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Cover Story: Why You Can't Putt

How To Roll Every Putt On Line

October 2010

The way we've all been taught to play breaking putts will never work for most of us. Find the high point of the break, and then picture a straight putt to that spot. That advice, according to my testing of 700 pros and amateurs, works for only 35 percent of golfers. The other 65 percent don't see in straight lines -- they literally can't -- so using a straight-line system only creates conflict in their minds.

Players who make up that 65 percent see in curved lines. When they're asked to aim at a spot that correlates to the amount of break they read, they usually aim twice as far off the hole than they intended. The reason is, curved-line putters picture the hole, and not a spot along the line, as their target. So when you have them aim at a spot -- say, a foot outside the hole -- they see that spot as their ultimate target, not as their starting line. Unless they make compensations, they'll aim two feet out, and miss a foot wide.

In the late '90s, I asked a group of clinical and sport psychologists to review my findings. They quickly pointed to parallels in other sports. Top-level pitchers, they said, tend to be straight-line thinkers: They see a stationary target -- the catcher's mitt -- and take aim at it. Quarterbacks throw to a moving target, so they tend to be curved-line thinkers. Golfers fall on both sides.

But curved-line players have had no system for handling breaking putts. So I developed one. It's based on picturing the hole as a clock face and focusing on where a putt should enter. If you have trouble rolling the ball on line, I'd bet you're a curved-line putter. My method is for you.

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Mike Shannon, ranked among Golf Digest's 50 Best Teachers in America, is based at Sea Island Golf Club, St. Simons Island, Ga.

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