Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Basic Training for Putting Skills

Basic Training for Putting Skills

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To keep things as simple as possible, use training aids that train specific skills -- reading putts, aiming the putter, stroking straight, and controlling distance. Here are a few basic tools:


You need to learn to perceive the orientation of the fall line straight uphill/downhill thru the hole; to perceive the curvature of the path over the last three feet or so into the cup at your usual delivery pace; and to perceive the starting line that matches this final curvature as well as the energy or pace in terms of how far along this start line to imagine a straight putt.

Fall line: a wide jar cap and a marble works great to show you the orientation of uphill / downhill. Get a jar cap that is 3-4 inches wide (wider is better, more sensitive to slope), set it down flat on the green, and place a marble inside it. The marble will roll to the lowest point inside the cap, and the fall line at that location on the green is then the line from the marble thru the center of the cap to the opposite highest point in the cap. If you draw an arrow inside the jar cap with a Sharpie pen, the marble will settle at the low point and then you rotate the cap until the back end of the arrow is beneath the marble and then the arrow aims straight uphill.

Stracka.com Green Imaging Showing Equal-Eleveation Contour Lines and Perpendicular Fall Lines (Arrows) Aiming Downhill

CD Disc as Model of Sloping Green at Hole, with Fall Line Indicated 6-12 Uphill

General "Spider" Pattern of Breaks Into Hole once fall Line Orientation is Perceived

Exelys Breakmaster Digital Green Reader

Swash Bubble Reader

Curvature of final line into cup: use two tee pegs at the lip of the cup to form a "gate" for the ball to pass thru into the hole to indicate the correct entry path of the curve you perceive. For example, an uphill right-to-left breaking putt might enter the hole somewhat to the right of the point on the lip that is closest to you, slightly uphill. see this entry path and then orient a nice gate with two tee pegs to remind yourself what you perceive.

Mike Shannon Putting Collar

Start line: nothing beats an elevated string line. Identify a target spot near the hole (see my movie clip about using the final curve to then see a target spot on the fall line above the hole a certain distance), insert one stick of the elevated string here and insert the other stick at the ball so that the string stretches taut from target spot to ball (place the second stick well past the ball so as not to interfere with the stroke so the string runs straight above the ball to the target spot). Then aim straight under the string and imagine a dead straight level putt at the opposite stick that will arrive at the stick with your usual delivery speed, even though you actually "hope and pray" that the ball will merely start straight and then break downhill off this start line towards and ultimately into the cup, all as planned and visualized. Alternatively, without using a string line, just place a tee peg on the fall line above the cup where the target spot is located, aim straight at the tee, and imagine a straight level putt to the tee peg that just bumps it at the usual delivery speed.

Beeline String

Russ Bennett's TruePutt Aimer

Phil Kinney's ProAlign


So: jar cap, marble, two tee pegs, string line.


Once a specific target spot is identified, the skill of aiming the putter at the spot includes the skill of standing at the address position beside the aimed putter face and perceiving where in fact the putter face aims at some distance across the green -- whether left or right or the intended target spot or straight at the target spot. This skill breaks down into two aspects: 1) the ability to look at the ground and then roll the face sideways in a fashion that makes the line of sight travel along the ground in a straight line, and 2) the ability to set up to the aimed putter face so that this line along the ground generated by turning the face is the SAME line of aim the putter face points along.

Squaring up to a putter face with the head and eyes: This skill is whether you can orient the midline of your body to the top edge of the putter face as aimed, so a plane thru the middle of the body front to back coincides with or is parallel (usually slightly behind to the right for a right-hander) to a plane that enters the ground vertically and includes the top edge of the putter face. Holding a simple stick, or business card edgewise, or hand edgewise in front of your face so the line of the stick / card / hand is vertical when you stand with good posture, and then bending with the stick or card edge or hand moving with your bending face as you set the head and eyes downward to face the putter head will show you whether the midline of your body / head matches or parallels the top line of the putter face. This will set the horizontal line of your skull across your eyes to the same aim as the putter face.

