By Alex Nicolson PGA (article first published in Golf Monthly 2014)
"Love and putting are mysteries for the philosopher to solve. Both subjects are beyond golfers.” Tommy Armour
You never thought it would come to this. You’re sitting in a stranger’s office. He bears a notepad, a pen and a sympathetic look. Sitting opposite you is your putter, who’s too upset to even look at you. Putting counselling, session one.
It wasn’t always like this, of course. There have been happy times. Times when you and your putter just clicked, putts rolled in, scores dropped - life was good. She recalls how much attention you paid to reading and rehearsing each putt. You squatted down, looking intently at each borrow, the grain of the grass – you were working out not just how to “not three putt”, but which side of the hole the ball would roll into. It made her feel so valued, so useful, when you made practice swings with such purpose. She loves a golfer with vision, one who’s decisive.
Two became one
She recounts how calm you felt when you were putting. Your hands were relaxed, and she got a feeling you had peace of mind. Instead of being riddled with swing thoughts and self doubt, you trusted your instincts. She was swung back and through with ease, almost like an extension of your body.
After all, she is not a blunt instrument, she’s sensitive, and needs to be used with precision. Each putt is unique and feels slightly different from the last. In the good old days, you listened to her. Noticing the pitch of each strike, you quickly picked up on the slightest of mis-hits. Sweet striking was as important to you with her as it was any other club. Because you were paying attention, she helped improve the acuteness of your feel. There were days when you could almost feel the right pace in your hands before the ball was struck.
And then there was the learning. It’s all coming back now. Because you used to pay so much attention to the read and were so acutely aware of what happened in each putt, you could learn. Together, you and she were able to use every putt as an opportunity to improve. A miss wasn’t a source of anguish - it offered information that aided you in the next putt you faced.
Practising for its own sake
Unlike for most golfers, putting practice then wasn’t just a means to an end or a desperate response to bad play. Au contraire - with her it was absorbing, enjoyable and rewarding for its own sake. It was just a bonus that it also made playing under your handicap easy. She loved that too.
So close was your relationship that you really looked after her. At least once a year you took her shopping for a new grip and got her alignment lines re-touched so she looked her best. Together you saw the putting green not in terms of probability but as a place of possibility, and the relationship was envied by all you played against.
The dark days and long game jealousy
The dark days came. It’s not clear what came first. You felt she let you down, she felt you stopped paying her enough attention. She now feels jealous of your driver (you keep banging about how far you can hit it). She’s resentful of how your eyes light up when describing a crisp five iron, or getting backspin on your wedge - you seldom get excited about holing a 20 footer. It’s almost as if you now attribute success with a long club to pure skill, but holing a putt is just plain luck.
She breaks into sobs when you tell the putting counsellor of the time you traded her in for a younger model. Of course it was just a fling, and you came crawling back begging for forgiveness when it didn’t work out. The question now is, will she give you a second chance?
This is an all too familiar story, but golfers are usually much more capable putters than they realise - the main reason they don’t hole more putts is that they don’t invest enough energy in the relationship. They wait for a few putts to go in before starting to really concentrate. It can be a long wait.
As a coach, my aim is to maximise golfers' enjoyment of the game. As such, if a player gets more pleasure from striking irons well, then I would never dream of wagging my finger saying “you should be thinking about your putting as well”. After all, improvement rarely comes from “shoulds”.
However, consider the fact that shots taken on the green represent roughly 40% of your game. If your relationship with putting is weak, not only is your score suffering, but you are also robbing yourself of two fifths of your shot-making experience. Winning her back could make life so much sweeter.
The most common assumption for a missed putt is that something broke down in the stroke. Whilst this may be the case, have you ever noticed a correlation between good putting strokes and the quality and clarity of your concentration? Perhaps poor technique is triggered by lack of well-directed attention before, during, or after a putt. Follow the tips below and maybe, just maybe, you can start winning back your putter.
Prepare for every putt asking yourself “what would it look like if it went in?”
Rehearse the putt with intent.
Don’t consciously interfere with your stroke - trust your instincts.
Learn from every putt