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7 techniques to improve your putting alignment

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Aiming a golf club to your target, in this case the putter, is like shooting a gun while looking at the barrel from the side. It would be so much easier if we could putt side-saddle like Sam Snead did. The rules of golf prohibit such action, however, so we’re left to find effective ways to align ourselves on the greens that abide by the USGA rules.

In my studio at Vidanta in Puerto Vallarta, I utilize the SAM PuttLab, which measures more than 20 different putting factors. With it, I’ve seen first-hand just how difficult it is to align the putter. And it’s not just average golfers. My studies have shown that even PGA Tour players struggle to aim the putter exactly where they intend.

So what chance does the average golfer have? With the 7 techniques I write about below, a much better chance than he or she does now. 

Before we get to the techniques, I want to offer a SAM PuttLab screenshot from one of the better putters on the PGA Tour. Note that this player consistently aims the putter 2.5 degrees to the right of his intended target. His setup necessitates a change in face alignment on the way back and through impact in order to begin the ball in the correct direction.

StickneyPutter

Touring professionals have spent years honing and ingraining repeatable strokes, and it may not be best for them to change the way they’ve been putting. They’ve earned their stripes, so as long as they return the putter to a position at impact that starts the ball on their intended line, where they initially aim can be of little consequence.

Amateurs, on the other hand, should work to limit the amount of manipulations in their strokes. This will give them the best chance possible to start the ball on their intended line.

Ready to give it a shot? Here are my 7 best techniques to improve your putting alignment.

Put a line on your ball

Line on ball

It’s easy to understand why drawing a line on your ball and aiming it from behind can help your putting alignment. As we mentioned before, it’s easier to aim from behind the barrel than beside it. If you watch golf closely on television, you’ll notice a majority of top PGA Tour players use a line on their golf ball for this purpose. 

Use a putter with a line

LIne on putter

The more lines you have perpendicular to the bottom of the putter face, the easier it will be to line up correctly. Some people prefer one line, while others prefer multiple lines. Whatever you’re preference, there’s no question that the majority of golfers will aim their putter better if it has a line on it.  

Use other clubs to form railroad tracks

RR Tracks

As with your long game, placing a few clubs on the ground will help you to “see” what square, open, and closed looks like in relation to your target will help your alignment. Again, you don’t have to be perfectly aligned, but if you think you are lined up one way (say, opened), but are actually lined up another (say, closed), I can guarantee you’ll run into trouble.  

Audit your right-hand grip

Rt hand grip

For whatever reason, I commonly see people’s right hand too much “on top” of the grip as shown in this photo. Remember, whenever your right hand is in opposition with your left hand, poor alignment will generally follow.

Make sure your shoulders are square

Shoulder alignment

Use a club under your armpits, like I’m demonstrating above, to see where your shoulders are in relation to your feet and target line. Open or closed shoulders are an issue that are usually affected by your grip. 

Be wary: Golfers with left-hand low grips tend to have closed shoulders at address, while golfers who use the traditional, right-hand low putter grip tend to have opened shoulders. 

Monitor your right forearm

High rt forearm

If the right forearm rides too high then you’ll tend to be too open to your target during your setup. Make sure your right forearm is in line with the club shaft and the left forearm at address. This will increase your odds of aiming where you want to aim more consistently.

Set up while looking at the hole and trust

Look at hole

When all else fails, just look at the hole, set your putter down, and fire. You’ll be aligned better than you think. 

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Tom F. Stickney II is the Director of Instruction at Combine Performance in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher, and has been honored as a Golf Digest Best Teacher and a Golf Tips Top-25 Instructor. Tom is also a Trackman University Master/Partner, a distinction held by less than 60 people in the world.

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33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. brian watts

    Feb 2, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Like the article. what putter is in featured in this ?????

  2. Bob Pegram

    Jul 15, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    The touring pro who aims his putter 2.5 degrees to the right at address has an interesting statistic shown on the SAM Putt Lab screenshot. His consistency is 92 percent. In other words, although his alignment is way off, he does it the same way almost every time and so must have a compensating move that he does just about every time.
    That same peculiarity explains the variety of full swings on tour. Everybody’s anatomy is different and so our tendencies vary. A lot of practice will tell us where to compensate (but starting with what Tom shows is a good foundation to build on).
    The touring pro may have an eye alignment issue that he has learned to allow for.

  3. Killer

    Nov 25, 2015 at 2:06 pm

    Putt with a string over your putting line. Great at home or even at the course when no one is around the practice green. Allows you to learn what straight looks and feels like. When you are ready to putt, think target, target, target, don’t sweat the small stuff, everything else!

