By Peter Thulson,
A bad day on the putting green has the unique ability to bring out the worst in a golfer.
For a golfer suffering through a bad day with the flat stick, no reaction is out of the question. Some golfers will attempt to verbally engage their putter by yelling, begging or arguing. Some will make excuses – whether it’s their new putter or the grain of the bermuda that just doesn’t roll as true as bentgrass. And a select few will resort to violent outbursts ranging from hurling their putter into the water to hurling choice words and shouts at anyone or anything nearby.
But most golfers aren’t satisfied with their initial response to a bad putting day. No, they hold steady to the path of irrational behavior by coming up with clever fixes to their putting problems. Long putters, short putters, wide stance, open stance, fat grips, claw grips, triple-overlap grips, reverse-underhand-2 thumb-overlap grip (doesn’t exist, yet) – all thrown into one jumbled, deep bag of tricks.
All of these fixes, of course, fail to address the golfer’s true problem: A bad putting stroke.
Putting is frustrating. Every golfer has experienced the pain of erasing 400 yards of great golf with four feet of failure. Hit a perfect drive, knock the approach shot on the dance floor, lag it to four feet, choke on the par putt – we’ve all done it. It’s like making it to the end of the Boston Marathon, only to trip and fall on your face 10 yards from the finish line. No one cares if you almost finished, or almost got the birdie. Unless you close the deal, what almost happened didn’t happen.
One of the many traits that separate Tour Pros from amateurs is their ability to finish. A five-foot putt is to a Tour Pro what a signature is to a business executive. Each is unique in its appearance and execution, but they all do the same thing – close the deal. The final signature to close a billion dollar acquisition comes with the same pressure as a five foot putt for a Major. But the fact is, even under the immense pressure, the deal gets closed. Are there exceptions? Sure, but you can probably count them with same five fingers you used to tally up your putts on that tricky 16th green.
So Tour Pros know how to finish, and amateurs don’t – nothing new there. And to make it worse, Tour Pros finish under immense pressure, while amateurs choke over seemingly meaningless putts.
But that’s not the whole story.
Pressure is relative. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Tour Pro putting for a U.S. Open Championship, or a weekend golfer on the cusp of a career round, staring at a five-foot putt on 18. Every golfer will face the biggest putt of their life, and they will feel the pressure that comes with it. As Lee Trevino put it, “Pressure is playing for $10 when you don’t have a dime in your pocket.” That’s the beauty of the game. Every golfer will face immense pressure. And either stand or crumble underneath it.
It’s a privilege to face that kind of pressure – the kind that makes you mentally and physically tremble. It’s a privilege because of the opportunity it presents. You might choke, you might buckle under the pressure, you might embarrass yourself in front of all your buddies. But you don’t have to.
You can commit to building a solid, fundamental putting stroke. It starts by connecting with a knowledgeable coach. You can devote countless hours to practicing on your own, but quantity will never substitute for quality. Practicing the wrong things will not lead to improvement. A good coach will give you the tools and guidance to build a solid putting stroke. Combine that with a perfectly fit putter and you will have a solid putting game.
You can build the perfect putting stroke, learn how to accurately read the greens, and use the perfect putter, but that’s not enough. You must be able to execute under pressure. Fear or lack of focus will break down every physical aspect of your putting game. Without delving into the complicated topic of the mental game, here is one simple starting point from GolfTEC National Director of Instruction, Andy Hilts:
Stick with your routine.
You’ve probably heard it before, but you can’t hear it enough. Stick with your routine on every putt. Regardless of the situation or amount of pressure you feel, keep your routine unchanged.
One more thing: Stop being afraid of pressure. It won’t kill you (at least literally).
Focus on the opportunity that pressure presents to you. Forget about the choking and the embarrassment. Instead, focus on the potential to sink a clutch putt. If you choke, move on to the next hole, and the next opportunity to close the deal.
If you sink the putt, throw a “Tigeresque” fist pump, give your buddies an earful — then move to the next hole, and the next opportunity to close the deal. Pressure and opportunity are tightly connected. They can’t be separated. A pressure-packed putt will always present an opportunity — the opportunity to steady your hands and thoughts, commit to the line and sink it.
The triumph of standing tall and the anguish of crumbling, all bottled up in a five-foot putt.