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Chapter One: Guide to the Putting Stroke

In The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship or The Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating , Stephen Potter suggests when your opponent has been draining putts throughout the round and you need to resort to desperate measures to win the match, you politely ask your opponent what muscles he or she is using when putting. With attention focused on muscles, your opponent proceeds to miss everything, and you win the match. Despite the timing, the question is a good one: what muscles do we use, and what muscles should we use, when putting?

This guide is dedicated to years of bad putting, due at least in part to the failure to understand the putting stroke, and written with the hope that you may learn from bad experiences and improve your stroke.

To be a good putter, you have to:

  1. Figure out how hard to hit the putt, taking into account elevation changes and speed of greens.
  2. For your chosen weight, decide on the line to the hole, taking into account slopes, etc.
  3. Line up along your chosen line, so that you are actually hitting the ball in the exact direction you want.
  4. Stroke the ball according to your line up, with the clubface perpendicular to the intended line at impact and the stroke proceeding along the intended line at and after impact.
  5. Stroke the ball with the appropriate weight.
  6. Be able to do all these things, putt after putt in a variety of conditions: short putts, long putts, pressure putts, high winds, etc.

This guide focuses on point 4, namely the execution of the putting stroke on the correct line. To master the other points, read good golf books and magazines, watch the golf channel, take some lessons, and more than anything, practice.

We have five basic options for the putting stroke:

  1. Moving the wrists, and wrists only (the wrist stroke).
  2. Moving the lead upper arm in its shoulder socket, and this upper arm movements only (the lead upper arm stroke).
  3. Moving the shoulder sockets in some combination of forward and backward, up and down, and these shoulder socket movements only (shoulder socket putting).
  4. Twisting around the spinal column, and this twisting movement only (spinal twisting).
  5. Side bending the spinal column, and this side bending movement only (the spinal tilt stroke).

In addition to these basic options, the putting stroke can consist of some combination of these basic options. These combination movements we call "hybrid" strokes.

What do we want to achieve with the putting stroke? Here are some ideas:

  1. Muscle joint consistency. By this, we mean a good stroke would minimize the muscles used, seek intrinsic coordination of the muscles that are being used, and involve joints with limited range of motion.
  2. "Yip" prevention. "Yips" are very poor strokes that arise under pressure. Conventional wisdom suggests that "yips" can be prevented by using larger rather than smaller muscles. Presumably, "yips" can also be prevented by moving larger than smaller masses through the putting stroke. The momentum involved with the movement of larger masses would prevent exceptionally poor strokes.
  3. Stillness of the eye sockets. Conventional wisdom holds that a still head and eye sockets produce consistently better putts than a head and eye sockets that move during the stroke.
  4. On-line direction. Getting the putt on line is optimized with a vertical rotation in the stroke, a larger rather small diameter to the rotation circle, and a steady rotation centre.
  5. Eye alignment. Conventional wisdom holds that the eyes at address should be directly over the ball, or at least over the target line, so that the player can see "down the putting line" more clearly.
  6. Power. While power is not a factor in short putts, it becomes relevant in longer putts where the lack of power may prevent the player from using the putting stroke.
  7. Back health. Back health is directly related to putting posture. Upright putting postures are more conducive to back health. In some cases, forward bending can improve putting performance but lead to problems after continual practice.

Chapter Two will explain and examine these criteria more fully. Chapters Three to Seven will discuss the various basic putting strokes in terms of the criteria. Chapter Eight will compare the putting stroke options in terms of the criteria, and provide some suggestions about best practices.

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