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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Scoring Series Part 5: Putting

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Editor’s note: Denny McCarthy (pictured) is the PGA Tour leader in strokes gained: putting picking up an average of .973 strokes on the field this season. 

As we all know, putting is a part of the game far removed from the physical actions required to hit good drives, irons, and even pitch and chip shots. It should be simple, but my experience and feedback reveal that this might be the part of the game that drives more golfers batty than any other. I believe that is because it looks SO SIMPLE, but in fact, is not.

Adding to the “pressure” of putting is that success and failure is so abundantly clear. The balls goes in—SUCCESS. It doesn’t—FAILURE. With all other shots we hit, success is a matter of relativity, isn’t it? But with putting, your “failures” are right out in the open for all to see. And that implies an element of pressure that we don’t really appreciate.

Most of you don’t know that I began my golf club design career back in the early 1980s with a putter design called “Destiny.” It was the culmination of a lifetime of being a mediocre putter at best, and the result of very focused and dedicated research into the mechanics and mental aspect of putting. I read every putting book I could find and watched numerous videos to try to understand this aspect of the game that had been my glaring weakness. The Destiny was the first of over 100 putter designs and three putter patents before I became fixated on wedges and wedge design in about 1990.

In 2008, I actually wrote a book manuscript titled “The Natural Approach to Better Putting,” which I recently revisited and hope to have published by next spring. What this book attempts to do is show you how to optimize your own eye-hand coordination to make you into a better putter of the ball. I am 100 percent convinced that most golfers who struggle on the greens do so because they have allowed a preoccupation on the mechanics to dull their natural eye/hand coordination. And even a brief history of failures (i.e. short misses) makes being “natural” even more difficult.

Obviously, I cannot deliver an entire treatise on putting in a single blog post, and I have a virtual library of putting articles I wrote as “The Wedge Guy” back in the early 2000s; I will revive some of those that are just as relevant today. But what I can do here is give you a few basic tips that should help you improve your fortunes on the greens, regardless of your putting technique or equipment choice.

So here goes:

  1. It’s all about the target. Putting requires optimizing your eye/hand coordination, so that begins with an acute focus on the target itself. I have proven with my own research that having the hole painted all the way to the surface like they do for PGA Tour events allows your eyes to receive—and your mind to process—a much more vivid impression of the target. While you can’t get your course superintendent to do that, you can pick out a very small point to aim at and focus on for the stroke. All putts are straight. You can only affect the starting line of the putt, not its full curvature, so therefore, all putts must be hit at a specific point, right. And that means…
  2. The target is rarely the hole. I’m convinced most putts are missed to the low side because it is hard NOT to allow your visual focus to shift from your intended line on the high side back to the hole as the last thing before you make your stroke. But unless the putt is dead straight, you are always putting toward a specific point either right or left of the hole. Once you pick out that spot, if you will try to remove the hole itself from your focus and intently zero in on that spot that represents the starting line, you will find your success rate improving.
  3. All putts are “speed putts.” That just makes sense, right? One tip that I find very helpful after you have assessed the speed of the putt you have, is to “reset” your target spot to be either well short of the hole for what you believe will be a fast putt, to beyond the hole for those you think will be slower. But that spot has to always be on the starting line you have chosen not directly at the hole.
  4. The hands have different roles. I am firmly convinced that you putt from your shoulders but with the fingertips and thumb of your master hand. We simply do not do enough things in our lives to have a great feel “backhanding” the putt. But we do countless things every day that require eye/hand coordination with our master hand. And the most sensitive and “connected” nerve endings on your master hand are on the inside of your thumb and your forefinger. (See how those two surfaces connect when you touch them together – that’s by design.) This is where your “touch” is centered, so fully engage them. I believe the lead hand controls the putter, and the master fingertips control the path and speed.
  5. Finally, it’s about grip pressure. I worked with Ben Crenshaw for a few years and was amazed to see how lightly he held the putter. I believe you cannot hold the putter light enough, and the lighter you hold it, the better your touch.