  4. Scott

    Nov 24, 2015 at 9:49 am

    thanks Tom, something to work on this winter

  5. Steve

    Nov 22, 2015 at 8:49 am

    Nice edit taking negative reviews away

  6. Andy W

    Nov 21, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Great article on getting the ball rolling on the intended line at hopefully the proper speed. But what if your “intended line” isn’t the correct line to hole the putt? The idea is to actually make putts, right? Or at least have a chance. Best of both worlds happens with the P&SI-EGOS..

  7. Christestrogen

    Nov 21, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Another A+++ article…..
    You are on a roll…..pun intended

    -Christosterone

  8. Wallace

    Nov 20, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Tom, this is a great article with good information. Very few people can properly line up a putter. And it doesn’t have to slow down play. Just be ready and put the ball down the way you want it. I wish some of these people knew how hard a Trackman University course is. Keep up the good work and thanks for feeding this site with great content.

  9. Don

    Nov 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting around while a golfer aligns, then re-aligns, the line on their ball before putting. This “tip” promotes more slow play than it improves a golfer’s putting.

    TAKE THE DAM LINE OFF THE BALL. And, keep up the pace of play.

    • Bert

      Nov 21, 2015 at 6:42 pm

      +2 play weekly with a golfer who repeatedly does this; please attend the flag-stick while line up the line on my ball for my 10 foot putt. Then you remove the flag-stick and after they miss the putt, they go through the same routine again aligning up the stupid line on the ball. I doubt they ever read the contour of the green, grain, or just how the ball will roll. The USGA and R&A should have addressed for the 2016 Revision. It’s slow play and torture to those in the same group.

  10. Stretch

    Nov 20, 2015 at 4:00 pm

    A lot of shanks for a direction for the average player to help improve.

    Having been a land surveyor I cannot line a line on the ball perfect enough to satisfy a need for extreme accuracy.

    Lining up body angles does help the arms swing the shaft in plane with the aim line. How ever the most important body part to get lined up is the eye line. The best example is Jack Nicklaus who had every body line way open and the body mass behind the ball. This let him shove the putter down the line as well as bottom out at Impact which put the magic roll on the ball.

  11. Rich

    Nov 20, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    When I see a player with a big line on the side of their ball playing in my group, I know I’m in for a slow day on the course. Our club champion does this and he is the slowest player on the greens I have ever seen. EVERY putt gets lined up with the stupid line! It’s painful!

    • Bob Jones

      Nov 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm

      I played with a guy who was bent down like forever tweaking the line on his ball, and it was a 60-foot putt! The ball ran two feet left of the hole and ended up ten feet past. Oh, well…

  12. Jang Han

    Nov 20, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Good tips from the melon head guy!

  13. alanp

    Nov 20, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    thanks for the article. there is alot of merit to your last point. next time do an article on how not to be a negative person and suck at life. seems like thats all these people know how to do

  14. Chris

    Nov 20, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Good info here! And that is a really nice looking putter!

  15. Jimmeh

    Nov 20, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Something else that might work is making sure your dominant eye is on top of the golf ball. That way when you look at your intended target (hole, line etc) there is no visual distortion from your (right eye in my case) being a couple of inches away

  16. snowman

    Nov 19, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    What I’ve had some success with is looking TOWARD the hole (rather than zeroing in on the hole itself) but at the same time trusting my feet to set into proper position and then aligning my shoulders to my ‘foot line’ and starting the ball on a path that is parallel to my shoulder/foot alignment (make sense?). Eyes/brain/feet all work together to magically give you a good start line.

  17. WP

    Nov 19, 2015 at 7:38 pm

    I personally find that having a line on the ball and my putter is A LOT worse than looking at no line/logo and a putter with a simple dot on top. I’ve tried the line technique and besides the fact that it never looks the same from a stance as it does when you aligned it, all the focusing on “lines” removes all feel from the process. Different strokes for different folks I suppose…

    • mike

      Nov 19, 2015 at 8:52 pm

      WP,

      I agree with you 100% I’ve used many putter with different sight line and none worked. This year i went to a putter with just a Dot. My putting has improved 90% went from a 13 hcp to solid 8 hcp. I don’t put any markings/lines on my ball it’s worked for me so far.

    • Kevin

      Nov 22, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Use the line and trust it. Easier to aim the ball from looking behind and it’s a different perspective when you look down at it. Aim it and then trust that line!

  18. Sek

    Nov 19, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    What his putter model/Brand?

    Thank

    • Aaron

      Nov 19, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Looks like a blacked out TM Spider mallet. Maybe their new spider mallet.

