It’s been a long journey. You (and your golf ball) have traveled hundreds of yards, and though you’re not quite in the house, at least you’re in the driveway, so to speak. Now it’s time to park your ball in the bottom of the cup. In other words, you’ve reached the green.
A key to putting is understanding that the stroke is unlike any other you take on the course. First, the ball never leaves the ground—even if you putt from 10 yards off the green (which, by the way, is perfectly legal). Although, in that case, we suggest a chip shot in which you use a putting stroke to brush the ball onto the green with a short iron.
As far as the actual putting stroke, it requires a different hold position, a different set-up and, just as important, a different mind-set.
How important is the putt? You can hit a 300-yard drive, but it counts exactly the same as making a 3-inch putt. More strokes are lost—or saved—on the green than any other area of the course. Developing a consistent putting stroke is essential to shooting a low score.
A putting stroke is nothing like a full swing. The moveaway is short, flat and compact. Your knees are flexed, but your stance is narrow, and your lower body does not rotate or “pivot.” Your wrists do not cock. With a putting stroke, your shoulders and arms form a triangle with the club. This “triangle” moves back and forth on the same, steady plane, much like a pendulum.
Whether you are putting from 2 feet or 42 feet, the mechanics remain the same. Your eyes are directly over the ball. Make contact with the middle of the clubface, which should sweep the ground, not touch it. The only element that varies is how far you take the club back. The putter speed should generally be the same. You are not hitting at the ball but rather through the ball.
One thing you’ll discover about most greens is that, unlike billiard tables, they are not perfectly flat by design. These contours cause the ball to break, or curve, in one direction or the other.
“Reading” the green is critical for making putts or stopping the ball close to the hole. How the ball rolls also is influenced by how short the grass is cut, and in what direction it grows (the grain), as well as weather conditions. All these factors should be considered before putting the ball.
A great thing about putting is you can practice your stroke almost anywhere: in your living room, down the hall, inside a hotel room or an office. A putting green at a golf course or driving range is ideal, but any carpeted floor will work.
One way to start putting is to place a plastic cup on its side with the open end facing you. From a few steps away, place the ball on the floor, opposite your left eye, and take your stance. Roll the ball toward the container. Did you make it? Did you remember to keep your wrists firm?
Before long, you will be simulating the severe sloping greens of Augusta National Golf Club by bouncing putts off the wall, through the chair leg, around the dog and into the cup. Just don’t forget to pick up after yourself.
Talk about hazards.