You Can't Score if You Can't Putt
Charlie Sorrell, PGA

Problem Area: Putting
Series: Instruction Feature

Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 | 3:03 p.m.

I know, I've been there. As I was attempting to play the PGA Tour in the 70's, all the players that I knew would spend hours upon hours hitting balls with full swings. Some would spend some time practicing the "short game". Some would even spend even a shorter period of time putting, or at least being on the putting green rolling the ball. If we were not putting very well, it was simple, go get another putter, it has to the equipment, it could not have been us. That might have been true in some cases, but not all the time However, for the most part we all would shoot our "normal" score, during the tournament, miss the cut and drive off into the sunset toward the next course to once again try our luck. For the most part the "luck" part was for real, if we were fortunate to make the cut it would normally be due to holing more putts. This is all well and good, however, it does not and will not allow you to ever reach your full potential as a player when everything is based on your score. That is the only area that matters. Your ability to make putts is the quickest way to lower your score. You do not have to be physically fit, strong, large in stature, or even be flexible to be great to be a great putter. You simply must roll the ball, normally no farther than 40 feet, on the proper line and at the correct speed to propel the ball into the hole, which requires no great amount of strength.

As I watch the PGA Tour, then the Nationwide Tour as well as other tours, the main difference I see is the ability to make putts, especially those from 12 feet and less. That is what separates the PGA Tour player from all the others. After 47 years of struggling, experimenting, altering factory putters, reading all I could about "how" the great putters did it, yet never really feeling comfortable with any of the "putting revelations" that would be so called the "tip of the month". I felt there had to be a better way to do this. I give a great deal of credit, the Zach Johnson, 2007 Masters winner, for doing it his way.

Despite the media saying, "look at his hands, their back of the ball", yet Zach would make the putt. The media also use to be on the case of Billy Mayfair relative to the manner in which he moved the putter, yet he made almost every putt he looked at. There are many more players who did it their way, just to mention one who has always been my hero, Mr. Arnold Palmer, he simply dared the ball not to go in. I really believe he had the mindset that allowed him to maneuver the ball a bit as it rolled.

Look back at some of the old footage and see if you do not agree. The ball acted as though it was scared not to get into the hole after Mr. Palmer hit it. It's not the media fault however, we all are victims of many people long ago making statements, or showing us through advertisements, that this is the way we should putt. Now don't get me wrong. You can make a putt no matter how you hold the handle in your hands, how you stand, posture condition, where the putter face was aligned at address, how the movement of the putter is directed during the backstroke or the forward stroke. But the simple answer is just so long as you have the putter face "looking" relative to the direction of the path the putter head is traveling so as to start the ball on the correct line for the speed of the roll with enough speed to go into the hole, you will make the putt. But those "perfect times of being in the zone" are few and far between. There had to be an answer. Yes, there is. In my case, I always felt more comfortable with my hands a bit back of the ball at address when putting. However, for the most part all instructional information indicates that your hands should be a bit forward of the ball at address, that is why off set putters were designed.

Unfortunately for me I attempted to do just that. I set my hands forward of the ball, eyes were over the intended line of roll, even though I could not ever see the line, and never did I have the putter face aligned toward the line of roll. I ended up like most players totally frustrated in my inability to make putts when it was really important to my career that I do so. I would buy more putters, I would not admit, it just might be me. I also align the putter face left of the target when I address the ball, I moved the putter head outside the intended line of roll, held the face open by blocking the normal release action with my hands, and even sometimes with all this compensation the putt would still go into the hole. If I had someone stand behind me and properly align the putter face to the hole, to me, it just never looked to be correctly aligned to me. Again I was attempting to keep my eyes over the intended line of roll when addressing the ball. Thank you Allen Doyle. Allen has always been among the best, if not the best players /putters in the state of Georgia. From his winnings on the professional tours I would think the best in the world. We all know, you just cannot create the posture bent over, and no way can you ever make a putt with your eyes located so far inside the intended line of roll the way Allen does and make putts. Yeah, right.

