‘Good balance, the proper grip and acceptance are key to good putting’
What’s your putting philosophy?
It’s a ‘game within a game’ because it is different from the full swing. But I don’t think it’s something people should be afraid of either. You can learn to love putting, just because it’s so removed from the rest of the game. Working on your putting certainly isn’t like standing on the range hitting balls, which pretty much everyone enjoys doing. There’s a lot of feel involved in good putting. In short, putting involves a different technique, method, skill set and mentality.
What is most important?
The key is balance – both front-toback and left-to-right. That’s an aspect of putting that is much overlooked. In the full swing you have rotation, movement and weight transfer, but when I’m putting all I want is to be as steady as I can be. I think of it as being ‘planted’ on the ground, or ‘heavy,’ as I like to call it. If you have that, maintaining your posture is a lot easier to do. And that makes consistency of pace, tempo and strike much easier.
What’s going through your mind at address?
Inside my shoes, I lift my toes. That gets my weight on my heels and the balls of my feet, which is not to say my weight is too far back. When you lean forward, the heaviest part of your body – your head – is forward. To counteract that, your backside has to go the other way. And when you go into any kind of motion, your instinct is to find your natural balance point. That means keeping your head perfectly still. If you look at the very best putters over the years – Tiger is a great example – their heads never move during the stroke. But that happens because he maintains balance and posture.
We all miss more putts than we hole. How do you deal with that psychologically?
I blame something other than myself (laughs). But mostly, I’m accepting. I know I can hit a perfect putt and it can still miss. On the other hand, I’ve hit many poor putts that have gone in. By knowing both – and saying them to myself often enough – I remove pressure from any putt. I have no expectation, which frees me up to hit a good putt and accept whatever happens.
Do you have any other psychological tricks?
I like to set my mind on something other than the result. I go to little thoughts and feels at address. Retaining the angle in my left wrist – ‘high’ is how I think of it – through impact is one I like. Or maintaining a little tension in my legs to maintain my posture. Just something I can focus on while the putt takes care of itself.
Is putting as much an art as a science?
It’s a blend of both but for me, too much science is detrimental. I’ve overdone it at times. I like to have enough information, but no more than that.
Talk us through your stroke
I like to stand square to the putt, but that isn’t a firm rule. Jack Nicklaus, for example, stood open (left foot drawn back) and tilted his head to look towards the hole. I practise with a chalk line or a piece of string to train my eyes to look right down the line. That’s so important when it comes to starting the ball on the track I want.
How do you hold the putter?
I like the shaft to run through the lifeline of both hands. I want my palms facing each other, with my thumbs side by side. That keeps the putter in line with my forearms and also encourages a proper arc in the stroke. I like to grip every club pretty lightly, as if you are gently holding a small bird, and the putter is no exception. I have no problem with a little wrist action in my stroke, either, especially on longer putts. To me, that helps with fluidity and removes any tendency to be too ‘stiff’. I also find it makes distance judgment easier.
Do you advocate ‘straight back, straight through’?
No. I like my stroke to be on a natural arc – a bit like Ben Crenshaw – on both sides of the ball. It’s only a slight rotation of the putter on short putts, but for me that’s the best way to keep the face square to the arc of the stroke. With ball position, I like it almost directly under my eyes, or a little outside.
What drills do you use?
I pick a spot maybe six inches in front of the ball and try to ‘hit’ that every time. It’s great training and a great way to line up correctly. If I’m using a chalk line, I visualise it extending all way to the back of the hole. I’m definitely a ‘hit the back of the hole’ guy. I read my putts on the low side so that I can be more aggressive.