Hit more pure putts

There’s no reason that you can’t become a great putter. It’s the part off the game that requires the least amount of physical strength and it has the shortest swing of the club head.

Lately my putting has been very good. I’ve been sinking a lot of putts in the 10-15 foot range. It’s a range that I struggled with most of the season but I’ve figured out some things that work for me.

Speed

I work on speed with a few simple speed drills. The first drill is from Zen Golf by Dr. Joseph Parent. It involves putting to the fringe. I pick a spot where I’m between 10-15 feet from the fringe and putt to it. As the putt is rolling to the fringe I try to feel whether it’s going to be short, long or right on. Is amazing how much this begins to tune your sense of speed. I do this for a few minutes then move on to the next drill.

A straight line

Recently focusing on this thought has greatly improved my accuracy. I try to think of all my putts as straight line putts.

Obviously not every putt travels in a straight line. But they have to come off the putter face in a straight line. The thought is to pick my line, then allow gravity and the green contours to bring the putt to the hole.

I started doing this because I realized that I was compensating for the break. That would result in pulled or pushed putts. I even make the straight line shorter in my mind’s eye and constrain it to 6 inches in front of the ball and six inches behind it.

At first it felt a bit weird putting like this, but by trusting that gravity and the contours of the green would take the ball to the hole, these ideas have really simplified my putting stroke. One of the other benefits, besides making more putts has been that I’ve become a better green reader. I trust that the slope of the green and gravity will both do their jobs and it frees me up to hit a purer putt.

Give these ideas a try and let me know if they work for you.

Gain more confidence by challenging your fears and doubts

Zen GolfA sure way to ruin a golf shot is to step up to it and hit without being fully committed to the shot.  There are a number of reasons that can cause us to not commit to the shot.

Sometimes it’s our equipment.  There’s a 4 wood in my bag that doesn’t fit my swing anymore.  My irons and driver have an x-stiff shaft and this 4w has a stiff voodoo SVS7.  It just seems and feels out of place now.  I feel like I need to make too much of an adjustment to my swing to hit it well.  So when I have a 235 yard show where it would be appropriate I hesitate.  This happened recently and I’ve decided not to repeat the mistake.

The hesitation is, I believe, my body telling me not to use the club.  Even on the practice tee it feels strange now and it really doesn’t feel like it belongs in my bag now.  I used to love hitting this club but as my swing has evolved, my equipment changes with it, and that’s what has happened with my irons and driver.

Not being comfortable with the equipment can cause hesitation.  The result of this is usually a less than committed swing that tries to compensate for the discomfort.  And this often leads to bad shots.  It’s what Doc Joseph Parent calls an “anyway.”  A shot that you hit “anyway” even though you feel uncomfortable about it.

One the other hand, I really love the way my irons play now.  It’s taken me a little bit to get adjusted to the stiffer shafts, but the ball flight and consistency have made it all worth it.  This gives me so much confidence when I get ready to hit a shot that it becomes very easy to see the shot in mind, and hit it.

There are other things that can cause less than full commitment to a shot.  This is not a complete list but I think these are some of the major reasons:

  1. Not knowing the right distances to play to, especially if the green or target is up hill or down hill.
  2. Not knowing exactly how to calculate the effect of the wind.
  3. Having a difficult or very long forced carry.
  4. Having a very difficult lie in the rough or even the fairway like when the ball is in a divot.
  5. Being unsure of the speed of the greens.

One of the best ways to eliminate many of these doubts is to practice hitting from difficult lies.  The more experience you get escaping from difficult lies the more confidence you’ll have in approaching those shots.

One of the things I see that I think really holds golfers from becoming better is when they improve their lies in recreational rounds and then go out and play a tournament.  If they don’t ever practice out of those difficult lies, they won’t know how the ball is going to react out of them.  So right away, they put themselves at big disadvantage in competition.

Challenging your fears and doubts

Learn to get excited about practicing the shots that make you nervous and you’ll become a better golfer.  Make a game of it.  See how many times you can get up and down from a difficult shot.

