I mentioned a home brewed putting drill in yesterday’s post, in which you attempt to putt 3-footers between two pint glasses (3″ apart) in a row; 100 putts per day, divided into 10 rounds of 10.
I’m conscious of the fact that made up drills might not be the best to follow, and that it would probably benefit me to incorporate a little more ‘science’ into my training. I’m sure my putting coach (Andy Gorman) will be able to help me with that in our next session, but I wanted to keep myself busy with something in the meantime.
I performed far better in this drill than I expected, sinking 96 out of 100 putts.
This got me to thinking about the importance of quality training versus the quantity of training. After all, the last thing I’d want to do is sacrifice quality for quantity, nor do I want to lull myself into a false sense of security by thinking I’m doing well when I might only be fooling myself.
I’m tempted to think that my drill wasn’t anywhere near what I would consider ‘perfect’ practice (if such a thing existed). For example, perhaps 8-10 golf balls deflected off a pint glass and through the gap; I don’t know whether those balls would have sunk into a standard 4¼” cup.
But that’s not all. Here’s a bigger question: when it comes to putting practice, is the ball going into the hole the best outcome? I’d argue no.
I’ll explain my thinking. There are three things a golfer needs to get right when they putt the ball. He must:
- Aim along the correct line
- Hit the ball along that line
- Hit the ball with enough pace (but not too much) to fall in the hole
If you break putting down, I believe those are the three things you need to get right.
Now consider this: what if I sink a three foot putt but have actually got all three of the above things wrong in the process?
This is easily doable. Assuming an even lie, I could erroneously line up the ball left of centre, then drag the ball right slightly (thus setting the ball off on the correct path), and hit with just enough power to sink deadweight into the hole (as opposed to the 12″ of carry that Andy recommends).
To put it another way, assuming that the three variables listed above are the only three fundamentals you need to get right when putting, there are seven different ways (i.e. differing combinations of the above fundamentals) to screw the process up and just one way to do it totally right.
So when it comes to sinking a three foot putt, you can fool yourself a number of times, in many different ways, that you did everything correctly.
If I were to honestly assess the my putting today, I would estimate that perhaps only 20-30 of my putts were aimed correctly and hit along the intended line with the appropriate amount of pace (to reasonable tolerances).
That puts a whole different perspective on my performance, doesn’t it?
With the above in mind, I’ve got some ideas on how to practice putting more mindfully, with the intended end result being more value for each practice putt you hit.
Assuming you’re going to line up your ball as I discussed under Aiming a Putt in yesterday’s post, you could go through a simple exercise to see what your aiming is like.
First, aim a ball at a small target (using the line or arrow on the ball) then take a photo. Upload the photo to your computer and draw a line (using basic photo editing software like Paint in Windows or Preview on a Mac) extending from the ball to the target to see how accurate you were.
This exercise might reveal a trend you have in aiming (for example, perhaps you often line the ball up a little to the left of centre).
Out of curiosity I decided to give this exercise a go three times from around three feet. Here was the outcome (click to enlarge):
About as close as you’ll get
This is a small sample size obviously, but it is interesting to note that I was considerably off target on one putt; probably not far enough off target to miss a three footer, but certainly enough to miss a longer putt.
I intend to run this experiment again from various distances, lining up the ball as if it were under match conditions, to see how reliable my aim is. I’ll need to be getting this right the vast majority of the time (ideally always) in order to keep my putting reliable.
Line and Length
‘Line and length’ is a term borrowed from cricket (another sport I love), but if it’s not already in wide usage in golf, perhaps it should be. After all, both are key to putting. You have to set the ball off on the right line, and you have to hit it at a good ‘length’ (i.e. pace).
But let’s start with the obvious: you might hit the ball on a perfect line and length, but it’ll be for naught if you didn’t line it up properly first.
This is where a line drawn around the circumference of your ball can really help you ascertain what went right (and wrong) in any given putt. While plenty of golf balls have a short line or arrow that can be used as a guide, I prefer a longer line to give you a better indication of how your ball is lined up.
For a decent homemade solution for drawing lines (pictured above), push your ball half way into the end of a toilet roll tube. You’ll then be able to draw a pretty clean line around its circumference with a felt tip or wet ink pen. As an alternative, I’ve just ordered one of these and will let you know how I get on with it in a future post.
To test the ‘line’ of your stroke, I would recommend removing a target altogether. Just focus on getting the line penned onto your ball to go end-over-end when you strike it. If you’re doing that, you’re hitting the ball straight, which means that (assuming an even lie) the ball will go into the hole if you aim it right and give it enough juice.
Speaking of juice, you may quickly notice by observing the ball’s travel that even if the line starts out going end-over-end, as it slows the line will wobble. This demonstrates that lower speeds have an effect on the rotation of the ball, which leads to the obvious conclusion that the faster the ball is hit (assuming it is hit cleanly), the longer the ball will travel true.
Once you’ve got your line nailed down, I would recommend bringing a distance target into the equation. At this point you could revert to aiming for a particular target, as you’re going to want to achieve both the best line and length to hit that target.
However, I would still argue that you shouldn’t use a cup (or something similar). Instead, pick a small, flat target that represents the cup (like a penny), followed by another small target around 12″ beyond that represents where you want to hit the ball to. As I alluded to in my previous post, you don’t want to hit to the cup; you want to hit through it in order to give yourself the best possible chance of sinking the putt.
In this case, a good putt would be represented by three things:
- The line on the ball travelling end-over-end
- The ball travelling over the initial target
- The ball stopping within a reasonable distance of the secondary target
Until I’m shown otherwise, that’s how I’ll be judging my putts from now on. I’ll put this to Andy when I next see him and find out what he has to say on the matter.