I was never a good putter. I wasn't even average. Truth? I was lousy. I had to get better to succeed on the PGA Tour. It started with learning what I was doing wrong (besides missing the hole). My former coach, Brett Saunders, used biomechanical-analysis software—like Trackman, but for putting—to look at what my stroke was doing to the ball. No surprise: My launch angle was off (yes, putts have a launch angle) and so was the amount of spin I put on the ball. To try to correct these issues, I went to a left-hand-low grip and a counterbalanced putter. That helped, but not without a lot of practice. Now I'm proud to say my putting has substantially improved. In 2017 on the PGA Tour, I was top 20 in two important stats: strokes gained/putting and one-putt percentage. I also won the Valspar Championship and shot a 59 with 21 putts in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge. If you're a lousy putter, or just want to improve, some of the things I did can help you, too. Read on for the details. – With E. Michael Johnson
First thing you need to know is, you don't have to trash your putter. I stuck with mine (an Odyssey Tank Cruiser). The familiarity helped develop better feel.
To improve my roll and get the ball started on the line I've chosen, I now play it slightly forward of center in my stance, and I grip the putter with my palms facing each other, and the left hand lower than the right (below). I grip it this way to minimize any unwanted movement of the putterhead when I make a stroke. This keeps the face square more consistently.
The main culprit for my putting woes was speed control, so I spend as much as 30 minutes a day practicing all sorts of difficult putts—uphill, downhill, sidehill, over ridges, etc. A lot of golfers spend time practicing medium-length flat putts, but I don't think you get anything but comfort from that. I also do a drill where I lay a stick a couple of feet behind the hole—like a backboard. If I hit the stick, that's no good. I start at 15 feet (below) and move back 15 feet at a time until I get about 45 feet away. I want to roll it close (or make it), but not hit it too far past.
If you want to avoid three-putts, getting it close is only half the task. You also have to make the short ones. To practice these, I focus on hitting the dead center of the hole. I insert a tee in the back of the cup and another a few feet away as my starting point. I then try to hit 20 putts in a row that tap the tee before falling (below). I do this to make sure I'm not getting lazy with my focus and stroke. You can still wiggle it in from short distances with a sloppy stroke, but if you continue to take these putts for granted, you're going to miss one that really matters—trust me. As you get better at this drill, start challenging yourself by taking on a more difficult three-footer, one with more slope. You know your speed, line and stroke are all good when it goes in dead center on a breaking putt.
Photo by J.D. Cuban
One final piece of advice: Put the time in to get better. Those days when I don't want to practice, I re-watch a video from the 2010 Canadian Open, my first PGA Tour event. I drilled a 5-iron on a 205-yard hole to eight feet and had a straight, flat birdie putt. It didn't touch the hole—not even close. I don't ever want to do that again. And so far, I haven't. Now you don't have to, either.
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