Head Case Putting

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This is the second article in a ten article series about putting in golf.  The first article was titled “The Myth of the Pendulum Stroke”.  Yes, the title is controversial.  It is intentionally so!  About twenty years ago, some of the sacred cows in golf began to get some long overdue attention.  Instruction like “keep your head down” was questioned … for the good of the game.  Today, I extend my questions about some sacred cows regarding putting.  Today’s subject is about how many golfers turn themselves into head cases by experimenting with gimmicks rather than making a commitment to mastering solid fundamentals.

Watch any PGA, Nationwide, Champions or LPGA Tour event and you will witness a wide variety of different styles.  These styles may or may not be OK for professional golfers, but they are the cause of some very bad technique in recreational players.  The pros who adopt these styles were suffering performance problems related to fundamentals BEFORE the onset of their head problems which resorted in a gimmick cure.  Gimmicks only reduce your effectiveness and confidence.  A larger problem rises when amateur players copy their effort.  Most of these pros were fundamentally unsound, which was the basic cause of their performance problems which prompted a switch to a gimmick style.  Yes, professional players can be fundamentally flawed in their technique.  Has anyone noticed the subtle change in Tiger’s putting?  Could this fundamental difference be the cause of his drop off in putting performance?  What would one stroke per round have done for his season?

The discussion of fundamentals brings up the subject of the very existence of fundamentals.  In some golf discussion forums where I have posted, the idea of fundamentals is violently attacked by hard core “non-fundamentalists”.  These people insist there are no fundamentals in the full swing.  The argument extends into and pervades any discussion regarding putting.  In my opinion, this argument is absolute non-sense.  Fundamentals exist and benefit those who have the fortitude to give them the disciplined effort they demand.

To support this point of view, perhaps we need to better definition of the term.  Redefining this complex concept isn’t as easy as it seems.  There are multiple concepts related to the term.  In my definition, a fundamental is something you do right which causes other things to be done right.  For example, “posture creates the possibility for a natural, free-flowing swing”.  Translated, this means your address posture is critical to your backswing plane.  Get your posture right and combine it with a simple concept for the backswing movement and everything goes as smooth as silk.  Do it wrong and who know what will happen!  A second aspect of my definition involves the concept that you don’t have to learn (very much) and you don’t have to try (very hard). 

1.      Regarding learning, of course you must learn some things.  The point is, the amount of stuff you have to learn is reduced.  Regarding trying, the “T” word is a quick and direct way to goof up your game.  Trying is associated with mental effort which is the antithesis of having a clear and focused mind.  A mind that’s clear of unwanted brain buzz and a focus on no more than one performance que works better than "mechanics".

2.      When something is natural, your mental picture of what you want to do and the amount of practice you have to invest to match the picture with the feel is greatly shortened.

3.      When something is natural, you don’t have to invest much effort in doing it right.  Your physical movement is efficient and graceful because your mental picture and the anatomical design of your body are synced up and coordinated.  You are doing things in a biomechanically efficient manner.  You are not fighting your own self.

4.      Being fundamentally sound is BOTH the easy way to do things as well as the most consistent way to do things.

The first and most important concept is to accept … fundamentals/putting style matters.  Putting is completely corrupted by a seriously wrong headed concept … “you can putt anyway you like”.  Open stance, closed stance; left hand low, regular grip; standard length putter, belly putter; eyes inside the line, eyes over the ball etc., anything goes.  Here’s just one simple example why this teaching kills your putting game.  When your shoulders are open to the intended target path, then your body and your mind are in a brawl for control.  The body wants to do one thing and the eyes/mind want to do something else.  Who wins?  The answer is both!  Said differently, you are doomed to inconsistency because you are fundamentally unsound!  It is inevitable you will become a head case in due time.  A logical question arises … how did Jack Nicklaus putt so well with open shoulders?  There are several valid answers.  The first should be obvious … he’s Jack and we are not.  Second, he had plenty of time to practice enough.  Another logical thought arises … “but, open shoulders are so comfortable”.  OK, agreed!  Putting with open shoulders IS comfortable.  In 30+ years of teaching I was always very concerned with the “C” word … correct.  Comfort is a result of repetition.  You can become comfortable with correct just as easily as you learned to be comfortable with wrong.

The bottom line … don’t shoot yourself in the foot before you ever get started.  There are fundamentals which help you play better.  Learning fundamentals is easier than plugging in piecemeal gimmicks.  Confidence does not come from gimmicks but it does come from being fundamentally sound.

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