Pre-Putt Fundamentals

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Before we begin, a quick review of the first lesson.  We were trying to kill the pendulum. We learned there are three mechanical fundamentals to a putting stroke: 

1.  Swing the putter relatively straight back and through the impact zone

2. Square the putter face to the intended target path

3. Control the speed of the putt

The second and third tasks are one in the same.  We learned the ability to strike into and through the back of the ball was the secret to squaring the clubface.  When your mind is focused on striking the back of the ball, the speed of the putt is controlled by the length of the backswing, NOT the amount of muscular force used.  How hard you swing (amount of muscular force) will be constant for all putts.

Later we will learn how to develop the sense of feel needed to determine how much backswing is needed for different length putts and for different surface conditions.  For now, remember your backswing length requires BOTH touch/feel and strategy.

It’s time for a little advertisement.  Some readers may be having doubts about how well this “new” putting stuff works.  What you are reading was the basis of how a college golf team I inherited went from never winning a tournament to winning three out of six and taking second in two more.  We finished nationally ranked in NCAA Division I competition.  The competition included four teams that went to the NCAA Championships and a future British Open and PGA champion we beat.

Some might say … college golfers already know how to putt.  I beg to differ.  Most, like everyday players, they tend to putt on talent and ability, not fundamental skill or a precise strategic plan.  A goal of this instruction is to have you replace talent with technique.  You will still have talent, but your technique will show up every day.

Let’s get started!  Pre-putt fundamentals directly affect the mechanics of the stroke.  Our goal is to use the more consistent shoulder and arm stroke technique.  When greens maintenance equipment produced more consistent putting surfaces, “handsy” putting pretty much died!  There are fundamental things we can do to simplify and better, yet effortlessly, control the motion of our body, our arms and the putter.  We want to create a balanced, square, “Monkey Arms” position.

This lesson is about the pre-putt fundamentals that cause the putter head to move straight back and straight through the back of the ball, along the intended putt path.  Here’s great news!  Pre-putt fundamentals have much more to do with making a consistent stroke than swing motion or skill.  Even better, there is a NATURAL way to make a putting stroke. 

The word natural is very overused in golf language.  Here is the definition we will use.  If something is natural, you do not have to learn and you do not have to try.  Here’s the bad news!  First, it takes zero athletic ability to make a putting stroke.  Second, you have nearly 100% command and control over what you need to do (it’s natural).  Finally, there is no excuse for failure.

Here’s a “mini” routine that will guide you through each pre-putt fundamental.  We will expand on this routine and also use it for short game and full swing mechanics, so why not introduce it now?  Just say the key word and then execute the technique.

1.     Club … flat and square

2.     Grip… the club

3.     Point … “Bow” over the ball

4.     Aim … your shoulders parallel to the target path (Fig. 6)

5.    Hang … your hands under your shoulders and your weight is balanced (toe to heel) on the balls of your feet

Learning this routine takes just a few minutes.  During play, it takes less than 5 seconds to execute ... once it has been learned and practiced enough to be of practical value on the course. 

Memorize the five "que" words" ... Club, Grip, Point, Aim and Hang.  This routine is for the set-up only.  It is adapted from the full swing routine and is part of a larger, Master Routine which we will learn later.  Using a routine is the single most important key to the Mental Game.  Using a functional routine is your ticket to the 3 C's ... Composure, Concentration and Confidence.

Pre-Putt fundamental errors CAUSE in-stroke mechanical errors.  More than 90% of stroke errors are completely avoidable!  Avoiding basic stroke errors is a matter of knowing what to do, knowing why it is important (for confidence) and most importantly, having the discipline to do what you know is right.  The learning part of pre-putt fundamentals takes a little effort, but the payoff is huge.

Club … Putter alignment to the intended path is a VERY critical fundamental that is COMMONLY overlooked or wrongly executed.  It either creates failure or at the very least doubt.  Putter mis-alignment is 100% avoidable.

Sole the putter flat and square to the target path.  Make double sure the putter does not move by watching it throughout the set-up.  This means you must complete the remainder of the set-up by feel.  If the club moves, put it back and restart you routine.

