Making Putts Is More About Setup Than Stroke
Just as the eyes are the windows to the soul, the setup in putting is the window to the stroke. If left alone, the stroke will mirror the positions established at address. Set up well, and your stroke will flow naturally; set up poorly, and you'll be fighting yourself the whole way. It's easy to pick out good and bad putters by looking at their setups. But every golfer has the ability to putt as well as a tour pro because, physically, putting demands very little. You don't have to be strong or fit or flexible. But you do need to get into a good setup. Here are the steps I teach. —With Peter Morrice
First thing is aim. Aiming the putter is a function of a player's vision, and we're all different. Putterface aim is determined by the front-to-back ball position. Every player has a front-to-back position that correlates to perfect aim. If the ball gets in front of that spot, the putter is aimed left. If the ball moves behind it, the aim is to the right. (A one-inch change shifts the aim by three inches for every 10 feet.) Place the ball where it feels correct, then have a friend check from behind if the face is aimed at the hole, or left or right. Adjust accordingly.
'I watch how players set up and think, Here's a good putter or No chance.’
With your aim set, you want to take advantage of it by swinging the putter on line. This is determined by the near-to-far ball position. If you stand too close to the ball, you'll make an out-to-in stroke. Too far away, and the stroke path will be in to out. Most tour pros stand 2¼ to 2¾ putterheads from the inside edge of the ball to the toe line (left). Putterheads range from 4¼ to 4½ inches long. To confirm your distance is good, have a friend make sure your putterhead tracks slightly to the inside on the backstroke and inside again after impact.
Once you establish aim and ball position, your feet must stay in place. If you widen your stance, your head moves back relative to the ball. This effectively moves the ball position forward, which shifts the aim to the left. If you narrow your stance, your head moves forward. That effectively moves the ball back—and shifts the aim to the right. The best guideline on stance is to make it comfortable. Some players flare their feet, some like them toed in. Both are fine. Width is personal, too. The key is consistency: Set your feet, and keep them there.
The position of your hands in large part determines if you return the putterface to square at impact. If the thumbs are on top of the grip with your palms opposing, or facing each other (left), you have the best chance of getting back to square. If the hands are too far on the left side of the grip, the face will tend to fan open on the backstroke and be open at impact, causing a miss to the right. If the hands are too far to the right side, the face will tend to over-rotate on the forward stroke and be closed at impact, causing a miss to the left.
To get into your address position, place your feet and take your grip, then stand upright and point the club out in front of you. The shaft should be an extension of your arms. Then draw your elbows in until they touch your sides (left). To keep the shaft in line with your forearms, your wrists will be arched. That will help your wrists stay firm throughout the stroke. Tilt from the waist, maintaining the shaft-to-arm relationship, until the putter hits the ground. Your weight should be slightly more on your front foot and in both heels.
This is your final check: the four parallel lines of putting. The first is from the ball to the target—your intended line. The second is the eye line, which should be parallel to the first. If your eye line points right or left, your aim shifts. Third is the shoulder line. If your shoulders are open or closed, the stroke goes left or right. To square your shoulders, set your head above your stance center. Last is the line of your forearms. Because one hand is lower on the grip, pay extra attention that this line is parallel to the others.Mike Shannon is based at Sea Island Golf Club, St. Simons Island, Ga. He works with 14 tour players, including Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell and Whee Kim.