*Editor's Note: Every Monday Kevin Hinton, Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers, tells you how a tour player hits a great shot. This week, Hinton examines the monster par putts--and general putting brilliance--of Phil Mickelson at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which he won in impressive fashion, taming a frustrated Tiger in the process. Hinton tells how you can improve your putting as well.
*__Here's Kevin:__The story on Sunday at Pebble Beach was all about putting. Phil Mickelson had 10 one-putts enroute to a bogey-free final-round 64, claiming a two-shot victory over Charlie Wi and his fourth title at Pebble. This is the fifth-straight time Mickelson has bested Woods when they were paired together in the final round, beating Tiger by 11 shots on Sunday after starting two strokes behind him. Tiger missed five putts inside five feet on Sunday. Mickelson made two clutch back-nine par saves of more than 30 feet, as well as capitalizing for six birdies and an eagle after a round of stellar iron play. The putter also did-in third round leader Charlie Wi, who four-putted the first hole and missed a three-footer for par on the 14th. Let's take a closer look at the video of Mickelson's masterful stroke.
Mickelson has always been known as a short-game wizard, but his putting hasn't always been reliable under pressure. Last year on tour, Phil finished a woeful 134th in the statistical putting category of strokes gained. This stat is considered the most accurate measurement of a player's putting abilities. Phil also three-putted at an alarming rate for a player of his ability, finishing 147th in the stat of three-putt avoidance. So what has changed? Not necessarily a ton, but it often doesn't take much to turn things around on the greens. Small technique changes...better mental focus and belief in yourself. No doubt he wanted to beat Tiger Sunday on a huge stage and even said Tiger now brings out the best in his game.
The big news of 2011 for Phil was his experimentation with the belly putter. It didn't stay in his bag for long. There are many players, however, who practice with one, but never use it in competition. It's a great practice tool and I highly recommend getting one, even if it never makes it's way onto the golf course. The belly putter teaches a player the proper pendulum motion, ensuring a slight arcing stroke and an unrestricted release of the putterhead through impact.
Phil also visited putting guru Dave Stockton, who wants you to keep the back of the lead hand moving toward the target (see Mickelson video above). Stockton's main philosophy, however, focuses on routine and encouraging a very non-technical approach. Phil worked with the belly putter because it made
him think less about his stroke and more about rolling the ball on line. According to a source close to Stockton, he wanted Mickelson to focus less on stroke mechanics and more on his approach, which is a big part of what Stockton teaches. Mickelson is also completely fearless about experimenting with and using whatever he thinks will make him better. He has no ego or vanity about it. He once tried playing two drivers in the same round at the Masters, for example.
Last year, Stockton and Mickelson worked mostly on reducing the time from Phil's read to actually pulling the trigger. Every extra look and practice stroke gave more time for his connection to the line he saw to deteriorate, and more time for mechanical thoughts (and negative thoughts) to creep in. With a player like Mickelson, who has excellent technique, that can be a very effective strategy and worked beautifully at Pebble.
What you can learn:
The aspect of Phil's putting that the average player should emulate the most is his speed control. There is so much focus on rolling the ball on the intended line, that touch and distance control are often overlooked. It is impossible to make all the breaking putts that Phil did without it.
I recommend my students work on two types of putts: straight four-footers and breaking 40-footers. Four-footers address the technical side of putting, while 40-footers are more the artistic and imaginative side, enhancing your touch and distance-control skills. This is the area the majority of amateurs struggle with the most. These are also the distances (long putts and short putts) that affect your "putting score" the most. Don't worry as much about the middle distances, and definitely spend more time developing your touch. No doubt you'll putt better in 2012 . . . and maybe even as well as Phil on Sunday!