By Kevin Hinton
Editor's Note: Kevin Hinton is the Director of Instruction at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, N.Y. and one of Golf Digest's Best Young Teachers. Here, he tells you how you can learn from what you'll see at this week's Ryder Cup.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Tour players spend a lot of time practicing their pre-shot routines for exact situations like the Ryder Cup. Some even time their routines with a stopwatch and practice maintaining that timing. While the time they spend analyzing a putt may vary, when they actually "walk" into the ball, it takes about the same amount of time for them to hit the putt. Average golfers tend to (1) not have a routine at all, or (2) change the timing of it depending on the importance of the situation. People often speed up or slow down (most slow down) considerably as their nerves kick in. Having said this, sometimes you do everything right and just miss. However, at least you'll know you fully committed to your routine, which is at least half the battle.
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The "Anti-Routine" Method
While sticking with your routine is certainly the first course of action, on short putts in crucial situations, some people just get too nervous and can't execute. If you're one of those golfers, try the "Anti-Routine" method. Next time you have a tap-in or short putt that matters, try stepping right up to the putt and casually knocking it in before you have time to think. Think of all the times you've made putts that didn't matter by quickly using one hand, scraping it back to the hole, or taking an odd stance trying to avoid someone's line. It often seems like we never miss this way. Maybe even try something extreme like using a different grip or talking out loud as you tap it in. These are all mental fixes to trick your brain. If you are taking a lackadaisical approach, maybe you'll relax and forget about the putt's importance. The more you struggle with these short putts, the more extreme your solution will likely have to be. For example, Johnny Miller often said he looked at the hole while he putted; others claim to shut their eyes just before taking the putter back; others advocate looking at the grip of the putter as you make your stroke. Experiment to see what works for you.
__ "Aim Small Miss Small"__
In golf we love small misses. Next time you have a short putt, pick out a specific blade of grass or small discoloration in the back of the cup, then really focus on it. The chances of actually hitting it are quite low, but I guarantee you won't miss the hole.
__"Even Back, Even Through" __
Try to have the image of your stroke swinging as a perfect pendulum. Keep your stroke even on both sides of the ball. No doubt, tour players' strokes are not exactly like this, but the image can certainly help the average golfer. I often see people miss short putts when their backstrokes and through strokes vary in size greatly. Some make excessively long backstrokes, and are then forced to decelerate into impact. Others make hardly any backstroke, then violently accelerate the putter through impact. By trying to have a consistent ratio and rhythm, you'll likely make a lot more than you miss.
"Putt Like A Kid"
The U.S. captain, Davis Love III, says his mental goal in pressure situations is to putt like a ten year-old, not caring about missing or making. He does his best to separate himself from the result. Kids don't attach dramatic implications to every made or missed putt, nor should we. Davis also recommends beginning your stroke immediately as your eyes return to the golf ball after your last look at the hole, no hesitation. This will prevent tension from building. There is no greater killer in putting than tension.
This is a good life lesson in general, but is equally important to your putting. Tour players practice everything, even their breathing. Taking a deep breathe prior to stroking a putt will definitely help calm your nerves. Don't underestimate it.