your connection with the putt you face. My preference is to take practice strokes standing facing towards the hole with my eyes looking at the line.
3. Let your instincts judge speed: If you get the conscious brain too involved in attempting to judge speed then you’re going to struggle. It must be done reactively and instinctively. Many of you might recognise the scenario of having 2 putts to win a match from 20 feet or so. Suddenly, the fact that you only need two putts can lure you into being too careful-often with a bad result. You must trust your eyes and brain to work out speed. Obviously the more you play the better your sense becomes.
4. Forget putting into a 3-foot circle and try to hole them all! As with just trying to 2 putt, I don’t like the putting into a 3-foot circle idea. That’s too big and vague a target. Try to hole every putt, whatever the length. You should always have a clear and positive approach.
5. Break the putt up: Look for a definite spot along the line of your putt to give a clear route to the hole. It might be a discoloured blade of grass or an old pitch mark. Then aim to roll the ball over that spot. The spot will usually be on the apex of the curve of the putt, the point of maximum break.
6. Take a practice stroke along the line: Once I see a spot on my line, I’ll often take a practice stroke above that spot (not grounding my putter, which is not allowed). That helps me to sense the speed of the putt. I would always do that when there is a big slope or putting up or down a tier on a green.
7. Look from behind the ball and the low side: You should always look from the behind the ball, but I’d also recommend looking from the low side of the putt too. You get a good sense for the slope from the low side of the putt.
8. The last few feet of a putt are key: As the ball slows, so any slope has more effect on the ball, so always look at the slope around the cup.
9. Be specific and commit: It shouldn’t take too long to decide the line you want to roll the ball on; in fact, you want to be wary of over thinking. Once you see it, get over the ball and send the ball on its way. Commit to your read and let it go-that’s all you can do!
10. Find a putter you like and stick with it: Changing putters frequently makes it tough to develop a consistent feel. Once you find a putter that you like stick with it. You want it to become a good friend.
Great putting goes far beyond having a good putting stroke; it is also a test of feel, judgement and nerve. These are the skills that you must develop to become an excellent putter.