The putter head must be soled flat on the ground to prevent pulling or pushing the putt. The lie angle of the putter must be bent to angle towards your hands. The correct length for a putter is related to both the lie angle and your height.  The putter fits YOU.  You do NOT contort yourself to fit the putter.

Grip… Grip, like ball position is both a fundamental and an individual technique.  This is one time when the physics of club to ball contact and the bio-mechanics  of your body do not dictate a specific way of doing things.  The putting grip style is your choice.  A correct and comfortable hands position on the club is far more important than the style you choose. 

You need to know if you are a left handed, right handed or two handed putter.  The answer to this question will guide your decision about how to put your hands on the club. The goal is to make sure you have all four fingers of the dominant hand on the club and that your hand is square/parallel to the putter face.

The interlocking grip used for the full swing is NOT recommended for putting.  The Vardon or overlapping grip is acceptable for left handed putters.  The ten finger/baseball grip (four fingers of both hands are on the club) is also acceptable.  The key is to have both thumbs on the flat part of the grip.  The exact position of the thumbs can be “fiddled” with to favor a stronger or weaker release.  This allows you to “micro adjust” towards either side of the hole when all other fundamentals are correct!

A two handed putter will place both hands parallel to the face of the putter and both thumbs on the flat surface of the grip.  Equal pressure is applied with each hand.  During the stroke, you might feel as if both thumbs are working together as a team to move the putter.

A left handed putter will “backhand” the ball.  You will have a feeling of dragging the putter head through impact. 

A right handed putter will “spank” the back of the ball.  You will feel the speed of the putt in the palm of your hand.  This is much like feeling how far you would toss a ball.

If you are a right handed putter, the reverse overlap or ten finger grip is recommended.  A slight modification can be made by rotating the upper hand counterclockwise so it is in a very weak position.

Consider the possibility of using the two handed, switching hands, bottom hand dominant technique, top hand rotated outward to a weak position technique.  That was a mouthful, but all it means is that you will take a right hand grip, then use the top hand to push the club back and the bottom hand the strike through. Weakening the top hand allows you to eliminate the possibility of the club “fanning open” (arc putting) on any short or intermediate length putt.  On longer, lag putts the putter head will arc to the inside, but the face will remain square.

  Check the physical alignment of the putter’s grip to make dead certain it is installed square to the putterface.  My experience indicates about 50% of all putter grips are installed crooked.  I have seen the problem on $300 putters as well as discount shop beaters.  You can’t putt your best with a dirty grip.  Oil from you hands gets caked onto the grip.  Clean your grip with a solvent and rinse with clear water.  Your grip should feel a little sticky.

Point …  Move your feet into place and bow over until your nose is over the ball. Getting your eyes over the ball is critical.  It, along with a "spot" putting technique fixes the right/left eye dominate vision problem and depth perception problems.  Most importantly, eyes over the ball helps focus your concentration on the "Go" part of the stroke and the ability to control the speed/distance of your putt. 

Eye position is directly related to the mechanics of your stroke.  It, along with a correctly fit putter (lie angle and length) helps fix you hands under your shoulders, creating the "Monkey Arms" position we desire for the NATURAL stroke motion made possible by the shoulder and arm method. 

You do not have to be perfect, but you do have to be pretty close.  The most critical error is to stand too tall which leaves the eyes inside the target path which causes you to push putts.  Standing too tall is often related to poorly fitted, longer putters.  A standard 35-35˝” putter is too long for a typical golfer. “Off the rack” putters need to be custom fitted to your needs.  A putter is always custom fit to a golfer in a correct posture.  It is not your job to accommodate a mis-fit putter.

If your hands are outside your shoulders (too far from your body) you will pull puts to the left.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that after missing a few putts, most golfers start fiddling with their stroke mechanics (trying).  Somewhere in the process, your confidence goes down the tube. Correct is more important than comfortable.  Comfortable comes from the habits you will develop over time.

You can know the value of getting your eyes over the ball and hanging your hands right now!  Stand up and then bow over as if you were setting up for a putt.  Completely relax your arms and let them hang straight down from your shoulders.  Now, swing them back and forth.  Notice two things.  First, your shoulders barely move and second, your arms effortlessly follow a very straight line parallel to your shoulders.

