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Think you’ve got to “give it a run” on must-make putts? Think again

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With the Ryder Cup this week, I thought I’d share with you one of my pet peeves when it comes to making putts and rolling the ball the right speed. It drives me crazy when I hear announcers at tournaments say: “He can’t leave this putt short, he’s got to give it a run. It’s a must-make putt.”

What ends up happening when players follow this advice is that they hit the putt way too hard and it rolls something like 10 feet by the hole. The announcer comes back with, “Well, at least he gave it a good run.” But the reality is that a ball that rolls past the hole more than a couple of feet is travelling too fast to go in, even if it smacks square into the center of the hole. And nowhere does this happen more often than in Ryder Cup matches or match play, where sometimes the player does not have to hole out to finish the hole.

As a matter of mental practice, a good putter has learned how to control their putting “speed thoughts” to hole out, except when an outside situation interferes with the normal decisions process they use to hole a putt. And that outside influence is usually an outcome-based intrusion, which can come in the form of, “A must-make putt,” where they feel they have to hit their putt harder than usual.

Let’s enter two brains in a normal round of golf

  1. The mind of those trying to get to the next level of improvement in their games.
  2. The mind of the elite player.

The first person, who plays occasionally and practices on a limited basis, has a lot of wrong “speed thoughts” when they putt. They might hit the first couple of putts of the round well past the hole, well short of it or a combination of both. In their head, they are adjusting speed with the back-and-forth thoughts brought on by “don’t” sentences. Those sound like this: “don’t knock this one way past like last hole” or “don’t leave this way short again.”

Either way, they are going to blast it past the hole if they were short on the previous attempt, or leave it woefully short if they were way long on the hole before. They are not controlling their inner conversation very well, and by thinking about what they “don’t” want to do, they are promoting the opposite outcome.

“Don’t leave it short” usually results in hit a putt way past the hole. For example, I recently had one of my junior players complaining about hitting it too hard on one hole and too soft on the next hole. The player was constantly leaving the putt either six feet past the hole or six feet short of it. He was stuck on the ping-pong thought loop of “don’t hit this one too hard” followed by “don’t hit this one too soft.”

These are common thoughts that go to the brains of a player struggling with speed.

Both thought processes are detrimental to hitting the putt the right speed when you’re struggling. What I tell my players to do when this is happening is to think “do” thoughts, not “don’t” thoughts. I try to give them the mindset of the elite player who is thinking correctly over putts when struggling with speed.

So let’s look at the way a good putter’s mind works on a putt.

Once the elite player has finished considering the line and speed of the putt, their mind goes into execution mode.

“How do I need to hit this ball to get it to go the right distance on the line I select?”

Then, they either take a physical practice stroke to feel the “correct” speed or a mental one where the mind internally moves the body and they feel the stroke without taking a physical practice stroke. Each practice stroke is quiet, void of “don’t” or outcome thoughts, as the player feels the perfect speed and executes the motion that will roll the ball to the hole at the perfect speed. If it misses and comes up a little short or a little long, that’s alright. It is ok to be wrong if you are in control of your “speed thoughts.” Then they get set and hit it the speed they feel is correct without the “don’t leave it short” or “don’t knock it way past” thoughts of the poor putter.

Did you catch the first part of the above sentence? No matter what, they try to hit it the speed they feel is correct! So each practice stroke results in an inner conversation that if there were words for each stroke it would end up sounding like this:

“Yep, that’s the right speed” or “perfect speed, that’s the one.”

Inwardly, you are trying to calibrate a stroke with the mind quietly approving that this is the correct speed, disregarding previous outcomes that might have been too hard or too soft of a roll. It is this quiet recalibration to the correct speed that overcomes the “don’t” speed thoughts.

Here’s a relevant example from a past PGA Tour event.

Several years ago at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, David Toms had about a 20-footer on the last hole to force a playoff. Once again, the announcers declared, “He’s got to get it there, he can’t leave it short.” So what happened? Toms took his time and decided on the read and speed of the putt. He took a couple of practice strokes and let it roll. The ball was dead in the center of the cup and came to a halt — one turn short of dropping and forcing a playoff.

