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Gary Nicol’s Winter Putting Training: Part 4

When you think of practice or training for the forthcoming season, chances are your thoughts will turn to honing your technique.

You may well think about working on your swing, getting that club “in the slot” at the top of the backswing or ensuring your putting stroke is silky smooth.

For decades we have been led to believe that if we make good swings and strokes, we will hit good shots and putts. Essentially, the culture of coaching has told us that good technique will protect us from bad golf.

Sadly that just isn’t true. In over thirty years of coaching, I have seen sufficient evidence to back that up. Not for a second am I saying that technique isn’t important, far from it. However, in our pursuit of perfection, we tend to overlook the “human skills” required to play good golf. Skills like attention and visualisation.

If the practice putting green isn’t quite as smooth and fast as it would be in peak season, perhaps it isn’t the best environment to work on your putting stroke. That said, you can still venture out there to work on the aforementioned human skills. In the previous parts of this series, I talked about green reading and paying particular attention to the pace of your putts.

Attention is a wonderful word and concept. I would go as far as to say that golf is a game of attention. When faced with a putt, your attention will, in all likelihood, be in one of three places: what you need to do, what the putter needs to do, or what the ball needs to do. Which category do you fall into? 

Standing over a putt, the vast majority of golfers tend to place a disproportionate amount of attention on themselves and the putter, with little or no regard for what the ball needs to do.

Ultimately we want to get the ball in the hole, not you or your putter, so it would make sense to pay more attention to what the ball needs to do.

When faced with any or indeed every putt, ask yourself these three questions:

  • Is it possible I could hole this putt? Answer – yes.
  • What does the ball need to do to go in the hole? Answer – travel on the right line at the appropriate pace for that line.
  • What does a good putt look like? Answer – one that goes in the hole.

The last question and answer may sound ridiculously obvious but the reality is that golfers often miss them out because they are paying too much attention to how they are going to move their body and/or their putter.

We create what we see, so unless you have a very clear intention or picture of what you want the ball to do, you may well struggle to complete the task successfully.

The introduction of the “putt predictor” graphic, we occasionally see during TV broadcasts, is a fantastic visual aid as it essentially creates a road map for our golf ball. Just imagine how helpful it would be if you could project that image onto the green before every putt you hit!

While technology isn’t quite at the stage where we can do this at your local club on a Sunday morning, you can use your imagination to create a similar image.

Visualisation is a human skill we can all learn, develop and apply in our golf games and one that players at the very highest level use to great effect. It is so important that we dedicated an entire chapter to it in our best-selling book “The Lost Art of Putting”.

To find out more, visit thelostartofgolf.com to order a copy of the book, or download the accompanying video. 

Winter Putting Training: Part 3

What is your vision for 2020? Pun intended.

Do you have targets and goals? Are they realistic and achievable?

All too often, I hear golfers of all levels setting targets and goals for the coming season. They generally relate to a reduction in handicap, winning the club championship, representing their county or country, or winning professional tournaments.

While I am a great believer in setting targets and achieving goals, there is always the danger that they can turn into expectations. Yes, we feel great when we reach these long term goals but be careful not to confuse goals with expectations.

Motivation and expectation are very different animals. Motivation gives you a reason to work towards something, a sense of purpose. Expectation can lead to a sense of entitlement. 

In golf, don’t think that because you put some hard work in, you are entitled to some kind of reward. Working hard will help to a degree but working smart is where you can really make a difference.

Rather than hoping or dreaming about reducing your handicap by however many shots, or winning a Major Championship, why not make your goal to simply become a better golfer today than you were last year, last month or even last week?

As my good friend and co-author of our best-selling books – ‘The Lost Art of Putting’ and ‘The Lost Art of Playing Golf’ – frequently says, the road to improvement consists of an accumulation of good days.

If you can keep putting in good days, at some point, the accumulation of these good days will start to bear fruit, sometimes when you least expect it.

Before you can even start to embark on your journey of improvement and hopefully enjoyment as a by-product, you need to have a very clear picture of where you are right now.