Running the eyes in a straight line along the ground: The skill here is to face the putter sweetspot with your face as a whole by aiming the bridge of the nose at the sweetspot as if an arrow was sticking level thru the head from the back of the skull out the bridge of the nose: aim this arrow at the sweetspot to aim the face. Once the face is aimed, just look with the eyes where the face aims. That is, direct the eyeballs straight out of the face, not angled down the noise or cheek the way people usually do. The training aid here is the hand held edgewise beneath both pupils to prevent looking down the nose and to force a gaze direction that looks straight out wherever the face aims. Stand with good posture at address with the hand "saluting" horizontally level beneath both pupils so you look just above the top of the hand, bend the face and hand together into the address posture and wait until the bending makes the putter sweetspot come into view above the hand. Then you have "faced" the sweetspot and not gazed down the nose to look at the sweetspot, but are using a straight-out gaze that looks wherever the face is aimed. Alternatively, you can take a cheap pair of glasses or work goggles and place strips of tape to block the lower half of the lenses, making a nice straight top edge of tape that runs horizontally just below the line that connects the two pupils. Then, wearing these glasses will force you to bend properly to "face" the putter sweetspot and the top edge of the tape line will match the aim of the putter face.

Yes, Face and Eyes Aimed the Same

No, Face Aims Level, Eyes Gaze Down Cheeks

Eyebeam Headset

Clyde Melancon's Laser Aiming Glasses

Running the eyes in a straight line along the ground: Another aspect of this skill is rotating or swiveling the head like an apple on a stick. At address facing the ball and sweetspot, if you properly swivel the head to roll the face down the line towards the target while holding your index finger tip on the button of your golf cap, the button will merely spin beneath the finger tip and not slide out from beneath the finger tip. No training aid required other than a finger. Alternatively, to learn the proper head roll, IF the head is rolled properly when squared up to a putter face as aimed and when also "facing" the putter sweetspot, THEN the eyes will remain running along a single straight line. To learn whether the eyes are staying running along the same straight line, you need a straight line and some way to notice exactly where the eyes are aiming while the head swivels down the line. Any line works fine, such as the line of tiles on a kitchen floor or a string line or the baseboard along a wall. For noticing whether the eyes stay aimed along this line, make a telescope with your right hand fist to form a tiny tube of air no thicker than a small drinking straw, and aim this telescope tube level out of your right eye so it aims wherever the face aims. Then square up to the chosen line and bend into the address posture until the line shows up in the tiny telescope. Then rotate or swivel or roll the head like an apple on a stick and watch to see whether the line remains at all times inside the tiny view of the telescope as the face rolls the eyes down the line. So long as the line stays inside the telescope, the head roll is proceeding properly.

Running the eyes in a straight line along the ground: The final aspect to this skill is being able to identify the exact target spot once the face has rolled down the line and now points in the direction of the target spot. the trouble is that with two eyes open, the visual scene over there at the end of the line has too much information and the golfer may be puzzled about where exactly is the target spot. The training aid that identifies this is the same telescope used above with the fist: whatever blade of grass shows up in the tiny telescope at the end of the line IS where the putter face actually aims. Alternatively, you can take a cheap pair of glasses or work goggles and use a Sharpie pen to locate a single dot on the right lens that is directly opposite the right pupil when the right eyeball looks straight out wherever the face aims. Stand in front of a mirror with the glasses with good posture and look with the right eye straight and level at your own pupil in the mirror, extend the Sharpie point at the mirror as if to "touch" the pupil and then draw the point back to the right lens of the glasses while still appearing to "touch" the mirror pupil. Once the Sharpie point gets to the lens, the pen will "dot" the exact piece of the lens the line of sight passes thru when the eyeball aims wherever the face aims. Then square up to a putter face and face the sweetspot so that the Sharpie dot appears to cover the sweetspot, and then swivel the head and face to run the dot down the line like a laser dot, and at the end of the line the spot where the putter face actually aims is identified by the dot covering a spot on the ground. This spot will either be left, right, or directly aimed at the intended target, but will in any case show where in fact the putter face really aims.

