Monday, July 4, 2011

A Mostly Harmless Putting Tip for the 4th of July

Just got back from fireworks at Orchard Park Middle School--quite the scene!--and was tinkering around with my putting on the actually-pretty-fast carpet in our living room, and I may have figured out something cool. Here it is:

Problem: I tend to be a feel putter, who likes to set up correctly, pick as precise a target as possible, and just trust my body to get the ball to it. (That trust is partly the product of 1000s of putts on The Rail--a metal-yardstick-type training device--during winters in western NY from the late '90s to the early '00s, but that's another story.) Lately, however, I've been overthinking my putts. I'm getting too aware of what different body parts are doing during my stroke and trying to control the putter face too much in the midst of the stroke. I haven't trusted my lines and have started trying to steer the ball into the hole instead of just rolling it toward my target. In particular, I've been having a lot of trouble while getting ready to pull the trigger to begin my putting stroke with quieting my mind and trusting my body.

Solution: A new pre-putt routine and a new triggering image. Yes, "image"--not words. What I was doing tonight is looking very closely at my target and trying to identify a specific point on it that I'm aiming for. Once I've established that point, I try to keep a clear image of it in my head as I move my eyes from it back to the ball. Once my eyes get to the ball, I start my stroke. Look, visualize, putt. Very simple.

Results: The difference between last night and this one was amazing. I was missing all over the place yesterday, overcompensating like crazy from putt to putt. I was pushing, pulling, you name it, even when I tried the exact same putt over and over. Tonight, I was making everything I was looking at. And I was putting from a different length and angle each time. Even my misses were closer and the pace of my putts was better. I'd say I went from making less than 40% of the 8- to 10-footers I was practicing yesterday to over 80% tonight.

Caveats: Every putt I tried tonight was relatively straight. I haven't figured out the breaks in the new house to my satisfaction, but whichever way the ball was curving on a given putt, it wasn't more than an inch over those 10 feet. So this visualization trigger may just work on short and straight putts. I have to take it to a putting green to see how well it transfers to different kinds of putts, particularly those where the line is dependent on the speed.

Tentative Conclusions: That said, I have to say I'm really excited about this new pre-putt/trigger routine. I was big into The Inner Game of Golf as a teenager and I like to think what I've come up with is in tune with that book's advice. Maybe what the looking/targeting part of the routine does is force you to use the part of your brain that handles aiming without you actually having to do any calculus yourself. Maybe focusing on the visualization part--along with the standardized/automatic nature of the actual trigger itself--serve to keep your verbal/intellectual consciousness quiet and keep the right parts of the brain active in that crucial fraction of a second before you start your putting stroke.

OK, so this is starting to sound like Zen and the Art of Getting the Little White Ball in the Damn Hole even as I'm writing it, but I really do think if you have a putter you trust, if you know how to take a stance that's comfortable to you and helps you keeps your eyes over the ball and your head still during the stroke, and if you've practiced that stroke over and over and over with something like The Rail that gives exaggerated feedback on the effects of even very tiny mistakes, then you really can be very zen. As some band once said, "I don't think so!" And if this routine helps you not think but "use the force," I think it may help your putting. I'll let you know if it helps mine!


Mike said...

Don't overlook one simple little thought, TC: Keep your grip light. It's amazing how often we tense up in our wrists and arms when we start overthinking... and for a feel putter, that's a sure ticket to insanity.

The Constructivist said...

Mike, thanks, that's something I've gotta pay a little more attention to when I'm practicing.

In fact, I've found finding the right lightness of grip pressure helps all my clubs--my best ballstriking day of the year was during the qualifier for the NYSGA Men's Amateur, when I had a half hour on the range to experiment with various pressures, and it all just clicked on the course. Today, I hit the ball very inconsistently and mostly badly--gotta get back to fundamentals like alignment and grip pressure....

BTW, putted fantastically today! More on that in a post....