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.
“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.
“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!”