One day out of frustration I put my putter in the vise to hold it so I could bend the lie angle flatter. I did not know how flat it should be, I just knew it was not flat enough for my "comfortable address condition". After a couple of whacks with a dead blow hammer, I suppose I was afraid of breaking the putter, it was not altered very much. Now the years of frustration begin to take over, and after looking at the putter as I sat it down, I once again placed it in the vise and this time really gave it two very hard whacks with the thought, "I don't really care if I break it, it does not seem to work anyway. Upon removing it from the vise, to my amazement , it was really flat, I know now by having the specks measured by Jerry Lowell, a great club fitter in Port St Lucie, FL. ,it was 11 degrees flatter than a standard lie of a putter. The shaft angle was now about 1 inch behind the putter face, and the loft of the putter face was 0 degrees. WOW!!! What a difference it made. I set the putter down and all though my eyes are about 8-10 inches inside the intended line and located much farther behind the ball than I had normally been, somewhat like Jack Nicklaus eye location, I could see the intended line of roll for the first time and the putter face was not closed. For a player who never has been able to do this from a comfortable address condition, this is what opened the door to success for me. I only wish I had been able to do this in the 70's when I was attempting to play for a living. Now, the doubting Thomas thought pattern begins to take over, "This can't be right, it goes against all the "standard" advice in any golf manual. But to me I, for the first time in my golf life, had a putter that would sit flat on the turf, felt comfortable in my hands, and from the location of my eyes, I could see the intended line I wanted to roll the ball. I could not wait to get to a putting green and what differences it would make. I simply knew it looked different than any putter as it sat on the floor.

To my amazement, the next morning, I went to the green, when I hit the ball it seemed to roll much more smoothly, almost having a tumbling action, as though when I thought it should stop rolling, it would not, it would roll for about another 6-8 inches. I never had ball react like that when I hit it with any other putter. I could also feel my right hand being the one to sense and create the "power action", that now I realize is that "slight pop action" that would propel the ball the correct distance. I now use the term, sticky putter, in my instructional sessions if the player's ball does not continue to roll, or tumble. It is very visible if you know what to look for, the ball will seem to stick to the putter face when hit. This is easily detected if you have a downhill putt, and the ball seems to stop rolling even if you felt that you had hit it hard enough. If you have a putter that seems to roll the ball OK, yet the ball really does not seem to have that free type rolling or tumbling action, you have a sticky putter. Go and find an instructor to help you with this problem.

Putting should be the easiest segment of the game of golf. You don't have to get the ball into the air, simply roll it along the smooth surface of the green. Wow, what a joke. However, this joke, will soon become your best friend. All you have to do is to understand what you must be able to make the ball do as you hit it. The answer is ...The ball must begin its roll on the correct line, with the proper speed to go into the hole with the ball having minimum skidding action and create what I call a "tumbling roll". All great putters make the ball do this. They accomplish this by ... Being comfortable in their set up. No. 1 Locating their eyes, body, and body parts wherever necessary for them to align the putter face in the direction they wish the ball to begin its journey. No. 2 Having their hands located on the handle whereby the "power hand" can perform its natural action in hitting the ball, to propel the at the speed and on the proper line needed to go into the hole. It should feel the same as if you were throwing a dart, the same release action as the ball is being hit. No. 3 Having the courage to perform regardless of the importance of making the putt entails.

To emphasize the above conditions I state in another way. How do we achieve the magical condition? First you must be comfortable in the manner you move the putter head. Your eyes must be located in a space that allows you to visualize and "see" the correct line of roll. Here's where it gets tricky. You must find a way that you can "pop" the ball with your "power" hand when it is hit. No great putter has ever "strooooked" the ball. There is a release action as the putter head hits through the ball. In order to "release" the putter head through the ball when it is hit, there must be some hinging of the wrist of the power hand during the backswing motion. Again it is the same action you would have in your power wrist, hand and arm as if you were throwing a dart.

