Editor's note: Every Monday, PGA professional Kevin Hinton examines the game of a recent tour winner and tells you what you can learn. A Golf Digest Best Young Teacher, Kevin is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Golf Club, Locust Valley, N.Y., and is a Lead Master Instructor for the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral Resort & Spa. He also teaches at Drive 495 in New York. He has seen thousands of swings, and has helped golfers of all abilities, from rank beginners to tour players. This week, he looks at the incredible putting performance of U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who not only hit 62 of 72 greens in regulation at Congressional, but backed that up with near-flawless putting en route to his record-breaking eight-shot victory. Kevin analyzes McIlroy's approach on the greens, and tells you how you can improve your putting as well.
Kevin Hinton:__ Rory McIlroy made several clutch birdie and par-saving putts in Sunday's final round to help keep his momentum and allow him to cruise to his first major championship title. Rory navigated Congressional's treacherous greens beautifully, three-putting only once during the entire tournament. Let's take a closer look at the video below by one of Rory's putting coaches, Dave Stockton, to see what you can learn from the approach on the greens of the youngest U.S. Open champion in 88 years.
See view below of Dave Stockton's putting approach.
I often tell my students that the two most important length putts are four-footers and 40-footers--essentially long putts and short putts. These are the distances that will have the greatest effect on your putting score, and the distances that should be practiced the most. If you can control your speed on your long putts and confidently knock in your shorter putts, you will definitely have a good putting day. Everything you can make from the middle distances is a nice bonus. This is even truer for the average player, the reason being that if a middle-handicapper hits a green in regulation, it is often in the 30- to 40-foot range. The chances of making this putt is extremely low. The goal is to now two-putt. PGA Tour players make approximately 41 percent from 10 feet, 70 percent from six feet, and 99 percent from three feet. These stats should give you an idea of how close you need to hit your lag putt to have a realistic chance of two-putting. Think of it this way: If you are consistently leaving yourself six feet for your second putt, and you putt as well as the best players in the world, you'll three-putt nearly one-third of the time. However, as your lag putting improves, the chances of two-putting increases exponentially as you shorten the distance of that second putt. If you can leave yourself three feet or less, statistical probability says you'll make it. In Rory's case, he uses the Stockton technique of looking at the putt from the low side and then from behind the ball down the line of the putt, and he does not make a practice stroke. Rory credits putting coach Paul Hurrion for his basic stroke (see video below). But he attributes his approach to reading greens and trusting that stroke under pressure to Stockton.
I use the initials ASO (Aim, Speed, Observe) to get my students focusing on what I believe are the three keys to quality putting.
Aim: On shorter putts, putterface alignment at impact has the greatest effect on the direction the ball will roll by far. The path that the putter is traveling and centeredness of contact contribute as well, but not nearly to the degree that face alignment does. The first step is ensuring the face is aligned properly at address. Many players on tour draw a line on the ball and point it at their intended starting line (Tiger Woods, Y.E Yang and Juli Inkster to name three). Putting guru Mike Shannon would say this might work for you if you are a "Linear" putter--you see things in "straight lines." If you do this, please take the time to aim the line properly. Others pick a spot just in front of the ball. You could try aiming the putter at a blade of grass or a spot within the cup. Whatever you do, make sure you aim well initially. Most short putts are missed before the putter goes back.
Speed: There are several things that contribute to a player's ability to stroke putts the correct speed; the biggest might be center contact. Notice in Rory's stroke how still his body is throughout the motion. He has minimal head movement until after the ball is gone, and he has no rotation of his legs. Excess movement is very common with the average player. We do not need that movement to help create power, and it only lessens the chance of hitting the sweet spot of the putter. You might make the correct stroke to hit a putt a particular distance, but it will go that distance only if you hit the center of the putter. Just like a driver, you lose distance with off-center hits.
Another key element of distance control is the ability to make a stroke of a proper size and speed. I hear all the time from students that they try to keep the speed of the stroke constant and just increase the length when the putts get longer. It sounds great in theory, but it is not what the best putters do. Also, there is no simple equation that works: "four inches past my right toe, six inches past my left toe for 'x' distance." You simply have to put the time in and develop your touch. Shorter putts require smaller, slower strokes; longer putts require bigger, faster strokes. The proof is that the stroke of a 40-footer is not 10 times larger than the stroke of a four-footer. It is bigger, but the speed has increased significantly.
__Observe:__Get involved, pay attention. From the time you get within 10 yards of the green, start observing all of the variables that will help you read the greens and better control your speed. Watch how your chip reacted. Did the ball seem to slow down as it approached the hole or speed up? Which way was it breaking? What did your playing partner's ball do? What is the general slope of the green? (Hint: a higher percentage of greens slope from back to front). What is the color of the green? Darker or duller grass means you are looking into the grain; that putt will be slower. A shiny, brighter look means the putt is downgrain; it will be faster. Be very aware of the "triple combo." A downgrain, downhill, downwind putt will be extremely fast. The opposite combination will be very slow. These are just a few of the variables you need to observe. A world-class player has a collection of experiences. He or she sees many of these things without having to think about them. If you are less experienced, you need to make a concerted effort to gather as much information as possible. Apply the ASO theory to your game, and your putting score will improve dramatically.