Those are what I consider the basics, regardless of your putter choice or putting style—left-hand low, claw, conventional—it doesn’t matter as long as you employ these basic concepts. I look forward to your feedback, and let me know if you are interested in having me share more of my insights into putting, putter design, and selection.

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Terry Koehler is a fourth generation Texan, a native of a small South Texas town and a graduate of Texas A&M University. He has had a most interesting 40-year career in the golf industry. He has created five start-up companies, ranging from advertising agencies to golf equipment companies. You might remember Reid Lockhart, EIDOLON, or SCOR, but you would certainly know his most recent accomplishment: the reintroduction of Ben Hogan to the golf equipment industry in 2015. Terry has been a prolific equipment designer of over 100 putters and several irons, but many know Koehler as simply “The Wedge Guy”, as he authored over 700 articles on his blog by that name from 2003-2010. For almost 25 years, his wedge designs have possibly stimulated other companies to also try to raise the CG and improve wedge performance.

7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. John J. Reed

    Aug 2, 2019 at 1:58 am

    “Hello” from Australia, Terry. Love that article! I found it concise and lucid!

    I have a ‘collection’ of putters that I have tried over the (say) 65 years I have been playing golf. Only two were fitted! Recently, I was fitted for that second one and, somehow, after THAT fitting, now ‘feel’ I have a putter in which I can be confident is ‘right’ for me and my stroke.

    Depending on the position of the ball, of course … I occasionally make that single putt! … I usually make NO MORE than two putts per hole from distance … and very rarely EVER three-putt!

    After a fair absence, I’m currently returning to golf so, for my putting efforts, this article will be a focus for me!

    Many thanks … with best regards … John Reed

  2. Walt Pendleton

    Aug 1, 2019 at 6:51 pm

    Good afternoon Terry…hope you’re doing well. As you know, it’s my belief that consistent putting has three basic elements: accurate alignment to intended starting point, extreme control of ball’s speed around the cup, and excellent green reading skills. Here’s why…if you can’t read the putt you can’t aim the putter face, if you can’t control the ball’s speed at the cup it matters not where you aim the putter and finally if you can’t aim the putter accurately…you’re basically putting blind! Conclusion for most golfers…if your practicing putting w/o a training system that can improve all three of skills, it’s normal to have 40 plus putts per round and a freak’n miracle when you don’t. FYI – there is a solution at Nside10.com

  3. @Plotto66

    Aug 1, 2019 at 5:51 am

    I miss a bit more on aiming. To truly trust your “straight putt” you need to be able to start the out on the right line. I.e. executing a proper aim.

  4. Cullen Jacobs

    Jul 31, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    Joining your group multiple times in Victoria Golf Course. You are guy who has admitted to hate putting and on several occasions, refused to putt. How do you respond? Why write a story on putting when it is something you do not even do in golf?

  5. Thomas Seisser

    Jul 31, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    I still use my Scor wedges. Some great information from an acknowledged golf genius. Thanks Terry!

  6. always2putts

    Jul 31, 2019 at 2:42 am

    This was golden, I have to test the small point as an aimpoint and trying the feeling of putting with my master hands thumb and index finger! I am so tired of missing my 1’st putts by an inch all the freaking time.

  7. Nick

    Jul 30, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    I agree a lot with this article. One of the things I focus on when putting is utilizing my trail hand to feel like I’m passing the balk towards the hole. I also imagine the putter as a paint brush and that I’m painting a line towards my target. I think I started focusing a lot on that in college after I saw a special on how David Toms putted and liked his philosophy.

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Opinion & Analysis

Getting to know Payne Stewart

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Ever since that final putt fell in Pinehurst in 1999, Payne Stewart’s memory has enjoyed mythical qualities. A man of complex charm, but many of us who grew up without him recognize only his Knickerbocker pants, his flat cap, and his W.W.J.D. covered wrist wrapped around that United States Open trophy.

I had a wonderful opportunity to play a round of golf with two men that know a lot about Payne. One through friendship and the other through journalistic research.

