Think you’ve got to “give it a run” on must-make putts? Think again
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
- The mind of those trying to get to the next level of improvement in their games.
- 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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The Wedge Guy: What really needs fixing in your game?
I always find it interesting to watch how golfers interact with the practice range, if they do so at all. I certainly can figure out how to understand that some golfers just do not really want to get better — at least not enough to spend time on the practice range trying to improve.
What is most puzzling to me is how many golfers completely ignore the rationale for going to the range to at least warm up before they head to the first tee. Why anyone would set aside 4-6 hours of their day for a round of golf, and then not even give themselves a chance to do their best is beyond me. But today, I’m writing for those of you who really do want to improve your golf scores and your enjoyment of the game.
I’ve seen tons of research for my entire 40 years in this industry that consistently shows the number one goal of all golfers, of any skill level, from 100-shooter to tour professional, is simply to hit better golf shots more often. And while our definition of “better” is certainly different based on our respective skill level, the game is just more fun when your best shots happen more often and your worst shots are always getting better.
Today’s article is triggered by what we saw happen at the Valspar tour event this past Sunday. While Taylor Moore certainly had some big moments in a great final round, both Jordan Spieth and Adam Schenk threw away their chances to win with big misses down the stretch, both of them with driver. Spieth’s wayward drive into the water on the 16th and Schenk’s big miss left on the 18th spelled doom for both of them.
It amazes me how the best players on the planet routinely hit the most God-awful shots with such regularity, given the amazing talents they all have. But those guys are not what I’m talking about this week. In keeping with the path of the past few posts, I’m encouraging each and every one of you to think about your most recent rounds (if you are playing already this year), or recall the rounds you finished the season with last year. What you are looking for are you own “big misses” that kept you from scoring better.
Was it a few wayward drives that put you in trouble or even out of bounds? Or maybe loose approach shots that made birdie impossible and par super challenging? Might your issue have been some missed short putts or bad long putts that led to a three-putt? Most likely for any of you, you can recall a number of times where you just did not give yourself a good chance to save par or bogey from what was a not-too-difficult greenside recovery.
The point is, in order to get consistently better, you need to make an honest assessment of where you are losing strokes and then commit to improving that part of your game. If it isn’t your driving that causes problems, contain that part of practice or pre-round warm-ups to just a half dozen swings or so, for the fun of “the big stick”. If your challenges seem to be centered around greenside recoveries, spend a lot more time practicing both your technique and imagination – seeing the shot in your mind and then trying to execute the exact distance and trajectory of the shot required. Time on the putting green will almost always pay off on the course.
But, if you are genuinely interested in improving your overall ball-striking consistency, you would be well-served to examine your fundamentals, starting with the grip and posture/setup. It is near impossible to build a repeating golf swing if those two fundamentals are not just right. And if those two things are fundamentally sound, the creation of a repeating golf swing is much easier.
More from the Wedge Guy
- The Wedge Guy: It’s not all about distance
- The Wedge Guy: Are you really willing to get better at golf?
- The Wedge Guy: Anatomy of a wedge head
Clement: It’s hard to hit the driver badly when you’re doing this
Mu and I go through the swing of the driver in slow motion to show the difference between hitting at the ball and then trying to move it to target versus collecting the ball from the top of the tee and releasing it into the flight plan. Check out the video to learn what this means for your golf swing.
Also: Congrats on Savy getting another personal best of 337 yards at the WLD event in Mesquite!
How to hit a fade…according to YouTube, a robot, and GolfWRX members
How to hit a fade. At some point, if you aren’t a habitual slicer of the golf ball and are able to hit a draw with regularity, in your quest to become a better golfer, you’re going to want to know how to do this.
Without debating the relative merits of a draw versus a fade, it’s agreed that working the golf ball both ways is key to to scoring, positioning off the tee, and risk minimization. If you’re a golfer who is currently only slinging draws, we have some advice for you on how to hit a fade from three very different sources.
How to hit a fade…
…according to a robot (that is, A.I. language model ChatGPT):
A fade is a type of golf shot that curves gently from left to right (for a right-handed golfer). If you want to know how to hit a fade, follow these steps:
- Set up for the shot: Aim your clubface at the target, but align your feet, hips, and shoulders slightly to the left of the target. This open stance will help promote a left-to-right spin on the ball.
- Grip the club: Hold the club normally, but slightly weaken your grip by turning your hands slightly to the left (again, for a right-handed golfer). This will help you hit the ball with an open clubface.
- Swing the club: On your backswing, keep your clubface square to the target for as long as possible. Then, on your downswing, try to swing slightly from the inside to out, which will help produce the left-to-right spin on the ball. Finally, make sure to follow through towards the target with a high finish.
- Practice: Hitting a consistent fade can take some practice. Spend time on the driving range and experiment with different grip and swing adjustments until you find what works best for you.
Remember, hitting a fade is not about hitting the ball harder, it’s about controlling the spin and direction of the ball. With practice, you can learn to hit a reliable fade that can help you navigate tricky golf course layouts.
Hitting a fade takes practice, and it may take some trial and error to find the right adjustments for your swing. It’s also important to note that a fade is not necessarily the ideal shot shape for every situation, so it’s important to be comfortable with hitting a variety of shots on the golf course.
How to hit a fade…according to the most-watched video on YouTube on the subject
With more than one million views on YouTube, this video from Any and Piers of MeAndMyGolf not only covers hitting a fade but also discussing drawing the golf ball as well as hitting it high and low.
…according to GolfWRXers
And of course, our GolfWRX forum members have opinions on the subject.
The appropriately named PreppySlapCut said: “If the face is open to the path, the ball is going to fade. There’s several adjustments you can make to encourage that to happen, it’s just a question of what feels best for you and allows you to do it most consistently.”
Bladehunter says: “For me just the sensation of taking the club back outside your hands , and then swing left with a face square to target , while turning hard as you can makes for a pretty straight flight that won’t hook. Unless you stall and let your hands pass you.”
“That’s my take as an upright swinger If you’re really flat it’s going to be tough to time up and never have the two way miss Because you’re always coming from the inside and will rely on timing the face open or shut to see a fade or draw . For me it’s just set the face at address and feel like you hold it there until impact”
Dpd5031 says: “Had a pro teach me this. Aim a little left, stance slightly open, still hit it from the inside (just like your draw), but unwind chest hard letting handle follow your rotation so toe never passes heel. He called it a “drawy fade.” Ball takes off almost looking like it’s going to draw, but tumbles over to the right instead of left. Cool thing is ya dont give up any distance doing it this way as opposed to cutting across it.”
Scottbox says: “Jon Rahm is a good example. Watch the hand path of his backswing– his hands are not as “deep” as someone who draws the ball (i.e. Rory). And even though he has a slightly shut face, Rahm rotates his chest and hips very hard. Because there’s less depth to his backswing, the club gets more in front of him at P6. He’s most likely 1-2* outside in at last parallel. Brooks Koepka has a longer swing, but similar, in terms of his hand path– well above the shaft plane going up with less depth to his hands at the top, and slightly above the plane coming down.”
“Most good modern players rotate pretty hard with their hips and chest to stabilize the face, but the difference between those who draw it and those who hit a baby cut is often seen in the way they “engineer” their backswing patterns.”
Check out more of the “how to hit a fade” discussion in the forum thread.
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Pingback: Listen To Your Gut And Sink The Putt - The Golf Shop Online Blog
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Sep 24, 2014 at 11:45 pm
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…
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
Sep 24, 2014 at 6:19 pm
Great point. Couldn’t agree more.
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.