The announcers groaned, “Oh how could he leave it short? He had to get it there!” From where I sat, I saw things differently. As a past player, I knew he didn’t intentionally leave the putt short. I knew he hit the putt with what he thought was the proper speed and put his best stroke and roll on it. Toms just happen to underestimate the correct speed and came up short instead of perfect. For this putt on this green at this time, he was just wrong about the speed. Nothing more.

Remember, there is a specific speed the ball has to be rolling for the hole to secure the ball. If the ball is going too fast when it gets airborne over the hole, the hole cannot collect it. This is called capture speed. It is governed by the laws of physics and we can’t cheat it no matter what we do. So when someone says, “Give it a roll,” make sure you focus your inner thoughts on picking the speed you think is correct without the “Don’t leave it short” thought and turn it loose.

Most times, a putt struck too hard doesn’t go in. Instead, focus on making a stroke that will roll the ball the perfect speed in your mind. If you happen to be wrong and the ball comes up short, oh well, tap it in. At least you tried to hit the ball with what you thought was the correct speed.

So as you enjoy the Ryder Cup, watch for the putts that the player “gives a run” and notice how far past they roll the ball if they miss. If it is a couple of feet then that is fine, but if it goes well past, you can bet the outside influence of not having to hole out and the inner concern about not leaving it short (“give it a chance”) entered into his head, which made him blast it too hard, thereby never really allowing the ball to arrive at the hole with the right amount of capture speed.

Best of luck to both teams, but from my academy I have to say, “Go USA!”

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If you are an avid Golf Channel viewer you are familiar with Rob Strano the Director of Instruction for the Strano Golf Academy at Kelly Plantation Golf Club in Destin, FL. He has appeared in popular segments on Morning Drive and School of Golf and is known in studio as the “Pop Culture” coach for his fun and entertaining Golf Channel segments using things like movie scenes*, song lyrics* and familiar catch phrases to teach players. His Golf Channel Academy series "Where in the World is Rob?" showed him giving great tips from such historic landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, on a Gondola in Venice, Tuscany Winery, the Roman Colissum and several other European locations. Rob played professionally for 15 years, competing on the PGA, Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide and NGA/Hooters Tours. Shortly after embarking on a teaching career, he became a Lead Instructor with the golf schools at Pine Needles Resort in Pinehurst, NC, opening the Strano Golf Academy in 2003. A native of St. Louis, MO, Rob is a four time honorable mention U.S. Kids Golf Top 50 Youth Golf Instructor and has enjoyed great success with junior golfers, as more than 40 of his students have gone on to compete on the collegiate level at such established programs as Florida State, Florida and Southern Mississippi. During the 2017 season Coach Strano had a player win the DII National Championship and the prestigious Nicklaus Award. He has also taught a Super Bowl and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a two-time NCAA men’s basketball national championship coach, and several PGA Tour and LPGA Tour players. His PGA Tour players have led such statistical categories as Driving Accuracy, Total Driving and 3-Putt Avoidance, just to name a few. In 2003 Rob developed a nationwide outreach program for Deaf children teaching them how to play golf in sign language. As the Director of the United States Deaf Golf Camps, Rob travels the country conducting instruction clinics for the Deaf at various PGA and LPGA Tour events. Rob is also a Level 2 certified AimPoint Express Level 2 green reading instructor and a member of the FlightScope Advisory Board, and is the developer of the Fuzion Dyn-A-line putting training aid. * Golf Channel segments have included: Caddyshack Top Gun Final Countdown Gangnam Style The Carlton Playing Quarters Pump You Up

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Josh

    Dec 21, 2014 at 6:24 pm

  2. Pingback: Listen To Your Gut And Sink The Putt - The Golf Shop Online Blog

  3. 8thehardway

    Sep 25, 2014 at 11:54 am

    If you want to improve ‘blast it past’ or ‘woefully short of the hole’ putts, I submit your intended audience has no useful speed thoughts they can draw on; eliminating the “dont’s” won’t usher in information, practice does that.