Lamar Haynes was Payne Stewart’s close friend and teammate on the SMU golf team. He’s full of stories about Payne from the good old days. Kevin Robbins is an author who just finished a new book on Stewart’s final year of life, set to release to the public for purchase this October. He works as a professor of journalism at the University of Texas but has also enjoyed an impressive career as a reporter and golf writer for over 20 years.

We met at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, to talk about Payne. Robbins is a solid golfer who spends time working on his game, which tells me a lot about his personality. He is one of us.  As for Haynes, the guy hasn’t lost much since those SMU golf team days. He can still swing it. Fantastic iron player. And both men are wonderful conversationalists. They offered a unique perspective on Stewart—the golfer I grew up idolizing but never really knew. There’s a good chance you don’t really know him, either. At least not the whole story.

“Most golf fans now know the story of his ’99 U.S. Open win,” Robbins said.  “What they don’t know is where he came from.”

Robbins’ book, The Last Stand of Payne Stewart: The Year Golf Changed Foreverchronicles Payne’s last year on earth with dramatic detail, covering his triumph at Pinehurst and the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And, of course, it tells the story of that tragic plane crash that took our champion from us. What the book doesn’t do is hide any of the blemishes about Payne’s life that have either been forgotten or pushed aside by brighter moments and memories.

“I thought that the other Payne Stewart books, while they have a place, they didn’t tell the whole story,” Robbins said.

The whole story, from what I read, was Payne being brash. A poor winner and sometimes a poor sport when he lost. He often said things he shouldn’t have said and then made those mistakes again and again.

“He had no filter,” remembered Haynes.  “Several close friends on tour had a hard time with him when he won his first Open. He didn’t take into account any of the consequences his words could create. He had a huge heart. Huge heart. But at times there was just no filter. But he grew a great deal over the last 2 or three years.”

It’s most certainly is a book about a change. A change in a man that was better late than never. But also a change in golf that began at the turn of the century and hasn’t really slowed down since.

“The 20 years since his death, to see the way golf has moved, what the tour looks like now,” Robins said.  “There was an evolution that was taking place in 1999 and we didn’t know how it would manifest itself. But now we do. So when you see Brooks Koepka hit a 3-wood in the US Open 370 yards, well that all really had its beginnings in 1998 and 1999. The Pro-V1 ball was being tested in 1999 and being rolled out in 2000. Fitness and equipment, sports psychology, nutrition. All of those things that a guy like Payne Stewart really didn’t have to pay attention to.”

But that change that occurred in Payne, culminating in his final year of life, is something worth learning. It’s a lesson for all of us. A guy on top of the world with still so much to fix. And he was fixing it, little by little.

“He was authentic,” Haynes said. “And he learned a lot later in life from his children. With their Bible studies. You saw a change in him. Very much. He had a peace with himself but he still would revert to his DNA. The fun-loving Payne. Raising children and being a father helped him tremendously.”

Payne was passionate about so many things in life but his children became a primary focus. According to Haynes, he would be so loud at his daughter’s volleyball games…yelling intensely at the referees…that they gave him an option: Either he wouldn’t be allowed to watch the games anymore or he needed to become a line judge and help out with the games. So, Payne Stewart became a volleyball line judge.

Lamar brought the head of an old Ram 7-iron along with him to show me. Damaged and bent from the crash, the club was with Payne on his final flight. He had it with him to show his guys at Mizuno as a model for a new set of irons. That Ram 7-iron belonged to Haynes and Payne had always adored the way it looked at address.

“Payne also used my old Mizunos the last year of his life,” Haynes said.  I had received the MS-4s 10 years earlier from Payne in 1989. They were like playing with a shaft on a knife. The sweet spot was so tiny on the MS-4. They made the MP29 and 14s look like game improvement irons. Payne used those. Then Harry Taylor at Mizuno designed him an iron, which later became the MP33. The 29 and 14s were very sharp and flat-soled. Well, Payne loved this old Ram iron set that I had.. He asked for my Ram 7-iron for Harry Taylor to model his new set. He liked the way it went through the turf. He had it with him on the plane. This is the club that started the MP33.”

