Monday, April 11, 2011

Practice Putting Strokes Thoughts...

On the forum (, a golfer asked about Dave Stockton’s putting instruction that believes you should not take a practice stroke before you putt.

While I haven’t worked with Stockton on putting or watched any video of his, my interpretation is that he’s essentially saying that the brain does a great job of being able to sense what type of putting stroke is necessary to have a good speed on the ball and that if you start taking practice strokes, you start to confuse the brain and doubt creeps in.

I think his points have some merit, although I still would NOT advise this idea to the average golfer looking to putt better.

One of the things that Geoff Mangum addressed in his video ‘The Reality of Putting’ ( is the fallacy that many golfers have with regards to ‘touch.’ As Mangum points out, you’ll hear a lot of golfers say that ‘I’ve never had good touch.’ Mangum states that simply isn’t true and that we display good touch in our daily lives. For instance, if I need to open the door by grabbing the door knob, if ‘I’ve never had good touch’, I would either miss the door knob or bang my hand into the door more often than not because of my ‘lack of touch.’

And yes, we can absolutely apply that type of touch we use in our daily lives on the putting green.

I cannot go into Mangum’s method of doing that because it’s an important piece of his proprietary information. However, I can discuss the importance of rhythm in the putting stroke.

Rhythm, for the purposes of the putting stroke, is essentially about having the same putterhead speed going back and going thru. If the thru-stroke is faster than the backstroke or vice versa, that’s ‘poor rhythm.’

It doesn’t matter if your stroke *tempo* is fast or slow, the best putters over time have spectacular rhythm. Just like Brad Faxon does.

Mangum’s video shows you how to use your practice strokes in order to use rhythm and tempo so you can develop the putting stroke you need for a particular putt that will allow you have good touch. I immediately installed this into my putting routine and my touch/speed has dramatically improved. What’s crazy about it is that it works so organically. For example, if I’m playing greens that are 11 on the stimpmeter one day and then the next day I’m playing greens that are an 8 on the stimpmeter, I catch on much more quickly that the greens are slower and don’t have that problem of leaving putts short all day.

Where I can understand Stockton’s concept is after reading the Karlsen and Nilssen study ( on putting. They found that the optimal thru-stroke should take about 270 to 370 milliseconds. But what they also found is that when golfer’s err outside that range, they almost always go too slow.

One of the fun and exciting things for me when I learn new things about the game is to go back and figure out why, with pretty good accuracy, I failed or succeeded at a part of the game previously. Throughout college I was a legitimately great putter. And once I got back into the game after an 8-year layoff, I started off putting like my usual self. But then I eventually saw my putting getting worse and worse. The Karlsen and Nilssen study along with Mangum’s video helped me understand the folly of my putting ways.

Essentially, I confidently believe that in my 2009-2010 putting decline, I became more worried about putter aim and the arc of the putter stroke. I also became very conscious of putter speed and really trying to focus on having the right sized putter stroke for the speed of the putt. Back when I was a great putter, I more or less worked on two things, keeping the putter head low to the ground and having a good rhythm.

I think what happened is that during my putter decline, because I ignored the rhythm of the putter stroke my thru-stroke became very slow. The focus on speed, but ignoring rhythm in the end made me very ‘careful’ with my putting stroke. However, my rhythm was probably the equivalent of Bob Murphy’s ‘pause at the top’ golf swing, but it was less noticeable because the putting stroke takes less time and has less moving parts.

With that regard, I think Stockton has a point. But Mangum’s way forces the golfer to not have that ‘pause at the top’ and that too slow of a thru-stroke. So I personally feel from my experience that practice strokes are extremely helpful if you know how to use them to your advantage.



Andrew said...

I cannot agree that no practice strokes are better than taking practice strokes, so Stockton's idea does not sit well with me. If we look at other 'instinctual' throwing activities, the brain invariably prefers a 'dry run' before releasing the object. This applies if you are throwing a dart, a ball of paper at a bin or stroking a putt (IMHO)

Anonymous said...

With respect, baseball pitchers, dart thowers, free-throw shooters, etc. don't take full practice throws. If they do anything, it's more equivalent to a "waggle" or partial rehearsal for feel.

That said, I perfer a practice stroke when putting. :)

Rich H. said...

There's a big difference between pitchers, dart throwers and golfers putting. The pitchers, etc are throwing something with the eztension of their arm vs. the golfer having to grab a separate entity in a golf club and then hit the ball a certain amount of distance and direction. 2 very different actions.


Ronnie Martin said...

When I started using the line on the ball as an aiming device I quit taking practice strokes. Don't ask me why I just did and it worked for me. However, I try to get my students to take a practice stroke while looking at the aim point or target. This really helps them develop a feel for distance. I still look at my landing spot when I take a practice stroke on chips and short pitches. It works for me.

jake said...

I have played for twenty-five years without ever taking any kind of practice swing. It takes time to get over using crutches, but once you get over the practice swing crutch the results are remarkable. My touch on long putts is as good as anybody I have come across or watched on TV. My distance control on iron shots is remarkable. I do not think about yardage, just look at the target and decide, eight iron. Unless I have underclubbed I find myself hole high most of the time. Anyone who has not done so should read the book by Bill Mehlhorn and Robert Shave, Golf Secrets Exposed. Mehlhorn was among the best professional golfers of the Twenties and was fifty years ahead of his time in understanding how the mind will solve golfing problems unconsciously if left to its own devices.