      • Sek

        Nov 19, 2015 at 7:18 pm

        Aaron…Thanks

        • Dylan

          Nov 20, 2015 at 9:32 am

          it’s a ghost tour monte carlo. all blacked out

          • golfpro92

            Dec 10, 2015 at 9:09 am

            It’s a spider mallet 2.0. Wish I knew where he got that finish done!

  19. Tom

    Nov 19, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    Seems like it’s worth tryin.

  20. Steve

    Nov 19, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Yes put a line on the ball, align it with the line on the putter, square shoulders, shaft inline with back forearm. Wow how do you think of this? This is going to change putting forever, all this new information.

    • dwc

      Nov 19, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Come on man, don’t be that guy

      • prime21

        Nov 19, 2015 at 2:17 pm

        Too late, he WILL ALWAYS be THAT guy. Maybe someday Steve will bless us with an article that provides the secrets of golf, until then, he will simply remain the troll he is, waiting for an opportunity to unleash his attacks from his Mac, safely hidden from reality in his childhood bedroom where he still resides. Nice article Tom, EVERYONE could learn something from it.

    • Justin

      Nov 19, 2015 at 1:47 pm

      You missed the whole point. Did you read the title? It’s techniques for monitoring and figuring out if you are properly aligned. Most people don’t know what causes their shoulders to be open or closed or the causes of other faults.

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Instruction

A Jedi Mind Trick For Improved Target Awareness

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I think all golfers, at some point in their life playing the game of golf, has gotten stuck, or become frozen over the golf ball. Why?  They’re trying to remember which of the 23 different swing thoughts they used for the day performed the best.

The disheartening reality: none of us are going to perform well on a consistent basis with our thoughts being so internally driven. Swing thoughts force our awareness inward. Is the shaft in the correct position? Am I making a proper pressure shift? Was that a reverse pivot? Close that club face! Regardless of the technique you are trying to manage or modify, these kinds of questions make you acquire sensations internally.

To complicate things further, we are taught to look at the golf ball, not the target, while hitting our golf shot. And yet instinctively, in almost all other skills of making a ball or object finish towards a target (throwing a ball or frisbee, kicking a soccer ball, skipping a rock across water, shooting a basket ball) our awareness is not on the ball or the motion itself, but rather the ultimate target.

So, can we develop a skill that allows us to still keep our eye on the ball, like the game of golf encourages, but have awareness of our target, like so many other target sports demand?  Yes, the answer is (third rate Yoda Speak), and the skill can easily be yours.

Here’s where this gets fun. You already have learned this skill set, but under different conditions. Perhaps this example resonates with you. Did you ever play hide-and-seek as a child? Remember how you used to close your eyes and count to 10? During those 10 seconds of having your eyes closed, weren’t you using all of your senses externally, trying to track where your friends were going to hide? Weren’t you, just like a bloodhound, able to go directly to a few of the less skillful hiders’ hiding places and locate them?

Or how about this example. When you are driving down your own local multilane highway, aren’t you aware of all the cars around you while keeping your eyes firmly on the road in front of you? Reconnecting, recognizing and/or developing these skills that all of us already use is the first step in knowing you’re not too far away from doing this with your golf game.

Here’s what I want you to do. Grab a putter and place your golf ball 3 feet away from the hole on a straight putt. Aim your putter, and then look at the hole. As you bring your eyes back to the golf ball, maintain part of your awareness back at the hole. Each successive time your eyes leave your golf ball and head back to the hole, your eyes will be able to confirm your target. It hasn’t moved; it’s still in the same location; your confidence builds.

When you know for certain that your external awareness of the target is locked in while still looking at your golf ball, step up and execute your putt.

The wonderful beauty of this skill set is that you now have the best of both worlds. You are still looking at the golf ball, which gives you a better chance of striking the golf ball solidly… AND you are now target aware just like you are when you are throwing an object at a target.

As always, acquire this skill set from a close target with a slower, smaller motion. If you don’t execute properly, you have a better chance of making the proper corrective assessment from a slower, smaller motion and closer target. As you become more proficient with this skill, allow the target to get farther away and try to add more speed with a larger range of motion.

So give learning this skill set a go. I don’t think there is anything more valuable in playing the game of golf than keeping your “athlete” attached to the target. Become proficient at developing this awareness and you can tell all your friends that the primary reason your scores are getting lower and you’re getting deeper into their wallets is because of Jedi Mind tricks. Good luck!

