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Making the case for putting instruction
For most golfers, the thrill of the game is hitting the ball high, far and straight. I would go so far as to say that some players would rather set their hair on fire than spend an hour on the putting green three days a week. But most avid players would also give up something important to break a major scoring barrier like shooting in the 80′s for the first time. For the majority of golfers, whose time is limited but who still hope to play the golf of their dreams, putting lessons and proper putting practice are without doubt the most efficient way to spend practice time.
I should tell you that I am a certified instructor with the SeeMore Putter Institute and therefore have an interest in promoting putting instruction. However, the reason I became a putting teacher was that as a tournament player I know how much value there is in working on that part of my game. I also know I can help my students improve and enjoy golf more through putting instruction and putter fittings because putting involves a shorter, less complicated motion that they can practice at home, the office and at a golf course. So, first I am going to discuss some statistics that show why putting is so important for great scoring and overall golf enjoyment. Then I’ll address why you should spend your precious time learning how to putt from a qualified instructor.
Avid golfers know that a scorecard treats putting with the same importance as the long game. On a regulation par-72, 18-hole golf course with four par 3 holes, four par 5′s, and ten par 4′s, the scorecard allocates as many strokes for putting as for full shots from the tee and fairway. Because most of us miss a significant number of greens per round, the average golfer generally takes 45 percent of his strokes on the green. However, putting tops the list as the skill that determines overall scoring performance.
The PGA Tour’s Strokes Gained-Putting statistic is great at showing just how important the flat stick is. Columbia University Business School Professor Mark Broadie created the method of gauging putting performance, which measures the putts a player takes from a certain distance relative to the PGA Tour average “taking into account the initial putt distance on each green.” So, if a player makes a 35-footer, and the PGA Tour average from that distance is 2.0 putts, then he picked up a putt on the field. The number of times the player either gains or loses a stroke to his competitors during a round determines his ranking.
In 2012, Brandt Snedeker led the strokes gained category with an average of 0.860 strokes over 81 rounds, meaning he gained almost an entire stroke on a field of the best players in the world every time he teed it up. He won the Farmers Insurance Open, the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedExCup race, which is a test of consistency over the entire season. Despite being short and crooked compared to the rest of the TOUR (ranking 108th in driving distance, 106th in driving accuracy, and 126th in greens hit in regulation) Snedeker finished the season third on the money list behind only Tiger and Rory and won $4,989,739, and he’s off to an even better start in 2013. Luke Donald led the Strokes Gained-Putting category in 2011 on the way to topping the European Order of Merit and the PGA Tour money list titles. To those who say that golf has become strictly a “bomb and gouge” game, I say look at the numbers.
There is also a hidden message in these statistics that many folks who have spent time around golf already know. If two of the shorter hitters on TOUR were able to overcome that deficit with stellar putters, good putting must instill the type of confidence and grit no other part of one’s game can. The inverse is also true — strong ball striking and weak putting lead to the frustrated feeling that no matter how well a player hits the ball, he will never reach his full scoring potential.
Look at the number of wins and career money Boo Weekley, Kevin Sutherland, John Senden and Joe Durant have collected. These fine players have led or been near the top of the greens-in-regulation statistics for the past five years, but with all due respect, they would probably tell you that they wished they were better putters. The fact is that strong putting leads to the kind of good feelings that a player cannot get from hitting towering drives and laser-like approaches. Putting well reinforces that it is OK to take certain risks since a strong putter feels he can get up and down from 80 yards or from a tough lie on the short side of a green. Good putting controls momentum and confidence during a round of golf. Many golfers know this, but the vast majority of players do not do what is necessary to become consistently effective once they are on the green.
Putting a golf ball well is not an innate talent that some players are simply born with. Like other golf skills, putting takes some hand-eye coordination but it can be taught and improved with practice. Most players don’t really know where to start. Should the stroke be straight back and straight through, travel on an ellipsis, or from inside and then down the line? Like the full swing, there is so much conflicting information out there that it is hard for even a very good player to know what advice is best. If a player somehow finds the advice that is right, reading a book or magazine article does not guarantee that player is properly executing what he or she reads. We all need a qualified pair of eyes to give us feedback and guidance.
Enter the trained putting instructor
Compared to the general population of golf pros, trained putting teachers are rare. According to the PGA, only 6 percent of golf lessons include putting instruction and that does not mean the entire lesson was dedicated to putting. There are probably two reasons for this:
- Most golfers choose to focus on the long game when they hire a teacher, and many golf pros just do not feel comfortable teaching putting.
- To find a good teacher to help you with the most important part of your game, you will need to do a little research.
The SeeMore Putter Institute is a great place to start, but so are a number other great teachers who focus on the flat stick. Regardless of whom you learn from, the lessons and the practice should center around promoting pre-shot mental focus, and sound, neutral fundamentals — grip, alignment, posture and ball position — because that will facilitate repeatability in your stroke even with a limited practice schedule. If you work on these things for 20 minutes at home every other day and practice your putting for an hour once or twice a week on a putting green, I promise you will see long-term scoring dividends, and enjoy the game more.