Mastering the art of putting

 

On TV, and therefore, more often on public fairways, I see pro’s and amateurs spending (what I think) is a ridiculous amount of time lining up the ball on their intended putting line… squatting behind the ball, holding it between thumb and forefinger, and fidgeting with the damn thing so the black line they’ve painted on it points somewhere off in the distance.  I don’t know who started this trend, perhaps it was always done by a few pro’s way back.  If so, it took many years to catch on, and I wish it would go away.

When Titleist introduced the Pro V1 ball to great fanfare 17 years ago, it included two little arrows (< and >) to help players line their balls up, and that made the habit more common, no question.  Now, it seems every player from the scratch to the 20 handicap, takes a Sharpie, marks an even more definitive line on the ball, and spends about ten seconds on every friggin’ putt ensuring that ball line is squarely on the direction line.

Whether it helps is 100% debatable.  I can’t honestly say that, in playing golf for over 60 years, I’ve seen any of the people I play with sink more putts than they did in 1957.  All I know is, they take more time missing them.

Not me, though.  I’m still a lousy putter, but I take no more time putting than I did when I was seven years old.  I’ve certainly changed a number of aspects to my putting, but none of these changes has made me better.  Drawing a line on my ball is not one of them.

I’m sure if I looked at film of myself putting from, say, 1962, I’d see that I’ve gone from a very wristy stroke to much more of a shoulder-propelled swing.  I’d also see myself putting then with an Acushnet brand John Reuter Jr.-crafted Bulls-Eye putter, which I still have in the basement and should probably revert to at some point.  It couldn’t be any worse in my hands than the Odyssey Two Ball I’ve been trying to master for the last three years (having ditched the Ping Anser that didn’t work for two decades before that).

I’d also see the biggest change in my putting, which I adopted about seven years ago, I’m guessing.  That is, on putts of less than roughly twenty feet, I now look at the hole, not at the ball.

This rather unusual tactic began after I read an article in either Golf or Golf Digest, which recommended it for one issue, before dropping the campaign.  In that piece, they took a bunch of amateurs of varying handicaps, divided them into two groups – one looking at the hole, one looking at their ball – and measured their success from various distances away.  The group looking at the hole scored significantly better on all counts.  That tweaked my interest.

The theory behind looking at the hole is this: it allows you to concentrate on seeing the line you intend to follow with your putt.  They also correlated it to other sports… that is, a baseball pitcher isn’t looking at the ball in his hand when he’s throwing… a hockey player isn’t watching the puck he’s about to fire into the upper right corner of the net… a tennis player is looking at where he wants to whack the ball to the opposite court, not the ball.  So, why shouldn’t a putter be looking at where he wants to stroke the golf ball?

Does it work for me?

Nope, I can’t say it does.  But it’s now so entrenched for me that I can’t do it any other way.  I THINK I may be a little better at sinking shorter putts than I was, but I still miss a lot just outside gimme range, and I’m frankly dumbfounded that after all these years, I’m still a lousy putter, and probably lousier than ever.  I keep reminding myself that if I could reduce my average of 36 putts per round to 32, I’d be back to a single-digit handicap again.  To no avail.

The reason WHY I don’t think it works is not because the THEORY is wrong.  It’s just that I don’t have a consistent, reliable, smooth putting stroke.  Looking at the hole, or the ball, or closing my eyes (I’ve tried that, too), or staring at a naked photo of Charlize Theron on the ground (I haven’t tried that, but I might)… none of this really makes any difference if the angle of my putter face is more than one degree off my intended line as it strikes the face of the ball.  Which it usually is.

Also, where your eyes are, and whether the ball is lined up to an intended line, really means nothing if your putter head is not accelerating as it proceeds through impact on the stroke.  Sure, a decel may find its way to the hole on a short putt, because you’ve actually made contact with the ball, but on a longer putt, only luck and gravity will get that decelled ball to the bottom of the cup.  (As Lee Trevino once said, “At least 90% of putts that are short will NOT go in the hole.”)

I know these fundamentals, and I’ve tried for over 60 years to perfect them, but when all is said and done, I’ve failed, and I’m still a lousy putter.  Millions of golfers could become better players by watching what I do, and not doing it.

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