When it comes to putting – practice, practice, practice
You’ve all heard the adage, “Drive for show, putt for dough.”
Well, it’s for good reason as the putter is arguably the most important thing in your bag.
Even so, it’s not uncommon to see golfers who spend hours and hours a week on the range working to master each club in their bag but lack the same devotion and attention to their putter – the one club they will use on every single hole (unless they hole out or chip in of course).
But my driving range doesn’t have a putting green.
If your local range doesn’t have a putting green, just check around with some of your area golf courses and you’re certain to find a place to practice.
To gain a better understanding of just how critical confidence with the putter is to your overall game, we chatted with John Sonski, assistant pro at Ridgewood Country Club in Connecticut.
How much attention do you think the average amateur gives to the practice of putting?
Sonski: Not nearly enough. If I were to give a beginner any one piece of advice, it would be to stop spending each practice session out on the practice range hitting the driver and instead drop a few balls on the practice green and challenge yourself with the flat stick. Your goal should be to develop a feel for how the golf ball interacts with your putter and try to pick up on any tendencies that may come about with your stroke. Once these steps are accomplished, start to challenge yourself and see how you perform under pressure. This will make the putts that count on the golf course far less nerve-racking.
What are some practice drills you suggest players use to improve their overall putting?
Sonski: A good drill for beginner golfers (and golfers of any skill level really) is the putting circle drill. You may know this drill from golfers such as Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. The object of this drill is to take no less than four golf balls and surround a hole on the practice green, placing all balls on opposite ends of each other. The goal is to make each putt from the spot you place your ball. Start by placing each ball surrounding the hole from 2-3 feet away. Continue to push the distance from the hole away by a foot or two only when each ball is holed from the particular distance. This drill gives each putt a purpose and helps you to interpret breaking putts by surrounding the hole from all angles. After incorporating this drill into your practice sessions, you will be draining putts on the course in no time!
Are putting strokes as personal as they seem, unique to each golfer, or does everyone really fall into certain styles or methods?
Sonski: Just like the full swing, each golfer has their own traits that are incorporated into the putting stroke. While there may be several methods to grip the putter and address the ball, each putting stroke requires basic fundamentals to be effective. Light grip pressure, keeping your head steady, and having solid rhythm are traits found in all successful putters. That being said, there are several ways to personalize your putting stroke and there are several different types of putting strokes. Anything from a drastic arc with the putting stroke to a straight back-straight through putting stroke. Every method is equally effective. The key is to develop a stroke that consistently produces contact with the center of a square clubface. I recommend taking some time to practice with a variety of putters and discover which model feels most comfortable to you. One of the biggest keys to making more putts is feeling comfortable and confident with the club in your hands.
A major hurdle for amateurs when they are standing over a long putt is that their “regular” stroke goes out the window as they try to “will” the ball to the hole. Is this purely a mental manifestation? Physical?
Sonski: Both. I would say it starts with the mental aspect of confronting what seems like an impossible putt and then transitions into the physical aspect of tension and lack of fundamentals in your stroke. Just remember, when facing a putt of distance just focus on making a solid stroke with the putter and give yourself an opportunity for a short second putt. The mistakes happen when we become too aggressive over longer putts and make it more difficult to sink the returning putt if we miss. If amateur golfers look at longer putts in that fashion, they will surely reduce their scores.
With so much pressure to play faster these days, do you feel amateurs are at somewhat of a disadvantage on the course in that they feel pressure to move it along when perhaps they should be taking a bit more time over a putt? How can they overcome this?
Sonski: Pace of play definitely plays a factor in all of our games, especially for beginner and amateur golfers. With golf being a mental game, it is important to play the game at a decent pace while also giving yourself enough time to prepare and go through your pre-shot routine. Solution: during your practice sessions, challenge yourself to spend no more than 30 seconds in between shots. This will help you develop a solid routine leading up to your shot while also increasing your pace of play on the golf course.
Many amateurs seem to select a putter based on who uses it on Tour or how it looks as opposed to if it’s the best one for them. What role does having the right putter for you have on overall performance?
Sonski: We live in a great era for golf. Not too long ago, golf equipment manufacturers would produce putters with very limited options when it came to fitting a particular putter to an array of golfers and their style of putting. With an emergence of the importance and accessibility to club fitting today, these same golf equipment manufacturers are now producing putters with a variety of grips and neck options that cater to each golfer. Gone are the days where you visit your local golf shop and the only options are your standard blade putters with lengths ranging between 33 and 35 inches. With so many styles, weights, profiles, grips, and compositions of putters today, it isn’t hard to find a putter that will fit your game. Feel free to try as many different putters and configurations as you can. However, if you would like to start sinking more putts, I recommend making an appointment with your local club fitter and get the putter fit properly to your game.
What are some mistakes you see golfers making on the putting green when practicing?
Sonski: One aspect of putting practice I notice when it comes to amateur golfers is that no one takes the time to read the putt or go through their pre-shot routine. These are two very important aspects when it comes to sinking putts in competition. If we can simulate a pressure putt while spending time on the practice green, the result will be becoming more confident and comfortable when standing over those actual pressure putts on the course.
Particularly for the amateur golfer, what importance does lag putting play? What are some practice tips and techniques to help players become better?
Sonski: Being a solid lag putter, in many cases, is the difference between being a single-digit and a double-digit handicap golfer. You are more likely to shave strokes off your game practicing your lag putting rather than hitting your driver on the practice range. I personally keep my full swing practice to a minimum and spend more time around the practice green. Having that extra time around the green allows you to develop the feel necessary to judge how the golf ball will react on the putting service and, in turn, allow you to get the ball closer to the hole. Do not fall into the trap of attempting to sink every putt you are faced with. The important thing to remember is that even the best golfers in the world miss putts, especially from long distance. The worst thing any golfer can do when faced with a putt of distance is to abandon your normal putting stroke and try to force the ball to the hole. Instead, shift your focus to making a fundamentally sound stroke on the ball and look for solid contact. Remember that distance control is the most important aspect to becoming a solid lag putter.