It was Lamar Haynes, the man who seems to know just about everyone in the golf community, that set Robbins on this writing journey. Robbins had written one book previously: The story of the life of legendary golf coach Harvey Penick. But this book came a bit easier for Robbins, partly due to his experience, partly due to the subject matter, and partly because of Lamar.

“There’s a story here,” Robbins said. “With any book, you hope to encounter surprises along the way, big and little. And I did. I got great cooperation a long the way. Anybody I wanted to talk to, talked to me thanks to this guy Lamar Haynes.”

“Lamar said the first guy you need to talk to is Peter Jacobsen,” Robins said. “And I said ‘great can you put me in touch with him’ which became a common question to Lamar throughout the process.” Robbins chuckled.  “Literally 2 minutes later my phone rings. ‘Kevin, this is Peter Jacobsen here.'”

“Peter told me the story about the ’89 PGA championship in our first conversation. So literally in the first 10 minutes of my reporting effort, I had the first set piece of the book. I had something. Lamar made a lot happen.”

Lamar Haynes and Kevin Robbins

The book is not a biography, though it certainly has biographical elements to it. It is simply the story of Payne’s final year, with a look back at Payne’s not so simple career mixed in. The author’s real talent lives in the research and honesty. The story reads like you’re back in 1999 again, with quotes pulled from media articles or press conferences. Anecdotes are sprinkled here and there from all of Payne’s contemporaries. The storytelling is seamless and captivating.

“I was pleasantly surprised how much Colin Montgomerie remembered about the concession at the 1999 Ryder Cup,” Robbins said. “Colin can be a tough interview. He is generally mistrustful of the media. His agent gave me 15 minutes during the Pro-Am in Houston. This was in the spring of 2018. I met Colin on the 17th hole and he had started his round on 10. Just organically the conversation carried us to the fifth green. Just because he kept remembering things. He kept talking, you know. It was incredible. Tom Lehman was the same way. He said “I’ll give you 20 minutes” and it ended up being an hour and a half at Starbucks.”

The research took Robbins to Massachusetts, Florida, and Missouri—and of course, to Pinehurst. He met with Mike Hicks, Payne’s former caddie, there to discuss that final round. The two ended up out on Pinehurst No. 2, walking the last three holes and reliving the victory. It gives life to the story and fills it with detail.

“Part of what I hoped for this book is that it would be more than just a sports story,” Robbins said.  “More than just a golf story. The more I started thinking about where Payne began and where he ended, it seemed to me…and I’m not going to call it a redemption story although I bet some people do. People when they are younger, they have regrets and they make mistakes. They do things they wish they could take back but they can’t. So, what can they do? Well, they can improve. They can get better. That’s what Payne was doing with his life. He was improving himself. It was too late to change what he had done already. So what could he do with the future? He could be different.”

“It was accurate,” Haynes said.  “I had a tear when I finished it. I texted Kevin right afterward. I told him I couldn’t call him because I’m choked up so I texted him.”

So here’s two men who knew Payne Stewart, albeit in very different ways. They knew he was flawed in life but he got better. Was Payne Stewart that hero at Pinehurst, grabbing Phil Mickelson’s face and telling him the important thing is he’s going to be a father? Yes. But he was so much more than that. He was so much more than I knew before I read this book. Most importantly, Payne Stewart was always improving. A lesson for all of us, indeed.

If you want to hear more about my experience, tweet at me here @FWTXGolfer or message me on Instagram here! I look forward to hearing from you!

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The Gear Dive: Sam Bettinardi

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In this episode of The Gear Dive brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with EVP of Bettinardi Golf, Sam Bettinardi. They discuss coming up as Bob’s son, the growth of the company, and why Bettinardi continues to be at the top of the putter conversations.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Mondays Off

Mondays Off: Sounding off on your favorite golf pet peeves!

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Steve and Knudson weigh in on your favorite golf pet peeves. From not fixing ball marks, to slow play, to guys telling you “good shot” when you make a quad! Knudson shot a 33 in his league and still thinks he isn’t a sandbagger.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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