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Instruction

6 things to consider before aiming at the flagstick

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One of the most impactful improvements you can make for your game is to hit more greens; you’ll have more birdie opportunities and will avoid bogeys more often. In fact, hitting more greens is the key to golfing success, in my opinion… more so than anything else.

However, there is a misconception among players when it comes to hitting approach shots. When people think “greens,” they tend to only think about the flagstick, when the pin may be the last thing you should be looking at. Obviously, we’d like to stick it on every shot, but shooting at the pin at the wrong time can cost you more pain than gain.

So I’d like to give you a few rules for hitting greens and aiming at the flagstick.

1) Avoid Sucker Pins

I want you to think about Hole No. 12 at Augusta and when the pin is on the far right side of the green… you know, the Sunday pin. Where do the pros try and aim? The center of the green! That’s because the right pin is by all means a sucker pin. If they miss the shot just a touch, they’re in the water, in the bunker, or left with an impossible up-and-down.

Sucker pins are the ones at the extreme sides of the green complex, and especially the ones that go against your normal shot pattern.

So go back to No. 12 with a far right pin, and say your natural shot shape is right-to-left. Would you really aim out over the water and move it towards the pin? That would be a terrible idea! It’s a center of the green shot all day, even for those who work it left-to-right. Learn to recognize sucker pins, and you won’t short side yourself ever again.

2) Are You a Good Bunker Player?

A “sucker pin,” or just a difficult hole location, is often tucked behind a bunker. Therefore, you should ask yourself, “am I a good bunker player?” Because if you are not, then you should never aim at a pin stuck behind one. If I wanted to shoot at pins all day, I’d make sure I was the best lob wedge player around. If you are not a short-game wizard, then you will have a serious problem attacking pins all round.

For those who lack confidence in their short game, or simply are not skilled on all the shots, it’s a good idea to hit to the fat part of the green most of the time. You must find ways to work around your weaknesses, and hitting “away” from the pin isn’t a bad thing, it’s a smart thing for your game.

3) Hitting the Correct Shelf

I want you to imagine a pin placed on top of a shelf. What things would you consider in order to attack this type of pin? You should answer: shot trajectory, type of golf ball, your landing angle with the club you’re hitting, the green conditions, and the consequences of your miss. This is where people really struggle as they forget to take into account these factors.

If you don’t consider what you can and cannot do with the shot at hand, you will miss greens, especially when aiming at a pin on a shelf. Sometimes, you will simply have to aim at the wrong level of the green in order to not bring the big number into play. Remember, if you aim for a top shelf and miss, you will leave yourself with an even more difficult pitch shot back onto that same shelf you just missed.

4) Know your Carry Distances

In my opinion, there is no excuse these days to not know your carry distances down to the last yard. Back when I was growing up, I had to go to a flat hole and chart these distances as best I could by the ball marks on the green. Now, I just spend an hour on Trackman.

My question to you is if you don’t know how far you carry the ball, how could you possibly shoot at a pin with any type of confidence? If you cannot determine what specific number you carry the ball, and how the ball will react on the green, then you should hit the ball in the center of the green. However, if the conditions are soft and you know your yardages, then the green becomes a dart board. My advice: spend some time this off-season getting to know your distances, and you’ll have more “green lights” come Spring.

5) When do you have the Green Light?

Do you really know when it’s OK to aim at the pin? Here are some questions to ask yourself that will help:

  • How are you hitting the ball that day?
  • How is your yardage control?
  • What is the slope of the green doing to help or hinder your ball on the green?
  • Do you have a backstop behind the pin?

It’s thoughts such as these that will help you to determine if you should hit at the pin or not. Remember, hitting at the pin (for amateurs) does not happen too often per nine holes of golf. You must leave your ego in the car and make the best decisions based on what information you have at that time. Simple mistakes on your approach shot can easily lead to bogeys and doubles.

6) When is Any Part of the Green Considered a Success?

There are some times when you have a terrible angle, or you’re in the rough/a fairway bunker. These are times when you must accept “anywhere on the green.”

Left in these situations, some players immediatly think to try and pull off the “miracle” shot, and wonder why they compound mistakes during a round. Learn to recognize if you should be happy with anywhere on the green, or the best place to miss the ball for the easiest up and down.

Think of Ben Hogan at Augusta on No. 11; he said that if you see him on that green in regulation then you know he missed the shot. He decided that short right was better than even trying to hit the green… sometimes you must do this too. But for now analyze your situation and make the best choice possible. When in doubt, eliminate the big numbers!

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Instruction

Is There An Ideal Backswing?

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In this video, I talk about the backswing and look into optimal positions. I also discuss the positives and negatives of different backswing positions.

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