Get Your Putting Fundamentals Checked Regularly…and Stick to the Basics

From Guest Writer: Stan Utley…

The Setup:
The grip should run up the lifelines of the palms, NOT down across the joints of the fingers like the full swing grip. A good putting grip will see the shaft running in line to the forearms – not under them as it would for a full shot. I recommend the reverse overlap grip, but if you decide on a unconventional grip, it is still important, in any grip, to set the hands so that the top of the forearms are square (parallel) to the target line. Grip pressure should be light, emphasizing feel in the finger tips – the part of your body responsible for touch. Both thumbs should be parallel, on top of the shaft. This sets the hands up nicely parallel to each other and square to the target line at address.

A narrow stance is the most natural – you’d stand that way if we were having a conversation. Tilt from the hips, DON’T slouch the shoulders. Weight should be balanced across your feet from left to right and front to back.
I like a square alignment setup, with shoulders, hips, knees and feet square (parallel) to the target line. It’s okay to set up with the feet a little open to the line as long as the primary alignment – the top of the forearms stays square to the target line. Proper ball position has the putter face should be at the center of your stance, with the ball just ahead of that. The shoulders & elbows should be relaxed and “soft”. The elbows should be soft and resting against your sides, NOT stiff and extended. The club shaft should be at 90 degrees at address, or leaning a little bit toward the target, but NEVER leaning back. You will align yourself more accurately to the target when you hold the putter in your dominant hand and use your dominant left eye first when getting into your setup position.

The Stroke:
The stroke comes from the shoulders turning around your spine, NOT rocking them up and down. The stoke is simple – the right elbow folds and the left arm extends, and then the right arm extends while the left folds. The putter head should look like it is opening on the back swing and closing through impact, BUT this isn’t something you do by flipping or turning your hands, It happens with shoulder turn and a slight forearm rotation. Swing thoughts…Feel the swing of the putter head in the takeaway by allowing the right elbow to soften. Release the tension in your shoulders before you make a practice stroke. Tense shoulders destroy feel. Release the putter by extending your right elbow rotating the forearms, not by flipping your wrists. Allow your shoulders to work around your spine tilt, NOT against it.

Students who come to me looking for some help with their putting oftentimes think they have an alignment problem, or they don’t feel comfortable getting their distances under control. These can be problems, but more than anything else I think it’s because they are too tight and rigid in their swing mechanics. They let their shoulders swing the club rather than those two assets much closer to the ball…their hands.

I think the hands that grip the club need to feel lubricated with a good shot of oil in the joints. The feeling that some people have that your shoulders should move in a pendulum motion is not what I teach. I think the hands are the pivot point for the club head, and it is the club head that must swing much like a fence gate.

Another important point I like to make is that a golf ball with a “hook” spin rolls better than a ball struck with a slicing motion. To do that, the club head’s toe must pass the heel of the club at impact to impart some hook spin on the ball. This is the same concept we see when you swing with a driver or an iron…why should a putter be any different?

While I profess that I’m a “feel” player, and go to great lengths in my teaching to ensure that my students see, feel and hear the ball through their eyes, hands and ears, I’m always intrigued by new ideas that can help them improve. As I wrote in “The Art of Putting”, I’ve long been an advocate of something I learned from Dr. David CookSee It. Feel It. Trust It.

The brain is responsible for processing all these external signals, and while it seems overly complex to even talk about it, there’s something to be said for allowing the mental side of your game control the physical things that help us all be more athletic.

Our abilities to see, feel and hear help reinforce some of the things that make a great putter: perception of distance, slope and breaks in the green; touch to “feel” the ball hitting the head of the putter, aural feedback of putter head striking the ball and the tactile feedback that goes from the head of the putter and up the shaft to your hands, and then up to your arms and to your brain; and your ability to trust what you see, hear and feel so that instinctively you KNOW the ball is going into the hole.

My 18″ Putting Drill:

As best I can remember, way back when I worked hard on my own game, I had a number of practice drills I used to improve my scoring performance. While practice may not sound as much fun as playing a round of golf, what I’ve found is that practice actually makes your next round of golf much more fun because you can see if all that hard work on the practice range pays off.

One exercise I used a lot in my practice routine was making very short putts. Now, I know that in friendly games of golf, those 1’-2’ putts are often conceded by your golf buddies. But, what happens if you get into a local tournament and you actually have to make those putts? Yep, you guessed it…the knees might shake a little, and you might have negative thoughts in your head as you stand over the putt. It’s pretty clear that you need to build confidence in your stroke so that you can sink 100% of those short putts. Missing them can cost you the hole, or even the match.

To build confidence, you need repetition. You need to see and feel the ball going in the hole every time. I would make hundreds of these putts from one to two feet. I would roll some in the left edge and some in the right edge. I would also often put a tee in the back middle of the cup and tap the tee with the golf ball to narrow my focus on the center of the cup. This drill is not primarily about technique, but rather experiencing the benefits of holing putts without missing.

However, please stay aware of what your stroke feels like and what you are thinking when you are doing this exercise. The drill may test your commitment and patience, but I am certain your confidence will grow. Also, realize that when you go to play on the course, you really don’t hit a 3′ putt much different than an 18″ putt.
Ball pushes tee into side of hole

Ball pushes tee into side of hole