Putting is the most important stroke in golf. Dr Kitrina Douglas explains how to improve your performance on the greens and consequently lower your scores.
There are many things that get in the way of your ball rolling into the hole. One of them is you. Most golfers are very quick to blame themselves when things don’t go to plan – that is if they aren’t blaming their equipment, spike marks or a whole host of other outside agencies. However, in terms of improving performance, it’s good to spell out exactly what is responsible for the ball going in the hole.
It is not generally by luck or accident that you hole or miss a putt and neither is it a mystery that some golfers putt phenomenally well. Good putters spend time working at improving their putting often looking at tiny details because, on the putting surface, tiny details matter.
Often, when a beginner takes a putting lesson he or she will be taught a basic ‘putting technique.’ Sadly, many golfers seem to think after one putting lesson they have “learned it all,” and never need to return to learn about the many additional components. It is the tiny details that transform a good putting stroke into one that holes putts, because it takes more than a good stoke to putt well.
If asked, most golfers recognise that reading greens is important, but, in terms of what a golfer might do to improve their green reading skills many don’t seem to have a clue. The end result is this vital component of a golfer’s game remains elusive and mysterious. Some days they get it right, and then other days it disappears like water through a crack. Perhaps because many golfers focus on their technique and mental preparation they assume reading greens occurs symbiotically. Of course, in part, it does, learning to read a green can be artfully learned in the process of putting, especially if the golfer attends to what she is doing. But many don’t.
Perhaps the place to start is to remind ourselves that the route a ball takes to the hole is influenced by its pace and the (sometimes very subtle) slopes on the green. One reason we stand behind the ball and crouch down is to try and observe these undulations and imagine what the ball will look like as it travels across each undulation. When we begin to do this most of us don’t see anything, and even when we think we do, we don’t know what it means.
INTERNAL VIDEO LIBRARY
Additionally, on some greens the length of grass and the direction of growth will also influence the line of the putt because it influences how fast or slowly the ball rolls. A grain going from left to right will take the ball to the right more than a green without an obvious grain. Putting up a slope slows the ball down, and putting into grain and up a slope slows it down even more. Putting up a slope with the grass grain growing to the left will take the ball to the left. How much a golfer has to adjust their aim to take account of these factors is best learned through trial and error and through watching it happen and then replaying it, like a video in your mind.
Good putters have done this a lot and have a huge internal video library to draw on each time they face a new putt. The novice, in contrast, starts with an empty video. If a golfer doesn’t add to their memory store, because they move on to the next putt or drive without doing so, then these lessons don’t impact their putting in any meaningful way. It may seem a little odd at first, but the moments that follow each putt are the ones with the most opportunity for learning.