There’s an old saying: “A good player who is a great putter is a match for any golfer.” My father had a beautiful putting stroke resulting from sound technique but, at his best, he could only be described [by PGA Tour standards] as being a marginal putter. His eyesight was what failed him. Dad was extremely nearsighted. He had a devil of a time seeing the tiny subtle breaks that were in his line. Other difficulties which he encountered included getting his eyes back in focus after looking at the ball and then at the target.
A golfer has to be able to read greens and control the speed of the putt. No matter how much time dad spent practicing on his mechanics his poor vision made his “read” suspect so his line and speed didn’t match up. Back in those days, my father was virtually the only player on Tour who wore eye glasses while he played. Has there ever been a great putter with poor vision? I, for one, don’t think so.
Additionally, throughout the 1930’s-1940’s-1950’s, the condition of the greens the pros played from city to city was also very rough and inconsistent. Prospects for improving your technique weren’t very good either because it just wasn’t “fashionable” to practice your putting in those days. The prevailing attitude was that there was no set way to do it. Truth is, even in those days it was “sexier” to have a good-looking swing. And, furthermore, it can be argued that better ball-striking has always been the quickest way to improvement.
All of this is to illustrate that my father’s putting philosophy and technique derived from his own playing experiences while growing up on hard pan Oklahoma and Texas municipal courses and also competing on the bumpy, less manicured greens of the early PGA Tour; when golf was a game and everything was done instinctively.
For the most part, dad’s approach to putting was fundamental and straightforward. For everyday players, who needed something simple and intuitive, it seemed ideal. Basically, a putting lesson with him lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. He felt that the student ought to quit and take up something else if it took much longer than that.
When my father spoke about putting, he’d talk about rolling the ball. Dad’s students were advised to associate the palm of the right hand with the face of the putter. He always wanted them to be parallel to each other. When he’d demonstrate the correct putting stroke it looked as if he used mostly his right arm and hand to create the motion. Also, he advocated the release of the putter head by using the fingers in a closing action that rotated the right hand to the left.
As far as he was concerned, the right hand controlled the stroke. Dad wanted your left hand to just rest comfortably on the grip and to compliment the right hand. He wasn’t all that concerned with how you stood over the putt. He maintained that you should be balanced so that you feel comfortable.
He taught that putting is a hands and arms movement, mostly the arms. Focus on taking the putter back low. Then, forward with your hands ahead of the putter face and feeling like you’re coming up underneath the ball, so you impart over-spin on the ball. He didn’t want you to hit the putt. He wanted the head of the putter to swing; for the weight of the putter to create the motion.
He taught that you control the roll with topspin. He’d position you well behind the ball at address so you could hit up on it with a hooking motion, like a topspin forehand in ping pong. The putter went from low to high through impact with the toe closing.
Bobby Jones, Bobby Locke, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and Dave Stockton were all great putters who talked of hooking their putts or trying to put topspin on the ball. Most great putters were also die putters, meaning that the hole has side doors if the ball is rolling slowly enough. Try that, and you’ll reduce your three-putts and make some big ones, too.
Often, my father told me that putting was all about gauging the proper distance. He knew that most golfers were poor at judging speed and, especially so, on long putts. His diagnosis was that they think about it too much and get too mechanical. Dad wanted you to study your break line, walk up to the ball and make a good stroke. As far as he was concerned, it all revolved around confidence: And, confidence is developed through practice and practical experience.