Putt Like a Pro
Just like the golf swing, there are basically only three things that make the ball go on line or off line: the path, the position of the clubface and the quality of impact.
If you have control of your path, then you have control of your initial direction; if you have control of your initial direction (with a putt), you can then let the green do the work (in a full shot, you let the spin do the work). The way I teach putting and the full swing is to focus on these three principles - and the Zen Oracle Tour putter helps me on all counts on the green..
People forget that the quality of the strike is everything in putting. Within a fraction of a second of hitting the ball, you know whether or not you have struck it on the correct line. It's instinctive; you feel it off the putter-face.
Another thing people tend to forget is that there is a vertical as well as a horizontal sweetspot on every putter-face. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, so the sweet-spot on your putter needs to be 0.84 inches above the ground to strike the equator of the ball, which is your goal. You want to get the sweet- spot of the putter meeting
the sweet- spot of the ball.
In the case of the Zen Oracle, the face is just under an inch in height, and the sweet-spot is probably only 0.5 inches up the face.
And you can see that when I match the sweet-spots, the putter is raised up a little. In other words, the putter has to be released on the up as it works through impact in order to strike the equator of the ball. The whole of the putter - i.e. head, shaft and grip - has to be released (not 'blocked' or manipulated) as it swings up through impact.
Rock the handle down then up, and roll the ball like the game's greatest putters
Years ago, I remember reading about an experiment that was conducted to determine the common denominators of the really great putters. And the only thing that was discovered (other than the fact great putters holed lots of putts) was that the handle of the putter went down and then up through the course of the stroke. In other words, the butt-end of the grip could be seen to work down a little in the backswing before working up as the putter was released through the ball. That single finding is something
that I have stressed to all of my pupils ever since, whether they be aspiring tour players or keen club golfers.
The fact is, good putters strike the ball so much more sweetly than poor
putters. They get the ball rolling and hugging the green. Poor putters tend to 'trap' the ball between the putter-face and the surface of the green, and never really get the ball running true off the face. What you have to remember is that the pure weight of the ball on grass causes it to sit down into the surface of the green.
On these firm and quick Wentworth greens, probably 3-4% of the ball sinks into the green (more on slow greens), and so to get it out of that small indentation it has to be struck on the equator as the putter works
up. And that's why you have to work on hitting it with a little loft and slightly 'on the up' - as all the great putters do.
So there's a first principle to keep
firmly in mind. We talk a lot about checking matters of alignment and ball position - quite rightly but when it comes to effectively improving
your putting stroke, this is a critical element of technique that you need to be aware of.
So work on the exercise above; get the handle of the putter working down and then up for that slightly ascending through-stroke that gets the ball rolling true.
Here I am rehearsing the 'release' drill with the Zen Oracle putter that allows you to hold and roll a ball from within the aperture the head. But whatever putter you use, repeating this exercise will transform your stroke and help you to hole more putts.
The Reflex Drill
In a solid stroke, the left shoulder works down and then up - just like
the handle of the putter.
Hands remain neutral on the grip and passive throughout the stroke, enabling you to maintain this controlling unit while developing good tempo with the gentle rocking of the shoulders.
How the Zen can help you develop your feel for the stroke, and a sense of true 'release'
Hitting at the ball with the putter is often the cause of poor ballstriking on the greens (and likewise in the full swing). You see it everyday: flicking at it with the putter-head can cause a player to pull a putt, while hitting at it with the hands (i.e. 'driving' a putt) can result in a block.
Either way, the ball's not going to drop.
The key to long-term consistency is that (1) you learn to develop a repeating pendulum-type stroke that is controlled by the upper body and (2) that you then fine-tune that stroke to produce the smooth upstroke that (as far as is physically possible) eliminates the 'hit'.
And that's where this putter really comes into its own. With its unique design, when you work on 'holding' and then releasing the ball from within the aperture of the
Zen Oracle putter there is no impact, and so immediately you get a true roll towards your target.
To get accustomed to the feel of the head and the sensation of rolling the ball back and forth, we kick off with what we have termed the 'Reflex' exercise (above).
This involves simply holding the ball within the aparture of the putter as you move it just a few inches gently backwards and forwards under the line of string (and whatever putter you play, practising with a taut line of string like this is a no-brainer; all of the best putters do it). Tour players who use the Zen repeat the Reflex drill for a couple of minutes and then move on to releasing the ball and rolling it into the hole.
When you have a perfect roll, it's all about following the correct path
To keep the ball in the aperture of the putter on the backswing, you must make the handle go down to keep the putter-head low to the ground (and so immediately we're back to the value of the exercise I demonstrated on the previous page). In other words, simply spending a few minutes rehearsing the Reflex drill, or stroking a few shortish putts with the Zen, reinforces this specific feature of a correct, repeating stroke.
