When it comes to sinking putts, I’m a putz.
Over 18 holes, I don’t usually make more than one or two putts that aren’t gimmes. I make sure to remain 6 feet away from my playing partners during this pandemic, but I never seem to sink any 6-footers.
My problems on the greens vary. I leave my putter blade open and miss putts to the right. I pull putts to the left. I leave them short or hit them too far. I play too much break or not enough. Other than that, I’m fine.
I think my golf ball is afraid of the dark because it rarely finds the bottom of the cup and when it does I’m surprised. People tell me that I lack confidence, but you need putts to drop to believe in your ability. Sometimes I think I could putt better with my eyes closed.
Of course, I rarely take the time to practice my putting. Apparently, I’m not the only one.
Tim Bishop is the head golf pro at Tatnuck Country Club, and he’s a very good putter. He once played a round in a NEPGA Section Championship in Maine and needed only 25 putts. He admits he’s upset when he takes more than 28. That’s eight fewer than averaging two putts per hole.
“The biggest joy I get,” he said, “is playing with people, and they’re like, ‘You didn’t hit it good, but you shot 75 because you got up and down from everywhere.’ ”
Bishop said he chipped and putted so well one day he shot a 69 at Tatnuck despite hitting only four greens in regulation.
Bishop said that less than 5% of his lessons involve putting, but he believes that percentage should be at least 25 and maybe as high as 50. He pointed out that each par-4 hole is based on taking two shots to reach the green in regulation and then taking two putts — half of your shots. So it makes sense to spend half of your practice time on putting.
Far more golf courses have practice greens than driving ranges, and it doesn’t cost anything to use practice greens. So there’s no excuse not to work on your putting, but you need to practice the proper way.
Most golfers practice putting for five minutes before their rounds, but few practice 30 or 45 minutes. Those who do are probably the better putters.
Bishop stresses developing a proper putting routine. He recommends walking from the cup to your ball to get a feel of the slope of the green, and then standing 10 feet behind the ball to pick out the correct line. He likes to pick out a spot on the green about three quarters of the way to the cup and roll the ball over it toward the cup. The spot could be a ball mark, an old cup or a different color on the green. Then the key is to putt the ball with the proper speed.
“Once you’ve set the ball up and you’re into your routine,” he said, “and you have the line for the putt, then the only worry you have is the speed. If you’re worried about speed first, then nobody gets themselves lined up.”
While I wore a mask, Bishop instructed me to position my hands ahead of the putter blade and my eyes over the ball while placing 60 percent of my weight on my front foot. I hadn’t been doing any of that.
“You have to stroke the ball, not hit it,” he said.
Most golfers try to keep their putter head straight, but Bishop recommends releasing the putter head the same way you would on an iron shot. The toe of the putter must open on the backswing and close on the follow-through.
When I tried to position my hands ahead of the ball, I opened my shoulders, so Bishop placed a club along my shoulders to show me how much I had opened them. He told me to relax my right elbow and drop my right shoulder to align my shoulders. It worked — for at least one putt. Now I have to remember to do everything he said.
Bishop made me feel a bit better when he said an average golfer probably sinks only 20 percent of his or her six-foot putts. So I’m not that far off.
You can spend $425 or more on a new lie angle balance putter. Golfers have tried to putt with the claw grip, crosshanded and left-hand low.
I’ve stubbornly — or cheaply — stuck with my old Scotty Cameron putter and the standard grip.
Bishop recommends drawing a line or two on the ball to help line up putts. He uses Calloway triple track golf balls that come with one red line surrounded by two blue lines. Odyssey triple track putters come with the same red and blue lines as the golf balls. You can even purchase a triple track decal that can be attached to any putter.
Shrewsbury native Brittany Altomare is one of the better putters on the LPGA Tour, and she said she spends a lot of time early each week on her speed and routine.
“Having a solid and consistent routine is so important,” she said, “especially when you get under pressure. You’ll always have your routine to fall back on and then a pressure putt doesn’t seem any different from any other putt.”
Bishop compares putting to kicking field goals in football. Both require developing a proper routine and picking out the correct line and distance.
“For us, it’s the break on the green,” Bishop said, “for them, it’s wind.”
If my putting doesn’t improve, maybe I’ll try kicking footballs. But probably not, because that would require even more practice.
—Contact Bill Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@BillDoyle15.