So, finger, business card, stick, string line, glasses and Sharpie pen.


Putting where the putter face aims: Once the putter face aims correctly at the target, the skill is whether the golfer can send or start the ball down the line towards the target. This translates into whether the golfer can start the ball rolling wherever the putter face has been aimed. The best aid for this is a T shape drawn into the green with your finger tip, tracing the putter face to make the top of the T and then scratching a straight line away from the sweetspot of the putter to indicate the stem of the T. Then place a ball on the stem a little lower down than the intersection point, square the putter face up to the top of the T, and make a stroke that rolls the ball off the far end of the stem. If you putt two balls off the stem with the same pace, the second ball will follow whatever contour there is on the green along the same curve the first ball took and end up bumping the first ball like two freight cars hooking up in a railway yard. Alternatively, you can use an elevated string line that has been arranged straight uphill / downhill or across truly flat and level green and putt ball beneath the string. Alternatively, you can locate a tee peg several feet away down the line of the stem and putt balls so they all bump the tee peg.

So, finger, string line, tee peg.


Controlling distance: The skill is whether you can roll a ball a specific distance across the green and stop the rolling where intended, consistently, with a fair degree of accuracy. The most important aspect to this is timing the stroke back and thru. Timing can vary, but one important timing to experience is the natural swinging timing of gravity, as this is the "floor" timing underneath all human movement. A simple way to experience and practice this is to tie a weight at the end of a string and wrap the other end of string around one of your fingers so the weight dangles not quite to the ground when your hands are positioned on the putter handle at address. Then start swinging the putter back and forth so that the weight and the putter head sync up. Alternatively, place a dime on the top of the putter head and try to swing the putter back and forth so the dime does not slide off, slowing increasing the size of the strokes. Also vary the tightness of your grip pressure to observe whether you can maintain the smoothness of the stroking even with tight grip pressure and hand-arm muscle tension, sometimes holding tightly and sometimes holding more loosely. I do not recommend a metronome, because these are either-or beats set to abstract timings and what you need instead is something that tracks or syncs up with whatever timing you personally actually use. So I recommend swinging the putter back and forth and then learning how to whistle the back and thru in a continuous rising-falling whistling that matches the timing of whatever stroke pattern you actually are using. The whistling just keeps you reminded to stay at the same timing without subtle speeding up or slowing down.

The StimpDimple -- Ball resting on platform during stroke

Harold Swash's Rhythmizer

Controlling distance: Another aspect of good distance control and its timing, at least with a no-hands shoulder stroke, is NOT using the hands or arms independently of the shoulder rocking. This translate in the body to NOT allowing the arm pits to open and close during the back and thru swinging. In the body, you can train this with a glove or ball under one or two arm pits while making strokes, or by a bathrobe sash tying the two upper arms into a stable relationship that prevents the arm pits opening or closing, or by placing a golf ball between the top of the putter handle and the inside of the left wrist (right-hander) and making strokes so the ball does not fall out due to changes in the wrist angle to the handle angle. Not using the hands or arms is more than just a "form" issue for accurate line control; done properly the non-use is also a timing issue for distance control. Combine this aspect with the weight on the string behind the handle or the dime on the putter head as described above to observe and learn that swing the shoulders without using the hands and arms also corresponds to good timing. Using the hands and arms independently of the shoulder frame "speeds up" the putter head in a complicated manner that makes "touch" control for distance harder to manage accurately and consistently, so you want to focus on using the shoulder stroking without hands or arms to time the swinging back and thru. This raises the consciousness of the golfer from awareness of hands and arms to an awareness of the shoulder frame, the shoulders (especially the lead shoulder) and the putter head as a unit, coordinating the lead shoulder motion with the putter head motion and eliminating the arms and hands from the motion.

