“Hitting a golf ball and putting have nothing in common. They're two different games. You work all your life to perfect a repeating swing that will get you to the greens, and then you have to try to do something that is totally unrelated. There shouldn't be any cups, just flag sticks. And then the man who hit the most fairways and greens and got closest to the pins would be the tournament winner.”--- Nine-time Major winner Ben Hogan (1912 to 1997).
I am in an unusual place in my life right now. A fair number of my putts are going in. I wish I knew why. Last fall my putting ranged between uninspired and crummy and my handicap went from 11 to 13. However, over the last month, a decent percentage of my 3- to 6-footers have been finding the bottom of the cup and three putts have been rare. I wouldn’t describe this period in my life as being in The Zone, but I am not looking at putts with fear and trembling.
While I know I will never “own” this current feeling of confidence, I have been looking for permanent truths, clues and insights that I can rely upon for the rest of my life. The first step in my quest for putting knowledge was to identify “the best clutch putters of all time.” After looking at over a dozen articles and polls, the names that came up most often by far were:
*When Travis and Jones were active players, the British Amateur, The (British) Open Championship, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur were considered to be the Majors.
While many other names such as George Low, Jr., Dave Stockton, Loren Roberts and Brad Faxon were often mentioned among “the best putters of all time,” I went with great putters who won Majors. In other words, I went with “clutch performers” versus “putting wizards.” As Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “No pressure, no diamonds.”
Below are the essential fundamentals and lessons that I hope will keep my putting mind from straying too far off line:
“When I came to study putting at the beginning I realized that there were two chief essentials in it, which, once mastered, made it comparatively easy. The first of these essentials is that the ball shall be made to travel in the proper line for the hole; and the second, that just shall be put into sufficient strength the stroke as to ensure the ball reaching the hole with so very little to spare that there shall be no risk of its running far past.” --- Walter Travis, who won the U.S. Amateur in 1900, ’01 & ’03 and the British Amateur in 1904. (My takeaway: Die the ball at the hole.)
“It is always best to remember that even the little ones (putts) count.” --- Bobby Jones winner of 13 Majors, including the Grand Slam in 1930.
“Look at the ball's original position until the ball itself vanishes from sight. If your head moves, everything is for naught." --- South African Bobby Locke, who won The British Open Championship in 1949, ‘50, ‘52 , ’57.
“If you overshoot the hole on your first putt, fight the tendency to be timid on the return putt. If you've seen the line in the first putt, you have a good idea of how the second one will break. Armed with this knowledge, give the comeback putt a firm, smooth, accelerating stroke. There should be no hesitation or jerkiness about it.” – Arnold Palmer winner of seven Majors --- Masters 1958, ‘60, ‘62 & ‘64; U.S Open: 1960, and The (British) Open 1961 & ‘62.
“My stance is comfortable because my weight is distributed evenly on both feet, my arms swing free of my body and I bend forward at the waist only far enough to get my eyes directly over the head of the putter.” --- Billy Casper, winner of three Majors – Masters, 1970; U.S. Open, 1959 & ‘66. He had 51 PGA Tour victories, ranking him 7th all-time.
“Thus for the sake of tempo more than anything else, I belong to the stroking rather than to the rapping or popping school of thought. My objective is not to ‘hit’ the ball, but to swing the putter back with the wrists and forearms at a slow and deliberate tempo, and then swing it through the ball at exactly the same tempo with a reciprocating wrist-forearm motion.” --- Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 Majors, finished 2nd 19 times and 3rd nine times.
“All I think about is accelerating the putter through the ball and making solid contact. I want to meet the ball with the sweet spot of the putter.” --- Tom Watson, from his bestselling book, Getting up and Down (Random House, 1983).
“Leaning over the ball, I don't think precise or mechanical thoughts. I just stay loose, comfortable and easy. I think of the pace I want the ball to travel, then picture how far to the right or left ball should travel around the hole. Think of it this way: The object is to see how close you can come to the hole every time. The bonus is when, and if, the ball falls.” --- Ben Crenshaw, two-time winner of The Masters (1984 & ‘95).
“As for my hands, I think of them as working as one unit. That's easier to achieve if they exert the same pressure on the club. Grip lightly with both hands: Even a small child should be able to pull the club away from you.” --- Seve Ballesteros, who won The Masters in 1980 & ‘83 and The Open Championship in 1979, ‘84 & ’88.
“A good putting stroke requires smooth rhythm and a steady, repeating pace. One of the secrets to accomplishing this is to do everything else smoothly and repetitively, too. I’m talking about my pre-putt routine, or the series of things I do before I actually pull the trigger with the putter. --- Tiger Woods, winner of 82 PGA tournaments, which is tied for 1st all-time, and 15 Majors.
Maybe one or two of these tips/reminders will help your putting, which statistics tell us represent 40% (or more) of the total number of strokes taken every round.