Updated: Sep 11, 2021
I am interested in facts, not opinions. For me, it’s about truths, not trends. In this blog, I am going to be discussing a number of scientific facts relating to stroke and technique that will help you prioritise your practice activities to improve your putting performance.
Own your Putting Method
To putt well always use your own putting style and method. Metaphorically speaking a putting method is like a fingerprint, it should be yours and yours alone. If you own your style and method it allows you to adjust and adapt much more efficiently and proficiently than trying to replicate someone else’s style. This is especially true when experiencing a stress and anxiety response. Therefore, in matters of grip, stance, and posture, these should always be left to the golfer to determine themselves. On the grip, there are endless variations of putting grips. Whatever you choose, own it, and make sure it enables you to control the clubface at impact when under pressure.
Head and Eye Position
Unfortunately, there has been so much anecdotal nonsense written about where a golfer should position their eyes when over the ball. For example, should your eyes be inside the target line? outside the target line? should you fixate your gaze in front of or behind the ball? should I look at the hole? should my dominant eye be over the ball or not? and so it goes. To clarify my position on this, my PhD research was undertaken in order to gain a better understanding of the role of the visual system and how it relates to the putting performance of high-level golfers (e.g., elite amateurs and professional golfers). Through the use of electroencephalogram (EEG) I was able to measure brain wave activity in the visual cortex seconds before the putting stroke was initiated. The research determined that where high-level golfers look before they putt is immaterial. Notably, after the golfer has read the green topography, determined the aim line, and adopted the stance the visual system disengages before initiation of the putting stroke. The eyes may be pointing at the ball but they are not looking! So, if you are a high-level golfer (I would hypothesize it's the same for every level of a golfer) it's time to throw away those training mirrors and allow your brain to work out where to position your eyes when you putt.
Putt with your BRAIN
To hole a putt of any distance it is essential to ‘putt with your brain’. A golfer's primary mechanism for developing putter head speed when putting is applying torque through the stroke. In practical settings, during your pre-putt routine (i.e., the mental readiness phase of putting) the brain will regulate the force applied to the club head by calculating equations. That is, the brain will process sensory and motor control information for the execution of the putting task by evaluating the exact trajectory the ball should follow to the hole (direction control) and how much force is applied to the ball (distance control). This information comes from your brain's sensory awareness (i.e., feeling and thinking) and past experiences (i.e., working memory). Words of warning, according to the research, golfers tend to be more accurate under-speed instruction so try minimising the time taken to complete your pre-putt routine and time spent over the ball.
Direction of the Putting Stroke
The direction of the putting stroke is determined by the face angle at impact, the putter path at impact, and the horizontal point of impact on the putter face.
A golfer should execute the putting stroke where, at impact, the putter head has only horizontal velocity in the direction of the target line and the plane of the putter face is perpendicular to that line. The putter head must also be moving with the correct velocity and centredness of strike of the clubface to impart the optimal amount of force to the ball. Based on the research a well-defined set of variables are under the control of the golfer and are acknowledged as the principal factors in the outcome of a putt:
Putter face angle
Putter head speed
Centredness of strike
Notably, at the moment of impact, these variables determine the initial speed of the ball. The ball’s initial direction is a result of the forces exerted by the putter face during impact. If the putter face is square to the stroke path during impact, all of the force exerted on the ball will be in a direction perpendicular to the putter face. A force, due to friction between the putter face and ball, will arise when the putter face is not square to the stroke path during impact.
Assuming contact at the centre of the putter face, researchers have reported that stroke path accounts for 17% of the initial ball direction of a putt, while face angle accounts for the remaining proportion 83% of the initial ball direction of a putt. Therefore, if you want to improve your putting you should be practicing controlling the face angle much more than the club path. More on this later.
End-Over-End True Topspin
Interestingly, for most golfers, it’s more difficult to putt consistently well than it is to do anything else in golf. This is because few golfers strike every putt the same way more or less on the same impact spot on the putter face and with the correct angle of attack to achieve end-over-end true topspin. Therefore, the first objective of the stroke is to impart true topspin to the ball. By that, I mean causing the ball to roll end-over-end immediately and truly as possible without skidding, jumping or side spinning. There are 2 reasons why you must impart true topspin to the ball and are both equally important for good putting. Firstly, the golfer who consistently produces true topspin usually develops an accurate sense of distance control. The regularity of the ball's trajectory enables the golfer to determine how hard to hit the ball very precisely putt after putt. Secondly, a ball rolling truly end-over-end if not hit with excessive force will often fall into the hole from the side of the hole whereas a ball rolling eccentrically often will spin out if it hits the side of the hole. Until this craft is mastered, the ball will not travel an equal distance for a particular force of the hit. That is why it's critical to develop an accurate and repeating stroke that creates end-over-end true topspin to the ball.