Bickler Putting Aid

Ego Putting Aid

Putting Connection

Jim Flood / Ernie Els Rock Roller

Controlling distance: Another aspect of distance control is clear definition of the place across the green where the ball must come to a stop in its rolling. For this, simply tee up a ball on the green and then walk away from it and putt a ball to roll up to the teed-up ball and just jostle it on the tee peg without knocking it off. Alternatively, putt one ball off across the green to some "whatever" distance and then roll a second ball exactly the same line and distance to just bump the first ball. Alternatively, perch a ball on the lip of a cup and walk off to a distance and roll a ball to the cup so that the rolling ball just bumps the perched ball over into the hole. On all these, vary the distances, using the same "end location" with good focus. Alternatively, stick a tee peg down into the green so the top of the peg is just below the level of the grass and about even with the dirt: step back some goodly distance and roll balls to this tee peg with the intention of "teeing up" the putted ball and see how long it takes, for example from 15 feet away with whatever break is present, until you can tee up a putted ball. Alternatively, set up to a long breaking putt and visualize how the ball will curl into the cup at the end of the putt and make a circle beside the cup oriented off the cup so that the final curve passes straight thru this circle. Make the circle perhaps as wide as a basketball or soccer ball. Then from far away back at the ball, putt so that the ball ends up and stops inside this circle next to the hole on the high side of the hole, without entering the hole. Alternatively, identify the fall line at a cup and place a plank or golf club along the fall line above the hole so the line of the obstacle touches the far side of the cup offset parallel to the central fall line thru the cup. Then putt breaking putts to this hole so that the ball does not run quickly across the obstacle or bounce violently off the obstacle, but cozies up to the obstacle with good distance control.

Fall Line on Far Side of Cup as Distance / Touch Barrier

Ball Teed up on Green as Touch Target

Ball Perched on Lip as Touch Target -- Bump this Perched Ball into the Cup with the Putted Ball from Any Distance

Controlling distance: Another aspect of this skill is observing the rolling speed of the ball at the end of the putt, so that the ball always arrives at the hole with the same terminal speed or pace when it dives over the lip into the cup deep and safe. When putting into a cup, watch how the ball dives -- does it hit the back wall high or low, or does it dive all the way to the bottom of the cup without reaching the back wall at all. You will be looking for consistency and a pace that keeps the hole wide without going too far past in case of a miss. Physics rather convincingly suggests that a rolling speed over the lip of the cup of about 2-3 revolutions per second corresponds to a safe pace that makes a lot of the hole available without risking a long comeback in case of a miss. This pace dives deep on a center-cut line into the hole and never reaches the back wall; on a line across the cup off to the side edge, this pace still dives deep and strikes the back wall very low. Watching this pattern for consistency is the best training aid. Alternatively, you can putt a ball across the green without a hole or when the ball misses the hole and observe how the ball slows and comes to a stop on the ground. Knowing the pattern of the last 2-3 feet of roll builds a mind sense of how you intend putts to arrive at the hole. Using a ball that is half-and-half different colors (the old 1970s Ping balls) allows you to watch the orange-yellow ball flashing orange then white in a "dream-sickle ice cream" blur as it speeds across the green and then in a first orange now yellow flickering as it slows and then a slow now orange now yellow arrival and stopping. The whole looks similar to an ambulance racing to a hospital with flashing emergency lights and then pulling into a parking spot beside the emergency room. Alternatively, you can color one half of a ball with a Sharpie pen to make your own half-and-half ball.

Ping Yellow-Orange Ball

Ball Trajectory Entering Cup at 2 revolutions per Second Delivery / Terminal Speed

So, club, finger, tee peg, dime, string and weight, half-and-half ball.

In general, I would advise staying away from this or that training aid unless you have a good understanding of what the aid is really training and whether that is a good thing or not. Very, very often, training aids present a gimmick or a trick for you to perform that teaches performance of the trick and detracts the mind from learning the skill. The notion of rote use of a training aid to "groove muscle memory" is just that -- a "notion" that makers of training aids hope you believe in so they can sell you the training aid as a legitimate way to get better without paying attention, knowing how putting actually works, or taking responsibility for your own skill development. This warning cannot be given often enough.

Anyone wanting more information about any of the training aids shown here, please email me at geoff@puttingzone.com.


Geoff Mangum
Putting Coach and Theorist