Frank Akey has been a teaching professional specializing in the short game since 1989, having taught students that ranged from raw beginners through mini-tour players, all ages, male and female. He served served as the Short Game Director for a major golf school for a brief time as well. His career prior to golf was in the weapons/tactics field, also as an instructor, so teaching accuracy seems to follow him.
I have some Core Beliefs and Absolutes when it comes to putting and the short game in general. This article is related to putting, so here are my “absolutes:”
- Only two things can happen when you stroke a putt, no matter if it is a 1 footer or a 100 footer … you make it or you miss it, it is that simple.
- Only two things you can have control of when you stroke a putt … you roll it on the line you intended and you roll it the speed you intended, also that simple.
- You can make EVERY putt that you look at, no matter how long or how many breaks in the putt, BUT, not all putts will go in.
- Imagination and feel is more important than having pure mechanics.
- DO NOT LAG PUTT!!
Now, having said that, I can already hear the people yelling, “Blasphemy!” and “This guy is a flake/moron/idiot …” Or whatever description comes to mind, so let me expand a little on each of the above absolutes.
Let’s tackle the lag putt. This subject matter could take pages of discussion, but I will keep it short and sweet for the purpose of this article. My reasoning for teaching my students NOT to lag putt is more by definition of what most, including the majority of TV announcers, define as lag putting. When I hear someone say that the golfer is just trying to get the ball within a 5-foot circle, or that they would be happy if they kept the ball within X amount of feet, it drives me crazy! I am ALWAYS looking to MAKE the putt, no matter how many breaks, how far, degree of difficulty … I want the ball to stop within the magical 4.25” circle…the hole. There will always be a line and speed combination that will allow the ball to go in, and sometimes there is more than one combination that will work. Using the other definition, a lag putt is an intentionally missed putt that hopefully is close enough for an easy next putt. Using that logic, on a tough driving hole, do you lag drive hoping to keep the ball within 40 yards of the fairway? How about from the middle of the fairway 120 yards out, do you lag approach just trying to keep the ball within 40 yards of the green? Putting is all about confidence, and a lag putt is a lack of confidence in either your first putt or the ability to make the second putt from wherever the first putt stops.
That takes us to knowing you can make any putt that you look at, yet, not all putts will go in. That is the confidence that you build by practicing all kinds of putts, long and short, straight and breaking, uphill and downhill. Once you start seeing a lot of putts falling, your confidence starts to increase on those types of putts. Now when you have a 50 foot putt, you aren’t worried if you miss knowing you will make the next one, so you will start trying to make the longer putts. Believe it or not, they will occasionally go in … whodathunkit? It is a simple theory, but once you lose confidence in your putting, your chances of making anything dwindle dramatically. What some do not realize, is that a perfectly struck putt on a perfectly manicured green on a perfectly straight line will go in perfectly dead center … but not 100% of the time. The ball can have very slight imperfections that cause the ball to veer off line. The blades of grass are growing by the millisecond, and a small grain of sand may move ever-so-slightly and knock the ball off line. Something can make the ball take a small hop, which will change the roll and possibly alter the path. On the flip side, those same things can happen to a putt that is slightly OFF line and end up causing the ball to take the CORRECT line and go in … have you ever had that happen to you? It has happened to me.
My absolute that says only two things can happen is pretty much self-explanatory. After you strike a putt, the only results are a missed putt or a made putt. There isn’t really much than can be expanded on, so let’s look at this absolute’s cousin, only two things that you can control … speed and line. If after spending time reading the putt, you determine the line you think the ball must roll on, you can control whether or not you roll it on that intended line. Also, after determining what speed you think is necessary for the putt to go in, you can control the pace of your stroke to produce that speed. At the end of the putt, your ball rolling on your intended line on your intended speed will have done one of two things … you made it or you missed it.
The last of the absolutes is more of an opinion than a scientific fact. I believe that you will be more successful at putting if you have a good imagination in visualizing how the putt will roll, and able to use feel to duplicate that visualization. One cannot be taught either, but both can be developed. One of the methods I use in teaching imagination and visualization is to have you look at the green as if it were a hard, shiny solid sheet of granite. Seeing the undulations in the granite, if you were to roll the ball like a marble, how would the ball react to the various slopes and breaks? To help a student develop better feel, I have them stand on the green facing the hole, hold the golf ball in their dominate hand using only the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and roll the golf ball to the hole, trying to get it to stop as it falls into the hole. After a few successful rolls, they then will take their putting stance and repeat the procedure. Some students are continually doing these things as drills when their putting goes sour.
Next time we will go into the hot topic of standard vs. belly vs. broom/long putters and how to determine which is best for you … if the USGA will let us. Until then.