Try to eliminate the doubts and recognize why they happen.  Sometimes the doubts come from a lack of experience with a type of shot, other times they come because you’re body is telling you that something is not quite right, as when the equipment doesn’t fit you.  These doubts can be overcome but in either case it’s very helpful to deal with them.

Use your natural autopilot to play your best golf

golfer

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course…the space between your ears.”

Bobby Jones

Ah, the mental game of golf.  Have you ever noticed that some of your best rounds occur when you can just get out of your own way?

When you look at the literature surrounding the mental game, whether it’s Dr. Bob Rotella, Dr. Joseph Parent, or any of the other excellent sports psychologists and mental game coaches, one of the recurring themes is getting out of our own way,

They all have their own approaches to achieving this but it is certainly not easy.  Especially not when something is riding on the line (your club championship, your best round, your first time breaking 100, 90 or 80).

One of the reasons that I kept the word Zen in this website is that I have come to believe that the Zen philosophy is completely applicable to golf.  My view of Zen is that optimal performance occurs when the thinking mind is silent, when we allow the body to do what it has learned, to simply react to the shot and situation.  But how often does that happen?

The truth is that we enter an autopilot like state nearly everyday.  If you drive a car, you do it instinctively.  Have you ever had the experience of driving, and during the drive you “zone out” for a few minutes, and you look around and recognize that you are still driving perfectly well, miles down the road?  That’s the autopilot taking over.

That can be used in golf.

However the main obstacle that gets in the way is thinking about technique.  Often when we hit a poor shot, we automatically go into diagnosis mode and technique mode.  We try to figure out what went wrong.  Did my elbow stick out?  Was my backswing too long?  Did I take the club back too far inside?

I think the first response should be “Did I pick out a good target?”  or something along those lines.  Once you are on the golf course it is too difficult to change technique.  Many of the bad shots that we do have don’t come from bad swings, but they come from bad decisions.

A bad decision can happen when we don’t inspect the lie carefully.  It can happen when we don’t take the slope or the wind into consideration.  It can happen when we don’t know our distances very well and under club.   I would imagine that the average golfer can shave 5 strokes off their game by making better decisions.

Ray Floyd in his excellent book “The Elements of Scoring” says that if he was playing against you, and he had the same physical game as you, he could beat you every time because he would make better decisions.

That’s something to think about.  Those decisions are not related to swing technique (although your options are constrained by your skill level).  They are related to your game plan and what information you take into account.

Elements to a successful mental game

  1. Carefully evaluate the situation
  2. Plan your shot
  3. Visualize the shot vividly
  4. Fully Commit to the shot
  5. Execute

The steps above can help to keep you away from entering a technique mindset.  Focusing on the target, visualizing the ball flight, and trusting your swing will usually produce excellent results.  Focusing on technique brings your conscious mind into play.  Your conscious mind is not the best swinger of the club.  Your unconscious or subconscious mind that runs your body does a far better job.  Keep your conscious mind occupied on strategy, visualization and trust and you can allow your subconscious to produce the swing you need.

Do your best to keep technique-related thoughts out of your mind while playing a round.  Changing your mental game will take practice and discipline but it should pay dividends.

Are practice swings unnecessary?

It’s amazing how I keep learning so much at the practice range.  Today I had another mind blowing experience.

I always thought that the reason I came over the top was because I was trying to hit the ball hard.  Which, intellectually, makes sense.  Practice swings feel loose and easy, the goal being to feel what you want to do.  Put the ball in front of me and I want to hit it as hard as I can.  Right?  So an OTT move is caused by overswinging.

I don’t believe that is the cause for me.  I believe the cause is somewhat more elusive.

I did an experiment and recorded three practice swings with the driver, a slow one, a medium speed one, and a 100%, pedal to the metal swing.  The results shocked me.

Before watching the video I  imagined that the first swing would have none to maybe a slight over the top move, the middle one might have a noticable move, and the fast one, with the highest clubhead speed would have a very visible over the top move.

May I have the envelop please?…

There was no noticeable over the top move in those swings at all.  No matter how hard I swung, if I wasn’t hitting a ball, I had no over the top move.

