Chapter 8 : Putting

Again, many golfers have trouble with their putting. I know of one experienced golfer who can consistently drive the ball 250 to 300 yards only to get on the green and three putt. Nothing frustrates him more, but putting is an important part of your golf game - possibly THE most important part.

Stroking the ball is only one part of putting. To putt effectively, you first need to know how to read a green. That means looking at the trajectory your ball will travel and compensate for any dips, hills, or anything else that could cause your ball to move a specific way.

Good green reading comes with experience. After hitting enough putts over enough different types of terrain and grass, you develop a sixth sense of how the ball will roll. As you walk onto a green, whether you realize it or not, you take in all sorts of subtle information.

If the green appears light, you know you're putting against the grain; if it's dark you're down grain. If the green is set on a high area of the course and you feel a breeze as you step onto it, you sense that the putt will be fast. Even if you don't look closely at the surrounding terrain, you are aware of any major slope in the land.

Without having to tell yourself, you know which the low side of the green is and which the high is. If the putting surface is hard and crusty under foot, you receive one message; if it's soft and spongy you get another. Experience with many, many putts allows you to run this data through your computer before you even mark your ball.

The most elusive aspect of green reading has to do with the grain. Grain refers to the direction in which the blades of grass grow. The light/dark appearance is one way to read it. Another method you can use is to take your putter blade and scrape it across a patch of fringe. If the blades of grass brush up, you're scraping against the grain. If they mat down, you're scraping with it. (Incidentally, be sure to do this scraping on the fringe. On the greens, it's against Rule 35-1f.)

A third method is to take a look at the cup. Often, the blades of grass will grow over the edge of the cup in the direction in which the grain moves. Incidentally, grain usually grows toward water, especially toward the ocean, and in the East it's apt to lean toward the mountains. If you're not near any such topography, figure on the grain growing in the direction of the setting sun.

Grain is strongest on Bermuda grass, where short, crew-cut-like blades tend to push the ball strongly. Although each putt on each green is different, as a general rule you can figure on stroking the ball about 20 percent harder than usual on a putt that's dead into the grain, and about 20 percent less on a down grain putt.

When the ball breaks with the grain, you need to read-in extra "borrow" on the putt. When the slope is against the grain, play for less break. These effects are less marked on the long-stemmed bent and other strains of grass, but they are present nonetheless.

The break of your putt will also be affected by the firmness of a green, the wetness/dryness, the amount of wind you're facing, and even the time of day. In general, any time you have to hit the ball hard, you play for less break.

Another way of reading the break on a green is to watch the way other players' putts behave. I'm all for this "going to school," but with one caveat: Allow for any difference between your own playing style and those of your fellow players. If, for instance, your friend is a lagger and you're a charger, don't play as much break as he does.

Finally, one hard and fast rule in putting is this: Never hit the ball until you have a good vision of the path on which it will roll. Sometimes the vision will come to you immediately. You'll see the perfect putt the minute you step up to it, and more often than not, you'll sink it just as you saw it.

Other times, it will take much longer to get a picture of the putt, and even then you won't be comfortable. But don't make your stroke until you have the best read you can get. You have to believe in your line if you want to have a good chance of sinking any putt.

If the green is located near water, you can bet the ball is going to break towards that body of water. I’m not sure why this is, but it is certainly true.

It’s essential that you know you shouldn’t be aiming for the hole. Good putters know that you have to pick a spot on the green and then aim for that spot. For example, if you think the ball will break three inches to the right, pick a spot three inches to the left and shoot at that spot.

Don’t think of a putt as a curved shot - think of every putt as being straight on. When you have your spot, aim to have the ball travel right over that spot. If you have read the green correctly, the ball will naturally travel into the hole.

Don’t rush reading a green. Take a look at how your ball lies from all angles. Walk around it; look at it from across the pin to see the trajectory that the ball needs to travel at. But have respect for your fellow golfers. Don’t take forever reading a green. It’s not rocket science and you won’t want to hold up play.

Keep in mind that the line of the putt has little to do with being able to put the ball in the hole. Good putting depends on the speed of the ball when it leaves your putter’s face. But achieving that speed can be quite elusive. There’s no easy way to judge how hard you need to hit the ball to get good speed. However, there is something you can do.

Go to the practice putting green. Hit several putts with about a 12-inch backswing. Do this over and over until you can get a good idea of how far the ball will go with that 12-inch backswing. Then when you get on the real green, you can use that putt as a reference to determine how much you will have to add or take away from your backswing to sink the putt.

The way you grip your putter can make a difference in accurate putting as well. You can choose what’s best for you, but most professional golfers know that gripping a driver and gripping a putter should be two different animals.

You will want complete control of your putter for the most accuracy. One technique that can help you do this is to modify your grip so that both of your index fingers are extending down either side of the shaft and your thumbs are placed together on the top of the shaft. This can help you guide your putter smoothly and improve your accuracy.

When in your stance, you need to be positioned directly over the ball. I like to call this hovering the putt because you are hovering over the ball like a mother hovers over her children. Set the putter square to the target and have the ball positioned right in the middle of the club face - which most people refer to as the “sweet spot”.

Keep your body free of tension and your body motion limited. When you swing, you should do so in a pendulum-like motion using your shoulders not your hips. Always follow through with your putt and accelerate through the ball. Your follow through should be about the same distance as your pull back motion and you need to keep your eyes on the ball at all times.

And most golfers know that if you are faced with either an uphill putt or a downhill put, you should always go with the uphill choice. A downhill putt is much more complicated because of gravity whereas when you putt uphill, you can gain more control of your stroke.

Good putting is essential to a good golf game, so practice as much as you can and try to be consistent in all you do.

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