Where you play the ball between your left and right foot is both a fundamental and an individual technique.  The ball must be played forward of center, closer to your left foot.  A forward position promotes the accelerating ball strike.  Your lead elbow will be folded more than your trail elbow.  Individual players will vary in how far forward they should play the ball.  If your are making a solid, arm and shoulder stroke and pushing putts, the move the ball more forward.  If you are pulling putts, move the ball back towards the center of your stance.

Aim … Aiming your shoulders and knees parallel to the intended path allows your body to effortlessly control the direction of the stroke path.  Square shoulders are the key to  the preferred arm and shoulder technique.  You will make very, very few stroke direction errors if you correctly aim your body where you want the putt to go.  The chief problem with mis-aligned shoulders is that your are doing something you body does not want to do!  This is a classic mind-body conflict.  Your mind is on the target and your body is pointing somewhere else ... who wins?  Bad body alignment is a nearly perfect way to introduce inconsistency!

Open shoulder alignment is critical and common error.  It is very comfortable, but very WRONG. Unfortunately, it is naturally easy to mis-align your shoulders. Because one hand is lower on the club than the other, your shoulders will tend to open to the target.   When the bottom hand goes on club, the shoulders open!    This is comfortable and works very well if you are using a "hands"  putting style, but it is also dead wrong.

Aiming your shoulders is a DELIBERATE ACT.   Align your shoulders after your bottom hand is on the club.  Your knees should be parallel the target path (Fig. 3).  When correctly set-up, many players will appear to have a closed stance.  This is not only OK, is it desirable!  When facing a breaking putt, you must sometimes come up the courage to turn your back to the hole.  A critical error is to align at the hole and try to “steer” the ball on the desired path!

  So, how/why did Jack Nicklaus putt with open shoulders and why can’t we?  First, he used a hands technique during a different era.  Second, you and I aren’t Jack!  Typical pro golfers have better eyesight than most everyday players.  Third, they practice ten times more than a typical golfer.  This allows them to can get away with things we can’t do!

HangAiming and Hanging are nearly the same steps.  To aim, you must move your feet into place.  Because your eyes are already over the ball and your shoulders/knees are aligned, where you place your feet is largely a matter of comfort. 

 Standing flatfooted with your weight evenly balanced between toes and heels is the key.  The same concept works with your short game and the full swing.  For longer swing, your weight will shift back and forth and from toes to heels at different points in your swing, but the starting point is always from a flatfooted, balanced position.  There are very few sports where you initiate a movement from an unbalanced position (ex. a 100 meter sprinter or a platform diver).

How far you stand away from the ball will be determined by your stance posture and hand position.  A quick checkpoint of performance is that your hands will be about one fist width from your thighs.  A dead certain giveaway that you are in the wrong position is if the toe of the club is up off the ground.  When this is the case, either you or your tool is wrong! 

Putting with your hands inside your shoulders will cause you the push putts.  A poorly fitted putter typically means the toe of the putter head will be up off the ground (putter sits on it’s heel).  Having you hands too “high“ or away from your body is the opposite error.  From a high position, you will tend to pull putts.

A final point about posture and balance.  Your elbows need to flexed and tucked into your belly. This allows you arms to have a little “shock absorber” protection.  This is the "Monkey Arms" (Fig 8) situation.  Execution of the stroke involves little more than moving your Monkey Arms back and forth while attending to the “Slowwww annndd GO!” rhythm to push the club away from the ball then striking the back of the ball. 

Here are some final checkpoints of performance you need to consider.

1.    First, the hand that dominates your forward stroke should have all four fingers on the club and should be the first hand to go onto the club. 

2.    Second, the palm of your dominate hand must be parallel to the putter face. 

3.    Finally, the non dominate hand must not interfere with the natural movement of the controlling, dominate hand.

When pre-putt fundamentals are combined with the “Slow and Go” rhythm, you are practically guaranteed to make a quality putt.  Your stroke should feel effortless and ultra smooth.  You should feel in total control of the stroke motion.

Quality stroke mechanics DO NOT guarantee you will make the putt.  

Once you have developed a consistent, repetitive stroke, you can move onto other requirements like reading the green for speed and break, selecting the correct target and controlling the speed of the putt.

 

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