LINE 'EM UP: CHECK THAT YOUR EYES ARE OVER THE BALL
Lawrence says: Look around at the best putters in the game and you will discover that the vast majority set-up with their eyes directly over the ball. This is regarded as an essential in terms of consistently ‘seeing’ the line of the putt and effectively visualising the ball rolling along that line and into the hole. As illustrated in the photos above, a simple way to check this detail of your set up is to get yourself into posture, putter in hand, and then drop a second ball from directly under your dominant eye. The point at which it strikes the ground is where the ball should be positioned at address. (Make the adjustment to your posture as necessary, and enjoy a true perspective of the putt.)
Naga says: Checking the ball position relative to my eye-line was the first step in my putting lesson – and the simple test of dropping a ball from my dominant eye quickly and easily revealed that I had been playing the ball an inch or so too far from my body. A quick adjustment, and I found that with my eyes directly over the ball I could much more easily relate to the line of the putt – swivelling my head gently along the line of the putt to the hole helped me to visualise the path so much more clearly.
HOLD ON LIGHT: ELIMINATE TENSION, IMPROVE FEEL
Lawrence says: For a lot of amateur golfers, holding the putter with a tension- free grip is much easier said than done. We all know how anxiety on the course can cause us to tighten up our grip and lose that sense of feel in our hands and fingers – which is why I’m a big believer in encouraging students to focus on ways in which it is possible to relieve pressure and enjoy real flow and freedom of movement in the hands, arms and shoulders. One way to achieve this is to hold the putter in one hand and waggle it repeatedly as you study the line of a putt – hold on lightly and feel the tension drain from your arm and hand. Another ploy Naga uses to great effect is to stand with her arms down by her side and literally shake her arms and hands to relax her muscles before taking her grip and set up position.
Make these habits part of your preputt routine and you will give yourself a better chance of relieving tension and making a more free-flowing stroke.
Naga says: I used to be guilty of gripping the putter much too firmly, with a similar pressure to the hold I would use for a full shot. This filled my stroke with tension and I really didn’t feel very natural with a putter in my hands. To help release the pressure in my arms and hands, Lawrence encouraged me to shake my arms for a few seconds before taking my grip, which really has helped me to relax the muscles in my arms, wrists, hands and shoulders. Another tip that I have built in to my pre-shot routine is to swing the putter freely with one hand as I walk around to study the line of a putt; without you even thinking about it, this just gets a wonderful sense of flow in your hand as you swing the weight of the putter-head to and fro – the perfect rehearsal for the stroke itself
A SIMPLE PENDULUM STROKE
Lawrence says: One of the shared characteristics of a good putting stroke is the smooth acceleration through the ball. What we don’t want is a stop-start action, with erratic speed through the impact area – that does nothing for your ability to strike and roll the ball consistently and judge pace.
Like many golfers, Naga’s stroke lacked an even tempo and her fault was to decelerate through the hitting area so that the putter effectively slowed down as it struck the ball. This led to inconsistencies of strike, often a poor bumpy roll, and ultimately failure to hole out with confidence.
We have worked hard on improving Naga’s tempo by getting her to practice a stroke that has the same length back and through with a touch of gradual acceleration to it (sequence right). This putts a very smooth roll on the ball. And the analogy I used to help her is to think of the stroke as the pendulum movement on a grandfather clock, ticking back and forth with a metronomic rhythm.
Naga uses a face-balanced putter which is designed for a straight-back, straight-through style of stroke (as opposed to a toe-balanced putter which will suit a stroke with a gentle arc to it). In order to get Naga’s shoulders nice and square to the target line I get her to use a ‘Palms Together’ drill where she places both hands – palms open – on the sides of the putter grip so that it rests through the lifelines of her hands. Notice how when she now grips the putter her shoulders are very square to her target.
Naga says: I’ve seen a lot of Tour professionals switch to holding the putter with their hands side-by-side on the grip. It makes a lot of sense to me as this really does square the shoulders up nicely.
THE WAY FORWARD...
Lawrence says: Marking a straight line on your ball with a Sharpie is effectively a free lesson on the putting green and you should take full advantage of a practice that is widespread among tour players the world over...for the simple reason it works. With that distinct bold line on your golf ball you will find it much easier to aim your putter-face squarely along your intended line. Of course, you do need to take care in replacing your ball on the green and ensure you have the line aimed correctly. But once in position, all you then have to do is match the line on your ball with the centre line on your putter. Doing so takes away the uncertainty of alignment and gives you a crystal clear focus at address. (To mark the line use the maker’s stamp on the ball as a guide or, better still, get yourself a plastic stencil, which you will find in most pro shops).
Naga says: I used to have a lot of doubt about my aim but since I have started to mark a line on my golf ball I have felt a lot more confident and committed to making a good stroke that starts the ball on my chosen line. As Lawrence was quick to point out, for this to be truly effective, you have to take great care in replacing your ball on the green so that the line matches up with your desired starting line. To me, that only adds to the focus that I now apply to alignment on every putt.
LET YOUR INSTINCTS TAKE OVER!
Lawrence says: Let me leave you with a few ideas that will help you to go out and tap in to the power of your intuition. The danger for all golfers is to get so wrapped up with technique that you lose sight of the fact that you are simply trying to roll a ball towards a target. So give free rein to your instincts; the next time you have a few moments spare on the putting green, try hitting a few putts while looking at the hole. As Naga discovered, diverting your attention away from the ball and focusing her eyes on the hole helped her to tap into her brain’s instinctive messaging service, with the result that she produced a free-flowing stroke that rolled the ball at the correct pace without thinking about it...
DRILLS TO GO OUT AND TRY
‘Take 3’ tempo challenge
Line up three balls in a row and then putt them one after another with your focus 100% on repeating the length and tempo of your stroke so that you cluster the balls as tightly as possible. There’s no need to go for a target, just focus on that feeling of the tempo being rhythmical and repetitive. Don’t look up between putts to see where the ball has gone; wait until after you’ve struck the final putt. With the same tempo you should find that all three golf balls have rolled out to a very similar, if not identical distance.
Another drill that removes the hole from the equation is to practice putting to the fringe of the green. This is especially good from twenty or thirty feet in order to fine-tune your feel for the texture and speed of the greens on any given day. Again, Naga uses this drill as a means of tapping in to her instinctive feel for the tempo of stroke necessary to get the ball rolling with the correct speed so that it finishes right up against the fringe.
Naga says: I used to struggle with judging the pace of mid- and longer-range approach putts. Like many golfers, I had a tendency to hit them too soft and come up short; every now and then I would over-compensate by giving it a bit of a thump and send the ball well past the hole. Either way I left myself a lot of work to keep a three-putt off my scorecard!
To help with this aspect of my putting, Lawrence suggested that I spend a few minutes at the end of a practice session rolling three balls to a target while looking at it – i.e. not looking at the ball, but swivelling my head so that my eyes focus on where I want to roll the ball (in this case to the fringe of the green). The idea is that instinct takes over – the same way it does when you toss an object into a waste paper basket.
In other words, you’re not thinking about what you have to do to roll the ball the desired distance, you are visualising and reacting to it.