Take time to reflect on 2019 before you dive straight in to 2020. Which aspects of your game have room for improvement? I can almost hear some answers from here – “I need to hit my driver further” will probably be pretty high up the list. “I just want to be more consistent” is more than likely to be number one. Oh dear, the “C” word – golf’s holy grail apparently. Let me save you a lot of grief. Don’t go searching for consistency. It does not exist in the long term.

Even the very best players in the world do not and cannot achieve long term consistency, so do yourself a favour and stop chasing it.

Your goal should be to improve your play and your enjoyment and the fastest route to both is to hole more putts.

Think about the last few rounds you played in 2019 and look at your putting statistics. If you don’t know how many putts you are taking in any given round of golf, how can you measure improvement?

You need a baseline, a starting point. Only when you know where you are can you realistically set out a plan of where you would like to be and how you are going to get there.

Would taking one or two less putts every time you play make a difference to your scores and your enjoyment? Is it possible you could realistically achieve that? Absolutely! Over and above that, it will be a whole lot easier to achieve than adding the 15 – 20 yards onto your drives on a regular basis.

How you go about reducing the number of putts you take is entirely up to you. You might want to invest in visiting a putting coach to set out a plan going forwards or you may feel that a new putter is required.

I may be somewhat biased here but based on the feedback we receive from students and golfers around the world who have read ‘The Lost Art Of Putting’, learning, understanding and applying the Putting Performance Principles within the book and the digital video download would be a great place to start.

All the best for the coming season and I look forward to hearing about YOUR success stories. Expect nothing, deal with everything and who knows, you might just reach your targets and achieve your goals.

Gary Nicol

Gary Nicol’s Winter Putting Training: Part 2

As the season, year and indeed the decade draws to a close, now is the perfect time to sit down and reflect on your golf game.

Grab a notepad and pen and write down a few questions.

The first and perhaps most important question could or perhaps should be: “Why do I play golf?”

Take a few minutes to contemplate that and avoid the impulse to write down the first thing that springs to mind. You may have one or two reasons, you may have five or six. Whatever they are, write them down and stay true to them in the future.

Other questions might include some of the following:

“Do I enjoy playing golf?”

“Does golf satisfy me?”

“Can I hit the shots I want or need to on the golf course?”

“Do I understand the questions the golf course architect or designer is asking me on any given hole?”

“Is it possible I could hole more putts?”

That last question is one of my favourites and one I strongly recommend everyone who plays golf should ask themselves.

Is it possible? Unless you average 18 putts a round every time you play, the answer absolutely has to be a resounding yes!

That being the case, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to buy a new putter because your existing one “doesn’t work”? That may or may not be the answer but regardless how much you spend on a new putter, there are no guarantees. It will not get the ball in the hole on its own.

Ultimately you need to learn how to use it. You need to learn how to get the ball in the hole from a variety of distances and a variety of positions, not only on the practice putting green but also on the golf course.

Like many golfers I know, you may have a garage or cupboard full of training aids and gadgets, which may or may not be helpful but you have to ask yourself if they work. Think about all the times you may have used them on the putting green. You might have holed five or six nasty little four foot putts on the putting green using your training aid but did that translate to similar results in competitions or even in bounce games? Only you will know the answer to that particular question.

With more than thirty years of experience coaching golfers of all standards from beginners to Tour Pros, I would suggest that the majority of these training aids spend most of their time gathering dust in the garage or cupboard for a reason. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.

If you really want to experience more success and enjoyment on the greens every time you practice or play, I suggest you do all or at least some of the following:

Speak to a golf coach you can believe in and trust. Someone you know has helped others. Someone you can embark on a journey of discovery and improvement with.

Spend some time on the putting green with exactly what you are allowed to take on the course – a putter and a ball. Not two, three or four balls, just one. There are no second serves when it comes to putting.

Learn the art of getting the ball into the hole when it matters. The only way you can do this is by playing golf on the course. Nothing will ever come close to replicating this skill on the practice putting green. Context is everything.