Distance Control versus Direction Control
Although golfers need both distance and direction control in putting, distance control is much more difficult to achieve. Let’s be clear, far more putts are missed because of incorrect distance than direction because most golfers are able to read the green topography and determine direction well enough to get down in 2 putts (most of the time!). The real issue for golfers is how much force do you impart to the ball to get it to the hole. In the principle of biomechanics, impact force approximately correlates with the club-head speed at impact. Kinematic energy to drive the ball mechanically correlates with the product of maximum acceleration and amplitude of the downswing. For example, high-level golfers have an average putting distance deviation of 6.5%, compared with an average clubhead putting-direction deviation of 1.3%.
Therefore, if golfers consistently produce an impact force with less putter-head kinematic variability, they can consistently putt the ball the intended distances to the hole. In practical settings, to regulate the force applied to the clubhead, golfers might sense tactile and kinesthetic cues transmitted through the club shaft. Therefore, successful putting primarily requires golfers to accurately perceive and execute putting-distance, and to achieve this, they must judge impact intensity (force control) accurately enough to get the ball to the hole.
Face Angle Control
How do we improve our face angle when we putt? Well, you will be pleased to know it’s not difficult to master this craft. The starting point is learning to control your clubface. Draw a sharpie line on your ball. Now, I am aware that some of you prefer not to use an aiming line, I get it, but please work with me on this. Think about how difficult it would be for a sniper to be accurate with a shot without the use of crosshairs. Remember, putting is an aiming task after all and the aiming line on your ball will help calibrate your eyes and brain to the aim line and your putter to the target line.
When you putt your face control will determine the spin type imparted to the ball producing four outcomes.
You hit the ball with a bias towards the heel
You hit the ball with a bias towards the toe
You hit the ball above the equator
You hit the ball in the centre of the putter face
Awareness of the clubface at impact is vital to be a great putter. This practice drill will help you sense tactile and kinesthetic cues transmitted through the putter face.
You can use tee pegs but I prefer to use small plastic cones as they are a larger and clearer target. Identify an area on your practice putting green that is 100ft. in length. Place the cones 10ft. apart and using 3 balls putt from a starting point to each of the 10 cones in random order until you have completed the 30 putts. This drill should take no more than 20 minutes and will help you better acquire representations of the mechanical relationship between impact-force production and putter-head kinematics. Furthermore, this drill will improve your neural efficiency when it comes to force and distance control. As you practice this drill the skill becomes automated and less controlled. Notably, you will experience less energy expenditure and more efficient processing in the sensory and motor cortex parts of the brain. The performance outcome will be distinctly positive!
Attempt to hole 10 putts from a distance of 8ft. on a flat surface.
Align the ball line to the target line and set up your putter face square to the target as you would normally to achieve centredness of strike. Then ‘close’ your putter face and attempt to hole each putt. Pay attention to how the putter face feels at impact and what type of spin you are imparting to the ball. Also, analyse the direction of the ball. Now, don’t be surprised if you hole most of these putts with a 'closed' clubface, this is your brain adapting to the changes but adhering to the task. Indeed, experiencing putting with a 'closed' clubface will give great feedback and will help you improve the face control. Follow the same instructions but this time with an ‘open’ clubface. On completion of ‘closed’ and ‘open’ putts follow the same instructions again but this time try and hit the ball ‘above' the equator. It should feel like you are almost topping your putts. Surprisingly, many of my students achieve true topspin with this drill. These drills will highlight your skill levels of face control and also how the clubface feels at impact.
Finally, set up and hole 10 putts with the putter face ‘square’. You should feel a big difference between methods with impact spot, direction, and spin type. This is you learning how to control your clubface and experience the differences between a closed and open clubface, and also hitting above the equator and the centre of the clubface at the correct face angle. Moreover, you will gain a better understanding of how to control the face angle and centredness of strike.
True Top Spin for Distance Control
Putt with a sharpie line on your ball, align the sharpie line with your putter face line and square the putter face then try to roll the ball with end-over-end true topspin. Do not putt towards a hole or target. You are attempting to control the face angle and centredness of the strike to achieve true topspin. Keep adjusting your face angle until you see the true topspin on the ball. It will take a while so please be patient. Set a goal to achieve true topspin every 5 out of 10 putts, when you have achieved this goal set the next target for 7 out of 10 putts until every putt you make from every distance has true topspin on the ball.
To manage your expectations I don’t think you can achieve the desired outcome without practicing a few hours per week for 10 weeks. Yes, mastering the craft of true topspin requires effort, and to be a great putter there are no shortcuts!
Good luck and enjoy putting with true end-over-end topspin.