Here's another thing. When you know that you are going to get a pure roll on the ball as it leaves the putter, the quality of your path is exposed. The exercise you see me working on here (above) is known as the 'Release', and it is designed to help you get the path of your stroke running perfectly at the target.
In my experience, too many golfers go on thinking they are putting well when in reality their stroke is hampered by a (usually) fundamental fault which forces them into making compensations.
Some days those compensations work (hence players feel they are putting OK), but more often than not their performance is inconsistent and the stroke is not a confident one.
What I really like about the Zen Oracle is that, via these various exercises, it basically teaches you the fundamentals and simply does not tolerate compromise. In the case of the 'Release' drill, the quality of your path through to the hole is immediately revealed. Because you have eliminated the 'hit', the roll is true, and if you miss the hole from this range (on a dead-straight putt), then clearly the path of your stroke needs some attention.
The students that I have coached with the Zen - and they include a number of good tour players - have been amazed at the way the putter becomes their own best teacher.
It enables you to work on your stroke and groove solid mechanics..
Blend backswing and through-swing into one smooth and continuous on-line stroke
What I most like about the Zen putter is that it teaches you not only to understand the basic principles of good putting but also to recognise the symptoms of basic faults as and when they creep into your stroke. The 'Tracker' exercise that you see here is another example of the information the Zen can give you. The idea is that as you lengthen your stroke (and ideally you would rehearse this from further out, say 10 or 15 feet from the hole), you release the ball held within the aperture away from the hole to check the path of your backswing. The two faults pictured (Below) illustrate the problems that the Zen can help you to solve. We would all agree that the laws of physics dictate that the stroke runs very slightly inside the line going back (progressively so the longer the backswing) but this is much too severe (top left).
Fault: Too far inside
Fault: Outside the line
Ordinarily you would rehearse this 'Tracker' exercise
from 10 or 15 feet, where the length of the backswing
would enable you to release the ball that is within the
aperture away from the hole.
But hopefully you get the
drift; releasing the ball in this direction tells you all
you need to know about the path of your backswing.
Here it is too much inside the line, the released ball
running severely inside the string.
Another common fault: the putter has this time wandered
slightly outside the line going back, a fact that is
immediately confirmed as the ball rolls under and to
the outside outside of the string.
Faults such as these
require that you make compensations to get back on
track - compensations that are never consistent.
I'm moving the putter too much on the inside and the released ball confirms it. In contrast, if the released ball cuts across the string and goes outside the line, that tells me I am taking the putter back outside. This instant feedback tells me what the problem is and what I have to work on. If the path of my stroke seems to be OK and yet I was still missing putts, I
would check the alignment of the putter-face. This will provide some more valuable information that you will be able to act on immediately.
Making that solid pendulum stroke - built up on sound fundamentals - sees the putter track beautifully back and forth (above). The ball that is released backwards runs just slightly inside the line, while the ball that is struck just as it should be (on the up) rolls straight in the hole...
Roll 'em in, one after the other . . .
The 'Tracer' exercise is designed to improve your acceleration through impact and again provides immediate feedback on your accuracy. From the four- to six-foot range, you simply place a ball in the aperture, then set up to a putt as normal, and with a smooth stroke set about rolling both of the balls towards the hole. The trick is to maintain the gap between them, and the guys on tour who are really good at this are able to do this perfectly as they roll the two balls at the same speed into the middle of the hole - just another exercise that not only makes practising with the Zen fun but, ultimately, more rewarding.
Tour players can often be seen on the practice green using a mirror to check their posture and to make sure that their eyes are over the line of the putt. That is crucial. A lot of golfers stand with their eye-line too far inside the line to the hole, which means they are not viewing their subject properly. The Xtend-Align system seen here is perfect for keeping these fundamentals in check. And because the string is supported a few inches above the surface, it is never in the way and gives you terrific feedback on every putt.
With your left hand behind your back, it's amazing how quickly using the right hand only improves the quality of the strike. Because the right hand doesn't 'drive' at it, you release the whole of the shaft down the line. That's what Tiger Woods does when he putts well - which is pretty much all the time. People perceive that he releases the head, which would mean the butt-end goes backwards and cannot go up. He doesn't. He releases the whole of the shaft. Which means the butt-end comes up. So work on this exercise as often as you possibly can.
Don't bother with aiming at a hole. This is all about the quality of the strike. Work on releasing the putter and focus on the quality of your strike. I guarantee that if you spend some time doing this you will notice a great improvement in the way you roll the ball.