Standing over each and every putt, ask yourself two questions:

1) Is it possible I could hole this putt? 

2) What does the ball need to do to go in the hole? 

I’m not going to spoil it for you but what I will say is that these two questions could transform your future putting experiences.

As one year runs out of days, another exciting one awaits.

Is it possible that 2020 could provide you with opportunities to hole more putts, shoot lower scores and have more fun on the course? Absolutely!

To kick-start your journey of discovery, improvement and enjoyment, treat yourself to a copy of The Lost Art Of Putting. Judging by the feedback we continue to receive from golfers of all standards all around the world, it might just be the smartest investment you could make.

Happy New Year and best wishes for the future.

Did you miss part 1 of Gary’s Winter Putting Training? Click here to read.

Gary Nicol’s winter putting training: Part 1

While the best of the weather for 2019 may be behind us, that doesn’t mean you need to put your clubs away until the sun reappears and the mercury rises again.

Yes it may be a bit damp, cold and occasionally miserable at times but that should not deter you from your quest to improve. Hitting balls on the range in 5 layers of clothing might not be everyone or anyone’s idea of fun, me included.

However, we can all find 20 or 30 minutes every week, regardless of the weather to head for the putting green to work on our putting skills.

Admittedly the putting green at your local club might not be running as fast and true as it does during the summer months but don’t let that put you off. You can still make great progress if you train certain aspects of your putting, regardless of the weather and green conditions.

When thinking about improving their putting, most golfers would tend to get out their putting mirrors, chalk lines, putting gates and strings and focus on their techniques or strokes.

Essentially they are working on their putting strokes, not their putting skills.

Good putting is not only about having a good stroke. You can have the best stroke in the world but if you don’t hit your ball on the right line at the right pace, you will not hole many or any putts.

Spend some time ideally with the help of a good coach who understands the importance of the skill of reading greens, enabling you to predict and control what you want the ball to do. Visualise the ball falling into the hole at the appropriate pace for that putt. Train what you will inevitably face on the golf course, putts of different lengths from a variety of places on the green and with different breaks. Left to right, right to left, uphill, downhill, long and short, the whole spectrum.

Take what you are allowed to take on the course, your putter and a golf ball. Not two, not three but one ball.

Why one ball? Quite simply because you don’t get a second or third chance on the course, so why practice or train with two or three? Each and every putt you hit is unique and should be treated accordingly.

If you want to discover some fun and interesting training exercises to make you a happier and more competent putter, pick up a copy The Lost Art Of Putting, or watch the digital download, designed to be viewed whenever and wherever you want. Both are available on our website.

Is it possible, next year could be your best year ever on the greens? Absolutely!

Work smart over the winter months and you will start the 2020 season better prepared than ever before.

Gary Nicol, co-author with Karl Morris of best selling books The Lost Art Of Putting and The Lost Art Of Playing Golf.

Why does the putter always get the blame?

How many putters do you or have you owned?

How often do you change your putter?

Why does the putter always get the blame?

Many years ago when I was a teenager who “needed” a new Ping Anser to transform my putting, my late father informed me that the issue in fact lay “With the Indian, not the arrow!”

I obviously knew better at the time and saved up my pennies to buy the aforementioned magic wand and guess what? I didn’t putt noticeably better immediately. I did after a while but that was probably down to the hours I spent holing putts on the practice putting green to win The Open and The Masters. At least that what I imagined they were for.

You know how it goes, you have a bad day on the greens the very same day one of your playing partners has a good day with his latest acquisition. Next stop – Pro Shop to buy a new one. It has to be the putter’s fault you missed four 3 footers on the back nine right? The putter and stroke always get the blame and it’s easier to buy a new putter than it is to actually figure out the REAL reasons you keep missing putts.

Straight to the putter rack you go, pick up the latest, counter-balanced, face groove technology, thick /  thin /  longer / shorter grip putter, make a few practice strokes on the Pro Shop carpet and before you know it, you’re handing over your credit card to pay for THE putter that promises eternal success and happiness on the greens.

