Can you remember your first putter? The one as a kid you used to great effect on those glorious summer days when you played hole after hole in the holidays and it seemed like putting was the easiest thing in the world.
What COULD be difficult about rolling a ball into a hole? Just look at it, aim and then let the thing make its way into the cup. Putting was the ‘easy’ part of the game and the real work was learning how to hit it further off the tee and control the direction the ball went.
It is almost a ‘universal’ statement of truth to say that MOST golfers were better putters when they were younger than they are now. Not all, but most! The history of the game is littered with great players who became better and better ball strikers but then suffered more and more on the greens. Ben Hogan being the supreme example and towards the end of his playing days Nick Faldo was still a machine from tee to green but started to struggle more and more with the short stick.
Because the technology available to analyse your stroke and the motion of the ball is light years away from what it was twenty years ago. Putters themselves can now cost anything up to £300 for the research and development contained within them. An astronomical figure when I think back to what I thought was a king’s ransom to pay £40 for a Ping Anser when I first thought that I could ‘buy’ more putts. Yet, with all this technology and analysis, are we actually putting any better? Have the advances in information been matched with the advances in results?
Make no mistake I firmly believe that holing putts on a regular basis is FAR
easier with a good stroke than a bad stroke and if you can get a putter totally matched to you and your personal style and it fits you like the proverbial glove then this can only be a good thing. However, I am certain to be a truly great and, more importantly, an EFFECTIVE
putter, is about blending BOTH
the art and science of the game.
There is a tremendous science to be looked at BEFORE
you play in terms of your stroke and your equipment but when you get out on to the course, putting becomes much more of an art. You find a way of making that ball go into the hole. I remember once reading how one of the greatest putters of all time, the late Seve Ballesteros, felt he either ‘hooked’ or ‘cut’ every putt into the hole. The scientists would tell us this was not possible and wasn’t what Seve actually ‘did’, but that is what he FELT
he did and the fact he felt he was shaping the ball in to the hole tells me his ATTENTION
was very much on the hole and how to get the ball into the hole as opposed to the mechanics of his stroke. I remember working with Darren Clarke just before he went off to play in a World Golf Championship in Akron USA and on a beautiful autumn morning down at Queenwood in Surrey. We started to play around with the idea of seeing a vivid RED
line tracking from the ball into the hole on all putts. He holed everything that week and held off a charging world number in Tiger Woods to win. I still have the text from Darren to this day simply saying ‘Red line Working’!
Research by Dr Debbie Crews at Arizona State has suggested that putters who perform well under pressure tend to be employing vivid mental images similar to the red line, whilst poor putters tend to using analytical and mechanical thoughts about the stroke. The poor putters are engaging the left hemisphere of the brain which favours verbal and analytical thoughts, whilst the good putters are more in tune with the right brain which is more instinctive and reactive but responds well to vivid images as opposed to verbal instructions.
To get the balance of art and science right is not easy because if you tend to spend a lot of your practice time thinking about your stroke and your mechanics, then guess what you will take out onto the course? My advice would be to spend a good portion of the winter doing some really good work on your technique, go to a putting coach, have your technique analysed but then come the summer months you need to tune in to the target more, tune in to and fall in love with the idea of seeing and feeling the ball go into the hole. Do a lot of practice involving just ONE
ball and simulate the conditions of the game itself. Surely, your preparation should be with the aim of at some point being able to LET GO
and just focus on getting the ball in the hole? Above all, make a commitment to enjoy the opportunity that awaits you as you walk onto a green. It is not a case of positive thinking or telling yourself the ball will go in the hole but the mindset of possible. It may well not be possible you can carry the ball 300yards off the tee but it IS
possible that you could roll this 10 foot putt in the hole IF
you focus a bit more on the target and a bit less on how you are going to send it there.