The old adage, Drive for show, Putt for dough, may have more relevance than you actually realize. In 2012, the entire PGA Tour averaged 29.2 putts per round. However, the scoring average for the entire PGA Tour was 70.9 strokes per round. For the best players in the entire world, the putter accounts for more than 41% of all shots during a round. For your average amateur golfer, it’s a safe guess that this percentage is even higher.
While today’s equipment manufacturers are pushing improvements in distance, accuracy, and personalization with every new product launch, the art of putting still seems to be more reliant on the skill of the golfer than the equipment used. Sure, there have been advancements in alignment aids, face inserts, perimeter weighting, etc.; but at the end of the day it’s tougher to mask a bad stroke on the green than one at the tee box, thanks to adjustable face angles and lofts in most modern drivers. Putting is probably the last part of the game that technology is yet to have a truly significant impact on. Becoming a great putter takes a lot more than changing a few dials on the club.
But what really differentiates a great putter from just an okay putter? What are the things the great ones do that others can emulate? To answer these questions, I’ve identified 4 common traits that all great putters share. Try and incorporate them into your game to help you sink your putts.
All great putters keep their head still. In order to create a repeatable stroke with consistent contact, great putters know that the fewer moving parts involved in the swing, the better. Just as you try to keep your head still during a full swing, the same goes on the green. A common mistake amateurs make is to look up just as the putter makes contact with the ball. It’s only natural – we want to watch that little ball roll towards the hole.
The great putters, however, have trained themselves to keep their heads down until they’ve completed their follow-through and the ball is well on its way to the hole. The most exaggerated example of this on the PGA Tour is probably Charlie Wi. He keeps his head down until the ball is about 10 feet away. Train yourself to keep your head down well after the ball is struck. You’ll create more consistent contact, which will lead to a tighter roll and predictable distance.
All great putters also believe they are clutch. Michael Jordan may be the most clutch athlete in the history of sports. During his basketball career, he took 18 shots in the playoffs in the last 24 seconds of the game – he made it 9 times. The player that always saved his best for the big stage is 50/50 with it all on the line. But every time he rose up to shoot with the game on the line, it’s fair to say Jordan always thought he was pulling the trigger on the 50% that would make.
The point is, Jordan wasn’t afraid to take the big shot because he truly believed he would make it. He believed he had an intangible quality that would allow him to will the ball into the hoop. Great putters are no different. They’re trying to make everything they look at, including 50 footers. The thought of, “Just cozy this one up close,” never even crosses their minds. When faced with a must-make, they aren’t concerned about what will happen if they miss. They’re laser-focused on finding the cup and believe something inside of them will make it happen. It’s one thing to think you’re clutch, it’s another to believe it. Train your mind to believe you’ll make the putt, regardless of how many times you miss.
Additionally, all great putters trust the process, not the result. Have you ever hit a shot exactly the way you wanted and gotten a terrible break? Have you ever hit a shank and gotten a result better than you could have prayed for? Golf is a funny game, and strange things happen once the ball leaves the club. Chances are, you were upset about the bad break and ecstatic about the good one. I encourage you not to think this way. If you executed exactly how you wanted, that is the positive thing, regardless of where the ball ends up. Don’t let good results disguise a bad process.
This is even more true on the green. If you hit your putt on the exact line and with the exact speed you intended, then you did everything in your power to make the putt. Truth is, the putt isn’t always going to have the same amount of break. Sometimes it’s going to lip-in, sometimes it’s going to lip-out. Control what you can control, and accept the results. Tiger Woods has missed two-footers, so it’s crazy to think you won’t. Work on eliminating bad strokes and live with good strokes that don’t go in. Misses happen – accept it and move on.
Finally, all great putters have a little something special that they believe is unique to their game. They view it as their little secret. Dave Stockton rests his putter in front of the golf ball when he addresses it, before moving the club behind the ball to make his stroke. Corey Pavin still uses a bullseye-style putter. Arnold Palmer stood pigeon-toed. Phil Michelson presses the shaft of his putter forward ever so slightly before starting his backswing. The point is, the great ones have their own little unique thing they do and a reason for doing it, even if it’s purely psychological or a placebo. I open my left foot just a bit because I think it helps me see the line over the ball better.
If you don’t have a little specialty characteristic to your putting, experiment on the practice green until you find something that seems to click. Having a little trick can give you just the edge you need to make more putts.