You head home, remove your clubs from the boot of your car and take them indoors.  You take out your new putter, just to check it is actually the one you have just splashed out a good amount of your hard earned cash for. You remove the headcover, take a few more practice strokes but there is something missing. A USER’S MANUAL.

Regardless of how much you spend on a putter or any club for that matter, the one thing that is always missing is a user’s manual. Can you imagine spending a chunk of cash on a new phone, iPad or laptop, removing the packaging only to discover you have to figure out how to use it all on your own? I can imagine you would be less than impressed.

Buying a new putter is no different. Unless you know how to use the tool you have bought to perform a specific task, in this case holing putts, the chances of that new implement changing your putting fortunes are slim at best.

Every putter manufacturer promises a greater MOI, the best feel ever, a pure roll, you name it, your new putter will provide it. I’m not suggesting for a moment that these claims are false, there are some fantastically well designed and produced putters available but ultimately, you as the golfer must learn how to get the ball in the hole with it.

If you really want to learn how to hole more putts, shoot lower score and ultimately have a whole lot more fun on the golf course, postpone that visit to the Pro Shop for the time being and order your copy of the best selling book – The Lost Art Of Putting.

Work on creating good putts and watch your stroke improve

Training aids are all very well, argues The Lost Art of Putting author Gary Nicol, but not if they become a crutch denied to you when you step out on the course.

What does your current putting practice regime look like and are you sure it is helping you to hole more putts on the course?

All too often, we see golfers of all standards, from weekend players to tour pros, “working” on their putting with an array of all kinds of gadgets and training aids – from putting gates to alignment mirrors, and chalk lines to lasers.

While they might look like they are working hard, what are they actually achieving? What happens when you have to leave your putting aids in the locker room before you head out on the course?

Using training aids can be helpful but the main issue with the vast majority of them is that they focus your attention on what you and your putter need to do at the start line of the putt.

While starting the ball on line is part of the equation, that start line will depend greatly on the pace you hit any putt.

Think of all the training aids you use or have seen. Do they focus your attention on line or pace? What is more important, line or pace? Pace determines the line, pace gives you options on line. Conversely, focusing your attention on line, which almost all putting aids do subconsciously, limits you to one pace, perfect pace.

If all your attention is exclusively on line, how can you possibly get the pace right? Think about that for a minute. If pace determines line, why do we spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on the line?

Over and above that, if you spend all your time practising with training aids, what happens when you have to pack them away in your golf bag or leave them in the locker room when you head to the course? If you become so reliant on certain aids that you can only hole putts when using them, what happens when you are in a situation where you are not allowed to use them – ie on the golf course?

You get to the green, mark your ball, read the green and now you have to create a putt with no mirror to check your eyeline, no rails to guide your stroke and no start-line gates to go through. You become so accustomed to having all these gadgets then all of a sudden, your comfort blanket has been removed.

Having spent so much time training your stroke and start line, generally hitting straight putt after straight putt from a fixed point, you are faced with a tricky 15-foot, downhill, left to right putt for par.

Now, you have to get the pace right as you don’t want to rush it 4 feet past or leave it 3 feet short bang on line. Your training aids haven’t exactly prepared you for this scenario.

You can’t rely on your gadgets on the course, so why spend so much time practising with them? All the training or practice you have done bears little or no resemblance to what you experience on the golf course, so why invest so much time and money on them?

To make the most of your time on the practice putting green, take what you will be using, and indeed are allowed to use, on the course. Namely, your putter and a golf ball.

Don’t take three golf balls: after all, you don’t get a second or third attempt on the golf course. Leave your training aids behind and focus on holing one putt at a time.

By using one ball, your attention will be on getting that ball into the hole – not on your stroke, not on your eyeline and not on the start line. By focusing on what the ball needs to do rather than you and your putter, you can now start to pay attention to the finish line – the hole.

In order to become a truly great putter, you need to learn the skill of predicting what the ball needs to do to go in the hole.

Prediction-based on one opportunity, just as you have on the course.