My next question is, which hand would you use to throw that dart.? In my opinion that is the hand you should "feel" whatever speed producing action you would have in your putting motion. One of my pet peeves is... "You must have your eyes over the line of roll when in the address condition" Simply not true. Another is... "You must stand parallel to the intended line of roll" Again, not true. One more is..."There should be no hinging of the wrists during the putting stroke" Yeah, right. I am not saying the "shoulder rocking" movement is wrong, I just feel that many a player who could have been a great putter, have been ruined by attempting to do something that is not a natural movement that has been an innate part of learning motor skills combined with hand and eye coordination since birth. It just doesn't make common sense. Remember, in the movie, "Caddy Shack", when Chevy Chase had several balls located in a circle and was making the sound, Na, Na, Na, Na, etc. He made all the putts except the last one, while putting with only one hand on the putter. I would think he also would throw a dart with his right hand.

The design of the putter you are using also is critical for your success. If the putter is set up incorrectly for your "comfort condition", you can never reach you full potential. I could really bore you here with about 30 design conditions that should be taken into consideration before purchasing that magic wand. However, I must mention a few. On-set, straight, Off-set, shaft flex, shaft weight, putter face width, putter head weight, lie angle, angle of shaft extending from putter face and handle size. Just to name a few. All of these, plus many more should be taken into consideration when choosing your magic wand.

Another area that must be addressed is to determine what type putter you are. I often ask the question, there are two types of putters, what are they? Most players will answer, good or bad. Good answer, but not the correct one. The two type putters are "ARC and PENDULUM". If you are an arc type putter, the putter you choose must fit your putter movement, the pendulum type putter would require the putter that would fit their movement. I must elaborate just a bit here, not to confuse you but to simply make sure you understand the difference between the arc and pendulum putting movement.

First things first. The putter head should always move in somewhat of an arc with the putter shaft moving parallel to the intended line of roll. This parallel condition is measured at a point about 13 inches from the ground. The putter shaft should remain on that parallel line as the putter is moved, and when doing so the putter head will move a bit to the inside of the intended line of roll during the back swing, return to its original location during impact, then move a bit back to the inside of the intended line of roll after impact occurs. The slight curvature movement the putter head makes is called an arc. THIS SAME MOVEMENT OCCURS WHETHER YOU ARE EITHER AN ARC OR A PENDULUM TYPE PUTTER.

Now that we have the movement of the putter understood. Let's find out what determines whether you are either an arc or a pendulum type putter. The easiest way to explain this is, the arc type putter maintains the putter face at a 90 degree angle relative to the arc the putter head makes. The pendulum type putter maintains the putter face at a 90 degree angle to the intended line of roll, which means, as the putter head moves in an arc during the back swing motion the putter face will remain at that 90 degree angle to the intended line of roll as it is parallel to that line. The most efficient way to putt is the pendulum type, because of two factors. The putter face never leaves the perpendicular condition relative to the intended line of roll. The next is the ball location does not have to be exactly in the same spot at address each time you putt. The arc type putter must be very careful as to where the ball is located as the putter face is rotating relative to the arc. Even a 1/2inch difference forward or backward of the correct location can make quite a difference in the direction the ball begins its roll.

Most players have no clue as to how to go about getting help, they either buy the next "greatest putter" soon to find it too will join the many others in your closet, or begin to listen to "friends" who are good putters as to how they do it, or sometime take the easy way out and just admit defeat. What is so unfair, it the putter that is used by the tour player to win this week, that is the putter the buying public will purchase next. How gullible can we be.

To become the best putter you can be, contact several PGA Professionals, talk to them and ask them how they teach putting. You will be surprised at all the different ways it is taught. I would suggest you find an instructor who will spend time with you and takes the time to talk to you in common sense and understandable language. I do not mean just one 30 minute instructional session. You should invest in at least 6 sessions with your instructor to gain trust and confidence in both. They should suggest many ways to you, have many putters that you can experiment with, video your stroke, etc. However the main area is, that the instructor allows you to be different in your manner and condition that you putt, however, you must be successful in making putts. I will leave you with this rhyme that relates directly to putting..."Less than 29 and your score will be fine" (That is the number of putts you should have for 18 holes)

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HelloCharles, what are the main causes of a putt tumbling rather than rolling cheers geoff w