A Golf Primer:
The Basics of Putting

  What's Important About Putting
  The Requirements
  Grip -- Aim -- Setup
  Direction Control
  Distance Control


Lee Trevino has observed that if a player is putting badly, then one of four things is wrong:

  1. A bad stroke.
  2. A bad system of planning and reading.
  3. A bad attitude.
  4. A bad putter (club).

All four will be covered here, starting with technique. As is the case with any specialized skill, there is not universal agreement on how putting should best be performed. Players develop their own putting mechanics, which become important to their success, but these mechanics may not be to someone else's liking. For example, Arnold Palmer preferred the knock-kneed, toed-in stance to stabilize the body. Another player may find a more effective but different way to accomplish the same thing. There may be no single element of overall putting technique that every great putter agrees upon, but there are a few that a majority support.

They are:
  1. Eye line over or slightly inside the ball.
  2. Set the clubface square to the target.
  3. Position the ball forward of center.
  4. Keep the body motion limited.
  5. Use an accelerating stroke.
  6. Be comfortable.
  7. Make solid contact by hitting the ball in the putter's "sweet spot."
"Don't try too hard to hole every putt. A 'must make' attitude puts too much pressure on your stroke...Just do your best to get the correct line and speed and roll the ball at the hole on that line." ---Ben Crenshaw

What's Important In Putting?

The body's physical requirements for putting are minimal. Golfers with low levels of strength and flexibility can be accomplished putters, though not able to drive a golf ball over 200 yards. In fact, putting and the accompanying short shots around the green are the beautiful equalizers between the power and finesse players in this game of golf. It is not the mechanical requirements that separate the poor from the great putters. With practice, anyone can develop a solid, repeating, mechanical stroke. The problem is that few will make the effort, and even if they do, they still may fall short of being superior putters because there are requirements beyond the mechanical stroke which they fail to master. A successful putter must also have the ability to judge slope, the sensitivity to feel the proper speed and the courage to act on his decision once it has been made. So, the requirements for superior putting are more challenging than may first appear to the new player. However, by themselves, the mechanics are relatively straightforward.

The Requirements

Simply stated, what one must do to produce a successful putt is: a)roll the ball on the correct path, and b)do so at the right speed, i.e., the same requirements as for all other golf shots. To start the ball on the proper path, one must first decide what that path is. In other words, one must "read the green." The decision will be determined by slope, green speed, grain, length of putt, the ball and the putter itself. (These factors will be covered further toward the end of this chapter.) Assuming the player has read the green correctly, the ball must be struck with the putter blade at right angles or "square" to the correct starting line. How does one do that?

"Don't spend your golfing life in one putting experiment after another. Too often a golfer will continue experimenting simply because he is too lazy to perfect a technique through practice. For lack of practice his putting remains uncertain and he continues to look for some magic putting system." ---Charles B. Cleveland

Grip -- Aim -- Setup

In putting, there is a minimal need for power so the stroke is the shortest of all golf swings. With a shorter stroke, less opening and closing of the clubface is produced. To reduce hand rotation, use a different grip from that used in the full swing. You can find a functional grip by first bending slightly at the waist so the arms hang extended. Then, raise the hands by bending the elbows until the hands reach the desired location on the putter grip The more the elbows are bent the more the hands will rotate to a palm upward or skyward facing if you are to be in your most natural position. Most teachers today recommend a taller posture than in previous generations, meaning a longer arm hang. This produces a natural grip that finds both thumbs pointing more down the shaft. Because the player stands closer to the bal and the lie of the club is more vertical, the grip will run more diagonally across both the left and right hand. This helps to reduce wristiness and clubface rotation.

Most common among all grip choices is the reverse-overlap, which puts the entire right hand on the grip and brings the two hands quite close together to better work as one unit. Among the others, the advantage or cross-handed and split-handed is that the left wrist is less likely to collapse in the forward stroke. All the grips mentioned are viable options, particularly if the conventional reverse overlap style is not effective or comfortable.

Aiming accurately may be the most difficult and most important element in the mechanics of putting.

One setup that is quite functional is as follows: (a) ball forward of center (check by putting a shaft in the ground to locate the center), (b) eye line over the ball (check by dropping a ball from between the eyes,(c) weight focused and stabilized on the left foot (check by raising opposite foot momentarily), (d) feet, shoulders and arms square (check by placing a shaft across them), (e) be comfortable.

Grip pressure in any style varies from light to firm depending somewhat upon what fits the player's philosophy. Are you a touch putter, a "jammer," wristy, or an arm-and shoulder type? Whatever the choice, whether gripping firmly or lightly, the idea of keeping the grip pressure constant throughout the stroke is a valuable asset.

Direction Control

There are two problems with which to deal -- Distance and Direction -- first we will work on Direction. To get the proper direction one must deliver the club toward the target and present the clubface at right angles to the target. To do this use a 2 X 4 as a guide for the stroke. These learning aids can help promote a sound stroke technique from the beginning. Draw or paint a line across the top of the board, in the middle at right angles to the board's length. Use that line to see if the clubface is square. Find a level spot on the green. Place the board so the line in the middle of the board is one foot from the middle of the cup. Rest the heel of the putter against the board so that it can ride back and through against the board's edge. The board will guarantee that the path is correct at impact; you must simply return the face to square. If the stroke is a pendulum-type, natural stroke, with no manipulation of the hands, the face will open slightly on the backswing, square itself at impact and close slightly on the throughswing.

After a few trials without a ball, place the ball opposite the line on the board so that it will be at the sweet spot, theoretically, the middle of the putter head. Use the same stroke used as when the ball was not there. With the face square at impact and the path on the board, the ball will go into the cup, i.e., success After a few more successful attempts, move the board back to two feet, then three feet. Do not use the board when putting from a longer distance because the clubhead must naturally start moving to the inside in the follow-through, assuming it's a nonmanipulated stroke from a natural setup position.

Step away from the board. Then with no ball and eyes closed you should be able to feel the pattern of the swing.

"Mechanics are about 10 percent of putting -- feel is 90 percent. But good mechanics lead to good feel." ---Tom Watson

Distance Control

Already you have experienced that short putts only require short backswings with enough pace to get the ball to the cup. Now it's appropriate to demonstrate that an important controller of distance is backswing length. Place balls at three feet, six feet and 12 feet. Retain the same stroke that was used on the board, but gradually increase the backswing to provide the extra energy to get the ball to the hole from longer distances. If made in a natural fashion, the stroke will gradually increase in speed, creating acceleration to and through the ball. This acceleration is one of the fundamentals in all golf strokes. Deceleration, in anticipation of making contact with the ball, or from fear of missing the putt, is a stroke killer. Experience the judgment of distance by taking several long distance targets of varying length. Place tees in a six-foot-diameter circle around each cup. Focus on rolling the ball into the circle so your next putt will be of three feet or less.