Not prediction-based on what you learned from your first or second attempt. If you hole your third attempt from the same spot, you are not learning prediction, you are basically learning from and reacting to what happened on your previous attempts. Again, this is not a luxury you are allowed when you play.

If you must use your putting gates, make better use of them and place them just short of the point you want your ball to enter the hole. After all, the finish line is more important than the start line.

To hole more putts, it is essential to create good putts not good putting strokes. The paradox here is that as you get better at controlling your golf ball, your technique improves.

We are led to believe that the stroke creates the putt, whereas we have seen sufficient evidence to suggest that the putt in fact creates the stroke.

Work on holing putts and your stroke and strike will improve and here is the evidence to support that.

“My stroke has improved technically in every area, and I have spent precisely no time working on my stroke.”

Sports Publications’ commercial director and scratch handicapper Tom Irwin is amazed by the transformation in his putting.

Before

“I have always been a negative putter. In all senses of the word: negative about my abilities, and with a negative approach on the course. I have never really been comfortable with my technique, I have always struggled with strike and therefore pace and distance control. Rounds with putts in the mid-30s are commonplace.

“When Gary and Karl asked us to work with them on The Lost Art of Putting it was a privilege to spend so much time with them, listen to what they had to say about the ‘art’ of putting and, of course, read the book.

“I have to admit that it took me a long time to convert, at first sceptical about what felt like a non-scientific, non-technical approach. In search of the answer I went on a SAM putting lab late last year and the results were predictably awful.

“So, over winter, away from competitive golf I have taken on board many of the principles of The Lost of Art of Putting. Like visualisation, reading putts from the low side and practice strokes while looking at the hole. Plus I have used many of the practice drills they recommend.

After

“I felt that my putting was getting better, but I wanted some reassurance so I went back on the SAM Lab and the results were staggering.

“As you can see from the numbers, my stroke has improved technically in every area, and I have spent precisely no time working on my stroke. Amazing!”

How trusting his technique has transformed McIlroy’s putting

What can you say about Rory McIlroy the hasn’t been said before? His ball striking is off the charts. He is arguably the best driver of the golf ball in the modern game. When he plays his best, he is virtually untouchable. His recent run of form has been incredible!

Over the last six weeks, Rory’s record has been pretty special and elevated him to the top of the FedEx Cup rankings, amassing a cool $4.5 million along the way.

  • Sony Tournament of Champions: T4th
  • Farmers Insurance Open: T5th
  • Genesis Open: T4th
  • WGC-Mexico Championship: 2nd
  • Arnold Palmer Invitational: T6th
  • The Players Championship: 1st

Rory is currently the hottest player on the plant right now but the general consensus among the armchair experts is that he can’t putt.

En-route to winning at Sawgrass, he made 21 birdies and an eagle over four days, finishing on 16-under-par, one shot clear of the evergreen Jim Furyk.

Can’t putt? Really?

Trust me, it is impossible to win round that course, or any other golf course for that matter, if you can’t putt. Granted, his putting may not quite match up to the exceptionally high standards of his long game but he is working on it and it is clearly paying dividends.

As he approaches his 30th birthday, Rory is becoming a more complete golfer than ever before and I would not be at all surprised if his best days are ahead of him rather than behind him, as many have been suggesting in recent weeks.

All the doubters who have been calling him out and saying he can’t get the job done at the weekend will hopefully be overdosing on humble pie after his history-making performance at Sawgrass last weekend.

McIlroy is not just a great ball striker and a phenomenal athlete but a serial winner. He may not have won as often as some might think he should have but he has won all over the world and won big.

Rory McIlroy putting

Rory is a bright guy. He knows what he needs to do in order to improve and embraces that at every opportunity. In an interview after winning The Players, he said: “Honestly, I think it was all those experiences coming close and not winning early in the season that helped me today.”

Rather than beat himself up for not winning, he put those experiences to good use, knowing one day they would be beneficial to him.

