By Harris Kimani
Most golfers have one part of the game that they are good at, and always go out of their way not to let anyone forget it. Statements like “Did you see my chip on 15?” or “Nowadays, I can drive green number 6” become common on the 19th yet they never highlight their weaknesses. To become a better golfer, one must have true knowledge and understanding of the long game, the short game and putting. I often always exclude putting from the short game as it is important enough to warrant attention exclusively.
Let’s analyze putting a bit. Assume an average round of golf for a scratch golfer consists 36 putts out of a possible scratch score of 72. This would indicate that a golfer spends approximately 50% of their efforts on the green during a round of golf. Why then do we spend more than 85% of our practice time with the long game and short game? The common saying “drive for show and putt for dough” emphasizes the importance of putting. Therefore rule number one to improve your golf is to practice your putting more.
I sought out one of Kenya’s prolific putters Limuru’s Yassin Awale to better understand the putting phenomenon and why 3-foot putts make even the greatest and experienced golfers shake in their boots, have wobbly knees and trembling hands. A condition generally known as the dreaded Yips.
Understand the green. Know the green intimately. Learn to read the green. The green can communicate a lot of information. For example, read the grain to be able to know which side the grass faces as it affects how the golf ball rolls. Remember grass grows towards water and sunlight. Do not ignore that little hump towards the hole. The ball will follow the gradient of the green.
Understand the path to the hole. The ball cannot fly into the hole. It must travel across imperfections, contours, up or down a hill to find the cup. Is there some sand on your path? Well, clean it. Do you have a pitch mark in front of you? Repair it! Do you have loose impediments such as stones, leaves etc. Remove them! Give your ball the best path possible and you have more chances of making the putt. Remember to do this with respect to the rules of golf.
Understand the pace and break to the hole. The golf ball must follow the laws of the universe. Downhill putts will accelerate while uphill putts will decelerate. Pace or Speed is directly related to break which is the scale at which the ball will turn away from its original path. In simple terms, Pace is married to break. Like any married couple, harmony is required to get things work out. When gauged well, the golfer is considered to have gotten the ‘weight’ right. Basically it means that if your Caddy or playing partner wants to point out where you should aim, then they should accompany that rather confusing information with how much speed to stroke the ball with. A common putting mistake is to avoid decelerating the putting stroke, caused by the obsession of following the ball with the eyes. According to Yassin, this behavior will take at least 25% of the pace required.
Understand your alignment and aim to the hole. Alignment and aim is important. Basically the ball needs to receive a stroke from the putter at a right angle to ensure that the ensuing velocity of the ball travels along the path intended by the putter. Unless you are properly aligned to be able to deliver the putter at a 90 degree angle to your intended path, the ball will travel of-line depending on how it was ‘swiped’. People who tend to push, slice, hook their putts suffer from this malady. Always square your putter face to the ball along your intended line of putt, pick a spot on your intended line and putt towards the spot. The ball will react to other forces to track its way to the hole.
Have sheer belief and willpower. An iron strength of will is required in putting. Belief that you can make the putt allows you to read the green well, pick your path to the hole, pick a spot on the path that identifies a straight line, point A to B, and deliver your putter squarely with a smooth stroke to get the ball from point A to B. If all that happens well, then you will always make your putts. “Lakini, shida ni stress, pressure, worry na anxiety” is an often-used phrase. For example, jerking up your head when the putter in motion causes so many problems than we have time to list here. Gripping the putter too strongly makes the ball travel too firmly missing the break. Decelerating due to fear of going beyond the hole causes the ball to break more. All these problems commonly referred to as yips will ensure that the dreaded 3 footers remain the cause of why you never have a bill at the nineteenth.
Equipment. With today’s technology, getting fitted with a putter that fits your stroke will save you strokes.
So will knowing all this make you better at putting? I do not think so, unless you also build in some practice along with it. Reading greens makes you a better putter but relying on Caddies to read putts for you will ensure you remain bewildered and bemused every time you take the Caddy’s line and the ball doesn’t go in. Not having another person look at your putting to see how your golf ball travels or whether you are aligned properly will leave you blind to your alignment and slicing problems. Blaming yourself or your Caddy for missed putts instead of understanding the technical reason behind the missed putt e.g. wrong line, pace etc. will ingrain so much negative energy that you will begin to miss putts purely because of lack of self-belief.