Inbee Park hit five buckets of range balls when she was first introduced to golf, but it wasn’t until she got to the practice green that she was hooked on the sport. She just liked the way the ball fell into the cup and the sound that made. The rest was history as Inbee went on to become one the greatest LPGA golfers in history, and perhaps the greatest putter of all time. Lately, I’ve been missing that sound of the ball falling into the cup as cups are now filled with foam to protect us from the coronavirus which lurks on hard surfaces. I too love that sound and revel when a difficult putt finds the bottom. I can’t quite think of anything else in life that resembles that sound or is so satisfying. Perhaps a bass jumping from a still pond at dusk; or the sound of leaves moving in a fresh breeze on a hot summer day; or the purring of a cat sitting contentedly on your lap. All quite lovely and soothing, but lacking that one element that makes the clink of a golf ball falling into a hole so special. What is that element? When I figure it out and can put it into words, I’ll let you know. Or perhaps you have the words for it.
So how does one approach putting–essentially a game within the game of golf? Do you break it down scientifically like Bryson DeChambeau, or do you give it a quick look then give it a pop like Brandt Snedeker? Do you use a blade or a mallet? Do you grip it left hand low or right hand low? Fat grip or thin?Overlap or reverse overlap, claw or pencil? Long or short shaft? Smooth or scored clubface? So many combinations and permutations.
At its core, putting is pretty straightforward. There’s the distance aspect which determines how hard to strike the ball; and there’s the direction aspect which determines what line to start the putt on. Once you figure out these two elements through a proper reading of the putt, then you address the ball with a square, comfortable stance, eyes directly over the ball, weight evenly distributed, grip whatever feels comfortable, looking at the intended line a few times, then returning the gaze at the ball, and finally beginning the stroke, either straight back and forth like a pendulum or an arc moving the putter slightly to the inside going back, striking the ball squarely then moving slightly left on the follow-through. The stroke is made predominately with the arms and shoulders, pivoting around a quiet head. Two other details: Keep the back of whichever hand is low on the grip square to the line at impact; and endeavor to hit the sweet spot on every putt you strike. That spot is usually marked by a line or dot on top of the putter head.
Whichever technique you use is entirely up to you, as you can see by watching any tournament on TV. The main challenge with putting is plotting those two seemingly simple aspects: speed and direction. The goal is to ideally jar the putt, or, having missed it, miss it close enough to have a tap in with the next putt. One putt is best. Two putts are good. Three putts, or more, cause gray hairs to immediately sprout. So, how to read a putt? (Without taking a whole lot of time, aggravating the group behind you.)
First, as you’re walking to the green (even if you use a power cart, you still need to walk some to the green), look at your ball in relation to the hole and get a general sense of the direction the ball will travel. This saves some time. Mark and clean your ball, if necessary. Then stand behind the ball, squat, if possible, and examine the terrain between your ball and the hole. I like to employ a plumb-bob method, with the putter hanging straight down covering the ball to see where it might break, and assess how much break to expect. But that’s just personal preference. You can still judge this with the eye alone. If you’re puzzled by the break, and if there is no one waiting behind you, position yourself behind the hole and examine the putt from that perspective to help solve the conundrum, but I emphasize you should not delay play if a group is waiting in the fairway. Even the pros have time limits, subject to penalty, on how long they can take to read a putt.
Now that you have the direction down, pick a spot a few feet from the ball as a place to aim your putter when addressing the ball. This is similar to spot bowling, and was used by Sam Snead back in the day. It’s a spot you think the ball will have to travel over on its roll to the cup. With direction and aim established, the next step of reading a putt is perhaps the hardest: determine how hard to hit the putt. This will determine how far back to swing the club on your backswing. DeChambeau even calculates on the practice green how many inches to draw the club back for each length putt. You can imagine why this is so important for two reasons. First, there is the expression for putt reading, “Never up, never in.” If you’re short, you haven’t given the putt a chance to go in. But if you’re too long, you run the risk of three putting. The ideal speed is to hit the ball hard enough to get there, but no more than 17 inches beyond if you miss.
If things go your way, and you drop the putt or the next, pat yourself on the back and move on. Or if things don’t go as planned, pat yourself on the back for trying your hardest, and move on. Putting is challenging. In my opinion, the best Tour pros to watch around their positive attitude towards putting are Webb Simpson, Matthew Wolff, Brandt Snedeker, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Bernhard Langer, Brooke Henderson, and, of course, Inbee Park.
Congratulations to Bryson DeChambeau for coming from behind to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic. With his sixth win in three years on Tour, he is truly a force to be reckoned with. Monstrous drives (averaging 350!), leading to short iron approach shots (how about a 230 yard 8-iron out of heavy rough!), leading to makeable birdie putts, resulting in consistent low scores. That combination will win a lot of tournaments, including, I suspect, a number of majors over his career. Could we be seeing the start of a sequel to the Tiger era…with Matt Wolff, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, and a number of others, in hot pursuit?
On the other hand, young DeChambeau revealed a bit of a petulant nature when he excoriated a cameraman during the third round of that tournament. He doesn’t mind being amply covered bombing one of his signature drives, but he objected to being filmed slamming his club into the sand after a bad bunker shot, muttering some expletive, and making bogey.
“Sir, what is the need to watch me that long?” DeChambeau was heard chastising the cameraman. And later, in front of the press, “I mean, I understand it’s his job to video me, but at the same point, I think we need to start protecting our players out here compared to showing a potential vulnerability and hurting someone’s image….I don’t mean anything by it, we just care a lot about the game. For that to damage our brand like that, that’s not cool in the way we act because if you actually meet me in person, I’m not too bad of a dude, I don’t think.”
No, you’re not too bad of a dude, but lighten up, Bryson. The kind of privacy you’re wanting isn’t available to tour pros, especially one as good as you. Fans want to see the warts along with the wonders.
This week, it’s the Workday Charity Open, taking place the week prior to the Memorial Tournament. Again, with a strong field, it fills the week vacated when the 2020 John Deere Classic was cancelled on May 28. Both the Workday and the Memorial will be played at Jack’s Muirfield Village course in Dublin, Ohio. And it, too, will be played without fans, as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic.
Be well. Stay safe. Enjoy life.