The first time I saw Rory in the flesh was during a practice round in Qatar way back in 2008 when he asked if he join one of the guys I was coaching for the back nine. At the time he was a slightly chubby with a shock of curly hair sticking out from under his cap. He hit the ball a country mile, his short game was razor sharp and he putted with incredible confidence and freedom. While he didn’t hole everything from from everywhere, he certainly looked like he could.

Above all, he was very tuned in to what he needed to do on the golf course in order to construct a score. It was fairly evident way back then that he had a very high golf IQ.

Rory McIlroy putting: So what’s changed?

Since that first encounter, his body shape has obviously changed, he has become an even better ball striker, he has fantastic imagination and creativity, and while his putting may not have progressed at quite the same rate, he has continued to work that aspect of his game.

He has sought counsel from Phil Kenyon, who has done some great technical work with him. He also spends a good amount of time with Brad Faxon, universally recognised as one of the all time great putters. He has looked at putting from both a technical and an artistic point of view in a bid to find the best way forward for Rory McIlroy.

Faxon’s take on the art of putting allowed Rory to “free up my head more than my stroke”.

He added: “I sort of felt like I had been complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bit bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Rory McIlroy putting

When he trusts his technique and just lets his talent and considerable skills take over – guess what? – he starts to hole putts like he used to when he was winning majors and making the rest of he field look decidedly average at times.

Long may that continue.

With the Masters looming large on the horizon only a few weeks away, Rory’s current form will surely make him one of if not the favourite to slip on that coveted Green Jacket on April 14.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the players at the Champions Dinner in 2020 when they sit down to an Ulster fry and pints of Guinness?

Golf is in a much better place when its superstars are grabbing all the headlines and McIlroy is unquestionably a superstar. Even those who think he “can’t putt” must agree with that.

Keep up the good work, Rory, and we all look forward to seeing you ease into that Green Jacket some day soon.

Improve your putting with this ladder drill

Gary Nicol and Karl Morris are co-authors of the best-selling book The Lost Art Of Putting, so who better to give us some putting tips? This time, they show us a drill that involves just a few tees…

The ladder drill involves a handful of tees and will help you to improve your putting. The first thing you do is make a semicircle of tees around the back of the hole, a grip length away from the hole.

You then place a tee a few feet away, then another tee a few feet past and so on depending on how far you want to go back. The aim of the game is to hole the putt but make sure you don’t go outside of the tees behind the hole.

If you come up short or go past the tees you need to start again. If you hole the putt or finish in between the tees and the hole, you can move onto the next station.

You don’t need to move to the next station on the ladder. If you want you can go from the first to the third or simply whatever range of putting you want to work on the most. The only rule is that to move onto a new station you must either hole the putt, or make sure the ball does not travel past the tees.

Watch the video at the top of the page for more advice from Gary and Karl.

How to make the most of your time on the putting green

How can Trackman performance software help you to improve your putting? Gary Nicol is joined by Trackman expert Matt Wiley at Archerfield Links to talk through a few of the parameters that will help you improve on the greens.

Here, they ask what you would do if you had 10 spare minutes on the putting green before a round.

“If you get the pace right all of a sudden putting becomes a lot easier. You take away the opportunity to three-putt if you get the pace right as you tend to be not too far off with the line.

So if you can do some exercises on your pace putting you really can help towards getting rid of those three-putts altogether.

If you are able to use a Trackman whether that be with your local pro or have access elsewhere, being able to measure your putts is a great ability to have. It really shows you your tenancies and being able to know your distances is a great way to learn.”

Gary hit four consecutive putts around 16.5 feet. Without Trackman, he wouldn’t be able to appreciate the distance the ball travelled.

The Trackman putting performance software is there so you don’t have to guess. Knowing what numbers your putts are generating is key to learning what you need to improve.

Watch the video at the top of the page for a full explanation from Gary and Matt.

The Lost Art of Putting Podcast – Episode 6

Episode 6

The Lost Art of Putting

The Lost Art of Putting, by Karl Morris and Gary Nicol and featuring a foreword from 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, is available in hardback and for Kindle from Amazon in the UK and US.