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Over the years, I have read a number of articles that claim to help you "never three-putt again" or "never miss another big putt." That would be ideal, but it never seems to happen. Instead, I suggest becoming a more committed putter of the golf ball. Commitment is less about outcome (i.e., the ball going in the hole) and more about process (i.e., doing everything in your control to be successful).
Putting is one of the simplest movements in all of sports. We see this demonstrated by hundreds of thousands of people—men and women, young and old, with no golfing background—who play putt-putt golf for fun. The putting stroke itself is mechanically simple and can be performed (not necessarily perfected) in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, with relatively little instruction.
Since the putting action is so intuitive, why do golfers at all levels find this part of their game so stressful and complicated? The truth is that most golfers turn the simple pendulum swing of the putter into one of the most complex processes they deal with. The following example should resonate with most golfers. Imagine you have a 10-foot downhill putt that breaks right to left one foot. Nothing too complicated. You go through your pre-shot routine and address the ball. Even though thoughts are running through your head, you swing. The putt is perfectly aimed, but falls two feet short. As you walk to your ball, you look at your playing partner and mutter those familiar words, "Scared to hit it!"
What made you scared? In my work with golfers, I have concluded that the common denominator is doubt.
So how do we eliminate doubt when putting? Doubt creeps in when we question our decisions or when we are not sure if we are doing the right thing. My question to all golfers is, "Have you ever intentionally tried to miss a putt?" I hope the answer to this somewhat ridiculous question is categorically "No!" In that case, all of the steps you took and all of the decisions you made before hitting the ball were taken and made because you believed they gave you the best opportunity to be successful. If not, why have you done them?
With this in mind, do not second-guess the decisions you made in good faith based on the outcome of the putt. Remember the outcome of the putt provides you with more information than you had when you chose how to hit it.
My suggestion for golfers of all levels is to split the act of putting into two parts—line and length. Line refers to the path you wish the ball to follow. Length refers to the speed of the putt or how hard you need to hit the ball to achieve the desired result. I think it can be universally agreed that all putts depend on these two factors. We usually experience doubt about one or both of them. So if a golfer can commit fully to each part, he or she can become more comfortable with the whole act of putting. I suggest following these guidelines to simplifying putting and develop commitment to the process:
1. Mark your ball on the green and look at the putt from all angles to get an understanding of the situation (slope, grain, pitch-marks, potential line, wind, etc.)
2. Imagine the path the ball will have to travel to go in the hole.
3. Once you have this, replace your ball with a target in mind, perhaps a spot 3 or 4 inches in front of the ball that you need the ball to roll over to follow the correct line to the hole. Use the line or the brand logo on the ball to aim along your target line. This helps you line up your putter head at address.
4. With the marker still behind the ball, take a step back and look at your line. Is it the line you want to take, and are you aimed appropriately? If not, realign the ball and check again. Once you are satisfied, use a positive affirming statement (either in your head or verbalized) such as "yes," "that's it" or, my personal favorite, "I'm going to make this!"—and remove your marker.
5. Trusting you have done everything you could to pick the right line, address the ball and go through your practice strokes in an attempt to judge the appropriate speed. When you are happy and ready to hit the putt, address the ball using your target line and say, "Commit." All you have to focus on now is striking the ball solid and getting the length (speed) of the putt right. No need to think about the line. You already know where you want to hit the ball.
Separating the two parts of the putt will help you stop second-guessing yourself, remove doubt and make you a more committed putter of the golf ball. A more committed golfer is a more successful golfer!
Photo credit: ultimatemanzone.com