10 Rules From Dave Stockton

How to make six-footers

October 2008

1. Take "try" out of the equation

When I faced a 15-foot putt to win the 1976 PGA Championship, the amount of time I took surprised a lot of people. Instead of grinding over it, I took less time than usual -- 15 seconds in all. But I did not rush. I knew that if I got hung up dwelling on how much the putt meant, my chances of holing it would have dropped dramatically.

The moment you try to make a putt, you'll miss it. Conscious effort doesn't work. Try this experiment: Get a pen and paper and jot your signature. Now write your name a second time, trying to duplicate your first signature exactly. Chances are you'll make a mess of it, because instead of doing it automatically, you're now applying conscious effort. Your approach to the six-footer should be like signing your name: Do it briskly and subconsciously.

2. Think speed more than line

Speed and line are equally important, but the amateur tends to be preoccupied with the line. As you read the green, do it with the idea that you'll roll the ball 16 inches past the hole -- if you miss. After you've set up and taken dead aim, don't give the line another thought. Avoid being too aggressive with the six-footer, because the edges of the hole might come into play and cause a nasty lip-out.

3. Stay away from dead straight

When Tiger Woods faced that 12-foot putt on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines to send the U.S. Open into a playoff, he called in his caddie, Steve Williams, to help with the read. I'll bet Tiger saw the putt as breaking to the left but was bothered by a hunch that it might be dead straight. If there's one thing a good putter hates, it's an absolutely straight putt. The reason is, if you start the putt straight, you have a margin for error of only half a cup on either side. Tiger needed Steve to confirm that the putt would break left, because the entire cup would be exposed if Tiger started the ball to the right. The putt indeed broke a couple inches to the left, and Tiger snuck it in on the right edge of the hole.

If the putt for all the marbles looks straight, look again. Study the area near the hole. Remember, the ball will be rolling so slowly when it gets within two feet that even the tiniest slope will cause it to break. Try to at least favor one side.


4. You've already made the putt

You might have heard that it's helpful to form a positive image of the ball going in, but you should take it further than that. Imagine the ball tracking the entire six feet, as though you're watching a video replay of the putt dropping. This image should be so convincing that, if the putt doesn't fall, you should be shocked. That's how I feel when I'm putting well -- I'm absolutely stunned when the ball doesn't go in.

Do everything you can to place the six-footer in the past tense. How many times have you missed a putt, raked it back for another try and instinctively knocked it in? Adopt this "second chance" mentality on your first putt.

5. Be a painter, not a carpenter

For the good putter, the most common miss under pressure is the push. When the heat is on, there's a tendency to hit at the ball instead of stroking through it. Like driving a nail with a hammer, the putter stops abruptly at impact. It doesn't release to a square position, and the clubface is aimed to the right. Putt as though you're pulling a paintbrush, your hands leading and the clubhead trailing as you stroke through.

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