Beginners Can Really Putt
Here in China 98% our students have no experience in putting. We don’t mean a ‘little’, we mean ZERO. This provides us a great laboratory to take a fresh look at how students acquire putting skills. In fact, we have been so intrigued with the process we recently completed an indoor putting lab to support integrating the proper fundamentals from the student’s very first putt.
We are also proud to say we are already seeing positive results. Recently, one of our students name Eric Yang traveled to Shenzhen (a city of 13 million) and competed in the China Drive Chip and Putt Contest.He not only won his age group handily, we were particularly pleased that Eric won the OVERALL putting category for the entire event. Eric is seven years old and was competing against kids up to 11 years old. How did he do it? He has solid fundamentals and spends over 60% of his coached practice time working on his short game (putting, chipping and pitching). We think most golfers would benefit from this practice ratio.
A side note. As mentioned in a previous article, spending this much time on the short game was problematic for many of our Chinese parents that had no reference or experience in the game. They didn’t grasp why all our lesson time wasn’t spent on the range beating balls. Thankfully, they now do as Eric’s success has been widely commented on. Particularly the fact that other participants in the contest were fully prepped to hit drivers but seemed at a loss when it came time to judge a long chip or short pitch shot.
What follows are some observations from our first seven months of teaching beginners how to putt. Some are glaringly obvious and perhaps some not. Perhaps this is a good time for you to review your personal putting basics.
- Static Address Position First: When teaching beginners we always teach the static fundamentals first. In order we introduce grip, face-angle aiming, ball position, dominant eye position over the ball and a stable posture with square shoulders to the target line that minimizes tension in the body, particularly in the hands, arms and shoulders. Everyone should master the address fundamentals before a single putt is made.
- It is vital to make sure the putter fits the student properly. In general, we find that most putters are too long for both youth and adults. This excess length forces artificial angles at address that are susceptible to breaking down under pressure and promotes undesirable variance in address. The manufacturers are designing in poor posture and address positions due to putter length. This is easily overcome as any club fitter can cut the shaft to a comfortable length and install a grip of appropriate size.
- By far, the most important fundamental of learning the static position is to learn face angle aiming. We use a GGA recommended T marking on the ball and a ten foot putting string aligned on the fall line of the hole to insure the student understands that every putt must be aligned and aimed properly. The catch is we find the students get bored with this quickly and they often stop doing this when practicing on their own.
- We try to counter act this tendency by introducing basic putting games under the 10 foot putting string. We start with 1 foot putts and the students must make three in a row before they can move to 2 feet and so on. Each putt must be aligned using the T mark on the ball and we practice until the student is comfortable putting with the T. Face angle first is our motto!
- Dynamic Movements Second: Dynamic simply means movement by our definition. This includes the other fundamentals of putting after aiming the face; path and distance control.
- Once our students demonstrate proper aiming technique we focus on getting them to make a consistent path. We do this by having EVERY student practice with a putting mirror under the putting string. First, to insure that posture is correct (eyes over ball and the shoulders square to the target line) and then to get the face square through impact. We do this by setting up a series of tee gates that literally forces them to follow the correct path. Lots of slow motion repetitions under our Coaches watchful eyes are helpful.
- Video the putting stroke. With our new putting lab this is easy and we find it helps students to adjust their patterns. We have them practice what we call TAPS, which are 2 foot putts. They make 99.9% of these putts and that is exactly what we want. Dozens of 2 foot putts made with lots of video feedback builds motor patterns.
At this point begins the next major challenge – Distance Control. Once the fundamentals are mastered, controlling distance is necessary to becoming a great putter. It is the source of three putts. It is not unusual to see a student hit the ball ten feet by the hole on a 6 foot putt. We have spent a lot of time trying to figure this out and I believe the answer lies in understanding the role of instinct in putting and distance perception.
For example, if you hand an eight year old a ball and ask her to throw it to you from five feet, she knows how to regulate the power and deliver the ball at the appropriate speed to your hand. This is a complex learned ability (try the same exercise with a four year old) acquired as a survival skill. The question becomes how do we utilize the same skills/instincts and apply to learning how to putt reliably and consistently to specific distances.
The typical answer given by most golf teachers is ‘gain experience through reps’. This is certainly helpful and the way most of us learned; however our experience has been that we can speed up the process significantly by training with science insights.
Insight: Distance Control = Tempo Control
The absolute fundamental to learning distance control in putting is to establish a consistent tempo. Tempo always pertains to speed and it can be slow, medium or fast. We can all relate to tempo; for example 60 seconds in a minute. If you tap your finger every second you are establishing a tempo. In music we have 4/4 time, which is considered 120 beats per minute; it can be faster or slower depending on the type of music.
You must establish your own best tempo. I personally recommend you try a relatively slow tempo of about 60 beats per minute. This means that from a fixed position behind the ball your backswing takes a beat of ONE and your forward swing takes a beat of ONE. Because the putter head moves twice as far during the forward stroke this establishes an ideal distance ratio of 2:1 that is a hallmark of all great putters. Also, this is the speed established by your putter head if dropped at the speed of gravity.
Controlling the distance is a function of tempo and how far you take the club head back and thru. A different length of backstroke with the same overall tempo gives consistent distance control. The putt stroke itself occupies the same amount of time from putt to putt, even on different length putts. A ten-foot putt with a 12-inch backstroke takes the same amount of time to complete as a 40-foot putt with a two-foot long backstroke. Experiment and see for yourself.
This phenomenon occurs because the putter will move faster in the longer stroke in order to cover the greater length in the same time as the shorter stroke. With a stable tempo for your putting, distance control becomes reduced simply to the length of your (back) stroke. Distance control absolutely comes from a consistent tempo.
Use the SAME tempo for ALL putts and ALL reads. Use your brain’s pattern retention predispositions by training to specific distances. Research by Swedish putting specialist Stephane Barras has shown that because we perceive putts similarly, the best distances to practice from are as follows.
2 feet – We call this a TAP and you should make 99% of these shots
6 feet- This is a short putt and your goal is to make over 50%
18 feet – This is a medium putt and your goal is to be within TAP distance on every medium putt. You have less than a 20% chance of making this put statistically, so the next putt is VERY important. Leave yourself a tap and avoid three putts.
Longer than 18 feet – At this length the putt is all about controlling the speed of the putt and reading the green to understand the path the ball will take to the hole. Your goal is to have a TAP left, but never more than a short putt.
GGA-Future of Golf – Four Categories of Putts
At our GGA- Future of Golf training center here in China we are committed to bringing the latest science to our training. Using the methods outlined above has produced the best results for our students so far. We can hardly wait for the next breakthrough.
Remember. To become a great putter you must master the fundamentals of static set up and then practice the dynamic aspects of movement (path and distance control). To eliminate three putts, let your brain/instincts tell you how to control the distance. The brain is the true master at perceptually understanding distance control. Trust your instinct and happy putting.