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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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Want more power and consistency? Master this transition move

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Lucas Wald Transition

World Long Drive competitor Eddie Fernandes has added speed and consistency by improving these transition moves. You can do it, too!

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Why you must practice under pressure if you want to play better golf

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Practice, as most of us employ it, is borderline worthless. This is because most of the practices, if you will, typically employed during practice sessions have little chance of improving our performance under pressure.

The type of practice that improves performance is, for the most part, rarely engaged in because practicing under typical “practice” conditions does very little to simulate the thoughts, feelings, and emotions we deal with once our performance actually means something. If we want to really improve our performance when it matters, we need to put ourselves in situations, often and repeatedly, that simulate the pressure we experience during competition. And nowhere is this statement more true than on the putting green.

The art and skill of putting is a funny thing. No element of the game requires less inherent hand-eye coordination or athletic talent. Putting’s simplicity makes it golf’s great equalizer. You roll a ball along the ground with a flat-faced stick in the general direction of a hole nearly three times its size. Sure, green speeds vary wildly, and there are those diabolical breaks to deal with, but despite that, putting is truly golf’s most level playing field; it’s the one element of the game where even the highest handicappers can potentially compete straight up with the game’s most skilled. At the same time, there are few other situations (other than maybe the first tee) when we feel as much pressure as we do on the putting green.

Ben Hogan, during the latter part of his career — years that were marred by poor putting — claimed that putting shouldn’t even be a part of the game because, in his words, “There is no similarity between golf and putting; they are two different games, one played in the air, and the other on the ground.”

Now, Hogan suffered a serious case of the yips later in his career, and while this statement was likely uttered following a frustrating round of missed three-footers, it serves to highlight not only the differences between putting and the rest of the game, but how taxing on the nerves it can be for even the game’s greats.

Its inherent simplicity, the slow pace of the stroke, and how much time we are given to contemplate it, are in truth what sets us up. It’s golf’s free throw. We very often know exactly what to do, and how to do it, like when we’re faced with one of those straight three-footers, but with more time to think, it opens the door wide for the type of second-guessing that arises during those moments we feel a bit of pressure. And that’s the biggest part of the problem.

The self-sabotage that leads to missing relatively short easy putts, the reasons behind it, and practices to overcome it is something for a different article. What I really want to get into at the moment is a practice that I think can help ensure you never end up in that desperate place to begin with.

Most of us rarely practice our putting, and when we do, it’s in about the most useless way we can. We’ve all done it. You grab a sleeve of balls just prior to the round, head to the practice green, and begin rolling them from hole to hole around the typical nine-hole route. Now I could go into a whole host of reasons why this isn’t very helpful, but the No. 1 reason it’s such a pitifully poor practice is this: there is no pressure.

Early in my career, I worked at a club where there was at least one money game on the putting green every day, and many nights too. The members (and staff) putted aces, 5 for $5, rabbits, and many other games for hours on end, and when the sun went down they often switched on the clubhouse roof-mounted floodlights and continued into the wee hours. Many days (and nights) I witnessed hundreds of dollars change hands on that putting green, occasionally from my own, but in my younger days, that was fortunately an infrequent occurrence.

Those money games were a cherished part of the culture of that club and an incredibly good arena in which to learn to practice under pressure. To this day, I’ve never seen as many really good pressure putters (many of very average handicaps) as I did during that period, and when I think back, it’s no small wonder either.

The problem with practicing golf, or just about any other sport for that matter, is that it’s difficult to practice under the types of pressure we compete in. In 4 or 5 hours on the golf course we might only have a half dozen putts that really mean something, and maybe only 2 or 3 of those knee-knocking 3 footers with the match on the line or the chance to win a bet.

When I was younger and playing in those money games on the putting green, I had a meaningful putt every minute or two, for hours on end, and you either learned to handle that pressure pretty quickly or your hard-earned paycheck was being signed over to someone else. Now I’m not bringing this up to encourage gambling, as I know for some people that can become a serious issue, but rather to point out how the opportunity to practice repeatedly under pressure helped me learn to deal with those situations. And with how infrequently we even get the opportunity to face that same pressure when we actually play, it’s important to try do our best to simulate it as often as we can during practice.

So when it comes to my own students these days, I don’t necessarily encourage gambling (I don’t discourage a little bit of it either), but I do encourage putting and practicing for something. I’ll get three of my students together on the putting green and say “look, you guys putt for 30 minutes and the loser has to do 100 push-ups” or something similar. I’ll tell students to putt against a parent for who has to mow the lawn, do the dishes, or some other mundane household chore neither of them really wants to do. The point is to have something on the line, something that will make it really hurt to lose.

You can even do it by yourself. Wait to practice putting right before lunch or dinner and make a pact with yourself that you can’t eat until you make 15 three-footers in a row. Until you find a way to practice under pressure all that practice is really just that: practice. You shouldn’t be surprised if, when the chips are down, mindless practice doesn’t translate to improved performance. Hopefully, by learning to simulate pressure during practice, you’ll play better when the heat is really on.

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WATCH: How to execute the “y-style” chipping technique

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Top-100 instructor Tom Stickney of Punta Mita Golf Academy shows an easier way of chipping around the greens to get the ball rolling faster and ensure ball-first contact. Enjoy the video below, and hope this helps!

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