A Lesson Learned: Three steps to better putting

Rory Sabbatini
Getty Images
Rory Sabbatini's magic with the putting wand propelled him to his sixth career PGA Tour victory.
By
Chris Czaja, PGA
PGA.com

Problem Area: Putting
Series: Lesson Learned

What a fantastic start to the Florida swing on the PGA tour.  The Honda Classic at the famous PGA National-Champion course once again gave us a great tournament with a lot of drama.

So first of all, congratulations to Rory Sabbatini on winning this years Honda Classic. I was fortunate enough to go out and watch some of this event in person and I can tell you first hand, however difficult this course looks on television, it's that times five in person. It took a major-tournament type effort to win this event.  It is no surprise that past Honda Classic winners have gone on to do great things in the Major Championships of golf.  The conditions are so tough, if you can play well here - you can pretty much play well anywhere.
 
Rory managed his game to perfection and demonstrated that his putting skills are among the best in the game.  It is unreal that he could play four rounds in such windy contitions and three-putt only once.  Think about that.  How many times do you three-putt on easier courses under calmer conditions? It's more than just impressive - it's mind-boggling. In fact, during his third round 64, Rory only took 21 putts! That's just incredible. 
 
You can benefit from Rory's success on the greens this past week by learning three fundamentals of good putting as this week's "A Lesson Learned." All week, he looked comfortable and confident, he stayed true to a putting routine and he stayed solidly over the ball. 
 
First, work with a PGA Professional on finding the right putter for you. Long putter, blade, mallet, center-shafted, there are so many options to consider. And then, just the look of the putter can make a huge difference. I noticed that Rory was playing a new putter this week. Sometimes a new view by itself can make a world of difference.  When I visited the Scotty Cameron Studio before the National Club Pro Championship one of the first things they asked me was what putter looked the best to my eye.  Looks are important.  But there are some basics that don't change.  You need the correct length putter in order to get your eyes over the golf ball and to get you in the comfortable posture. Next, you need the right length. I am comfortable at 35.5 inches.  Personally, I feel the putter should be on the heavy side. It provides a better feel. This is an example of how pros pick their equipment and how you should too.
 
Next, work on a putting routine. I noticed that Rory followed a definite routine every time.  He took time to look at the target before his putt. He looked at the target while he made his two practice swings.  Then took one more look before making the stroke.  Whether it was a 40 foot lag put or the two footer at the end to win, same routine means nerves don't play as much a part.
 
And finally, the third key is to stay steady or solid over the ball.  Keep body movement to a minimum.  I coach players to be solid in the lower half of the body.  Rory kept his legs and hips so still all week. This really helps on windy days, and we had four of them.  Hitting the sweet spot of the putter(on the sight line- center of putter face) is critical for distance control.  If your lower body is quiet you can swing the arms/shoulders in one piece and hit the ball solidly on the sweetspot.
 
My advice to players, whether I am working with a mid-high handicap player or a junior player or a touring professional - if your current  putting style is not working - Change it!  I know this sounds so obvious, but I see players of all levels stubbornly practicing their old styles and trying to force it to work. On the other hand, during the telecast this week, one of the announcers talked about how Jerry Kelly has changed his putting to copy what Steve Stricker does. Jerry putted great all week.  If you putt a certain way and it's not working, go to a PGA Professional and make a change.
 
I teach players the correct putting method and then let them adjust to fit their comfort level.  For example, I want my students to take multiple looks at the target.  Some pros look twice, some look four times.  Find out what is comfortable for you.  The thought is that looks turn into better feel.  And then I tell them to experiement with the width of their stance for stability purposes.  Kenny Perry has a wide base, Y.E Yang doesn't.  As long as you are solid that is all that matters.
 
On a side note, I once shot a 65 in a South Florida PGA section event, incidentally, on this same Champion course here at PGA National. And prior to that round, I spent an hour on the putting green doing nothing but working on putting drills. The adage that you drive for show, putt for dough is not just a slogan - it's really a truth. 
 
If you work on these few suggestions you will be on your way to putting up better scores. And isn't that we're all looking to do - from every amateur player to the Rory Sabbatini's of the PGA Tour?
 
Best in Golf,
Chris Czaja
 
Chris Czaja is the 2010 PGA South Florida PGA Section Instructor of the Year and is entering his 21st year at Boca West Country Club. A PGA Professional since 1993, Czaja was named the 2009 South Florida PGA Teacher of the Year. Czaja is a graduate of East Carolina University and has also been one of the top playing PGA Professionals in the South Florida section. As a PGA Professional, Chris has won numerous chapter and section PGA events. He has played in 3 National Club Professional Championships and was a member of 3 South Florida Section PGA Cup teams. He also spends significant time involved in a number of national and community charities. Chris can be reached at Chris.Czaja@PGA.com

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