Let this sink in for a second.  No matter how hard I swung my practice swing (i.e. trying to get the club moving as fast as possible) there was no over the top move.

I did another little experiment.  This time I would take a very short and slow practice swing, and then tried to do the exact same slow practice swing but actually hit a ball.  Time after time, the practice swing was beautiful, but as soon as the ball was there, there would be an over the top move.

It’s the ball.

Well, actually, it is my reaction to the ball.  When I’m hitting an actual ball, the feeling in my body is different (although it shouldn’t be), and the swing is different (although it shouldn’t be).  I think the change happens even before I hit the ball.  As I steup up to the ball, and set my club behind it, there’s a different sensation.  I’m not sure how to describe it, but I’m not feeling as loose.  I’m a little more deliberate in my movements.  I’m not trying to do that but it happens, and I noticed it.

I know that I shouldn’t be hitting at the ball, but that the ball should just get in the way of my swing.  But it doesn’t feel that way.  Whenever I see my swing on video hitting a ball, I am just shocked and amazed that I can hit as well as I can, because the swing on video looks so flawed to me.

So, I have discovered I have two completely different swings.  A practice swing, and a hit the ball swing.  They feel different, they have different goals, and this could be part of the problem.  My practice swing does not end up being a rehearsal of my actual swing, it just ends up being a repetition of my practice swing.  Are practice swings unnecessary?

Dr. Joseph parent in Zen Golf talks about getting ready for a shot.  He says that you should do a programming swing.  This is not a full  swing, it is done slowly, and allows you to program in a specific movement that you want to have happen.  He says it should be done slowly so that you feel your muscles do the movement that you want to happen in your full swing.  Then you trust that you’re programming move will be incorporated in you swing, and you swing.  I think this is worth practicing with.

How to Make More Putts

In “Zen Putting: Mastering the Mental Game on the Greens”, Dr. Joseph Parent redefines making a putt.  He putts it this way, if you started your putt on the line you intended, at the speed you intended, then you made your putt.  This is important becuase it takes pressure away from holing the putt, and paradoxically leads to holing more putts.

Two rounds ago I took about 34 putts.  For comparison the average PGA tour player will take about 30 putts per round.  In my latest round, I only needed 27 putts.  That’s a big difference.  So how did that happen?

I have found that applying Dr. Parent’s definition of making putts is very helpful.  It gets you focusing on the quality of your process.  Getting comfortable with this method should help especially in higher pressure situations.  If you become accustomed to focusing on the process it will release some of the pressure.  Once I have picked out my line, I find that the most important thing is to get the speed right.  This comes from trusting your feel.

In my putting practice lately I have focused on feeling the right speed on the practice stroke, and repeating my practice stroke when actually putting a ball.  It has lessened the need to hit it harder, or to ease up on it.  And has made it much easier to putt consistently.  As you begin to trust your ability to fel the right speed, you begin to feel less pressure.  Here is why.

If you don’t have good control of your speed, you attempt a tentative putt that either adds speed because you don’t feel the ball is going to reach the hole, or a decelerating stroke that ensures the putt won’t reach the target.  Do this often enough and you end up with 4,5,6 footers for your second putt.  These are not exactly the easiest putts.  However, when you can trust your speed, you will end up with a lot more tap ins.  This increases confidence and lowers pressure.  If you know you are going to have a simple tap in, it actually becomes much easier to read the line, and hit a confident putt.  Confident putts have a better chance of following their intended line and going in the hole.

What is the best way to practice this?

Go to the practice green, set down a ball and take a some practice strokes.  Really try to get a feel for the speed of the putt.  When you are certain that you have the right speed down, address the ball, and hit it the same speed as your practice stroke.  Now, you need to pay attention.  You probably won’t hit it the same speed as your practice stroke.  Without judging, notice what happened.  Did you hit it softer or harder than the practice stroke?  Do a few and you should begin to notice your particular tendencies.  Soon you will be able to consistently putt with the same speed as the practice stroke.  And when you do, you’ll start to see some good results.