    To amplify, the problem with “focus on making a stroke that will roll the ball the perfect speed in your mind” is that they’ve already tried that and failed (“They might hit the first couple of putts of the round well past the hole, well short of it or a combination of both.”) because they have insufficient thought/motion experience to draw on… an anxiety-producing situation that makes a shambles of purposeful internal dialogue.

    My advice for those who don’t practice yet remain concerned about abysmal putting is to become skilled in the art of the ‘gimmee’ which affords a four-foot rather than a four-inch target and pleasant feelings throughout the round.

  4. J

    Sep 25, 2014 at 11:44 am

    For me, I do putt a LITTLE differently on a shorter putt, or one I consider must make. On a regular putt (anything outside 10 feet, generally) I am shooting for absolute die at the hole distance. The closer I get to that, the easier my next putt will be. (preferably a tap-in inside 6″)

    On a ‘must make putt’ however, I try to aim, weight wise, about 9″ past the hole. That way if I’m 6″ light, I still have enough to get there, and if I’m a bit heavy, it will likely still drop should it roll over the cup (18 inches heavy isn’t that far).

    If I consider making the putt to be more important than the length of the next putt should I miss, this is what I do. It means my second (or third, or fifth… 😉 ) putt might be 2 or 3 feet instead of 6 inches, but it also means that my first putt is a little more likely to drop so long as I have read the line properly and struck the ball clean, since me being a tiny bit short still gets me to the hole, and a tiny bit long wont be so heavy that it bounces over. It also gives me a little more confidence in my strike, I don’t get too wimpy in the wrists and leave it way short.

    On principle though, I also very much agree with what you are saying. ‘Giving it a run’ beyond a foot or two certainly makes the effective size of the cup smaller and does not do you any favours. If you’re 10-15 feet too heavy, you’ve effectively removed the cup from the green entirely.

  5. Johnny

    Sep 25, 2014 at 8:40 am

    I like what Harvey Penick says on page 102 of The Little Red Book.

    “It’s true that a ball that never reaches the cup never goes in, but neither does the ball that goes past it. I like a putt to die at the hole. The cup is only one inch wide for a putt that is struck too hard. The cup is four inches wide for a ball that dies at the hole”.

    • Martin

      Sep 27, 2014 at 7:12 am

      I have gone from never up never in to this theory in recent years and make far more 5′-15′ putts.

      I was really struggling with the 6′ past thing a few years ago and my Pro gave me good advice, two parts of a putt, Line and Pace, and pace is part of picking your line not the other way around.

      Since then I try and get all my putts to die in the hole and three putts have dropped dramatically as well, gone from 33 putts/round to 31 1/2 despite moving to a new course with far faster more undulated greens.

  6. Tyler Harrison

    Sep 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Rob-

    I agree with what you said about thinking positive thoughts, but I have to disagree with what you said about focusing on a certain stroke. My putting is best when my sole focus is the hole. I read the putt, slope and grain, imagine the ball tracking into the hole at the proper speed, sure, but my mind never thinks about a ‘certain stroke’ that will get the ball moving that speed. My focus is on the target, and my athleticism takes over to make the proper stroke. I also don’t use a practice stroke because I believe that practice strokes put me in a mindset of replicating that practice stroke when I go to actually putt the ball. I would rather that athleticism make the stroke from the get go. Just food for thought…

    -Tyler

  7. Ian Boat

    Sep 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I’m sorry, but Andrew Tursky should’ve been the one who wrote this article…kid knows about clutch putts

  8. Josh

    Sep 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Great point. Couldn’t agree more.

  9. snowman

    Sep 24, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    +1… The proper speed for ANY putt is the PROPER Speed. You’ve addressed one of my pet peeves.

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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Instruction

PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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