DR. JIM SUTTIE HAS A PRESCRIPTION FOR YOUR GAME.
By Harry Hurt III
Even in this age of technological miracles and wonder, putting remains the black art of golf. It is the most important stroke in the game, the one that sinks the ball into that darkened orifice, the hole. It is also the game's most personal stroke, the most psychosomatic, the most mysterious, its everyday practice and most perfect forms of execution shrouded in religious belief and cult behavior not unlike voodoo. It is the realm of rollers, rappers, reverse overlappers, cross-handers, split handers, claw grippers, shovers, cutters, hookers, yankers and yippers.
Dr. Jim Suttie takes a scientific approach to putting that preserves an element of five-centuries-old ritual magic. A golf teacher with a PhD in biomechanics, he is a true believer in fitting the putting method to the man—or woman—rather than vice versa. Suttie is the coauthor with Mike Adams and T. J. Tomasi of The LAWs of the Golf Swing, a book that recommends three distinctly different full-swing methods based on a player's body type. Suttie has also doctored the strokes of numerous tour pros, including perennial putting master Loren Roberts, a.k.a. "The Boss of the Moss."
"There's no one right way to putt," says Suttie, who is based at the Club at TwinEagles in Naples, Florida, during the winter and at Green Garden Country Club near Chicago in the summer. "But there are plenty of things that can go wrong even with the best putting strokes."
Although Suttie refuses to endorse a single putting method, he insists that most pros and amateurs can improve their putting by making better use of their visual-information gathering systems. "No matter how you putt, it's important to read greens correctly and to aim correctly," he says. "To do those things, you need to rely on binocular vision rather than on monocular vision."
Suttie is talking about using both eyes to read and line up putts as opposed to using only your dominant eye. When it comes to reading greens, he believes every golfer should examine the putt from a face-on, full-frontal point of view while standing behind the hole. "Your first look from behind the hole using both eyes is always your best look," he says. "More often than not, you should go with it."
The same binocular technique is equally if not more essential when selecting an aim line on which to stroke the putt. "Nine out of ten putting errors are a result of poor aim," says Suttie. "Most amateur golfers decide on their line when they're already bent over in their stance to putt, and that's a big mistake. You don't see well when you're standing sideways because you're basically looking at the line with only one eye. You should choose your line when you're standing behind the ball looking at the putt with both eyes."
Suttie leavens his biomechanical and optic prescriptions with an added emphasis on the importance of ritual in the form of maintaining a consistent preputt routine. He divines that every golfer should limit his or her preputt routine to no more than fifteen to twenty-two seconds, not merely to speed up play but to avoid paralysis from analysis.
"Amateurs typically take thirty-five or forty seconds to go through their putting routines," he says. "The best players tend to be faster, not slower, and they take the same amount of time over both long and short putts. Dr. Bob Rotella the sports psychologist is always saying, 'Look and react, look and react,' and I agree. The visually oriented right side of the brain is more important than the analytically oriented left side of the brain once you're ready to putt. You shouldn't be camping out over the ball. When you do, you're not reacting anymore."
Suttie claims that maintaining a consistent preputt routine will also cure the yips, those nerve-induced yanks under pressure that occasionally afflict even the best putters and almost constantly haunt the rest of us. "When you're under pressure, you've got to try to stay in your routine at all costs," he says. "You've got to stay focused on the process of putting, not on the result. When you start thinking about results, that's when you screw up."
From a mechanical standpoint, Suttie divides the majority of putters into two types: those who swing their putters straight back and straight through on a line and those with "gated" strokes who swing their putters on a semicircular arc. He hastens to note that these categories describe the path of a putting stroke, which actually has relatively little effect on the outcome of a putt even though it's what most pros and amateurs work on the hardest.
When teaching and coaching putting, Suttie pays close attention to the position of the putter at the moment of impact with the ball. Far more influential than the path of the stroke, he says, is the face angle of the putter blade—i.e., whether it's open, closed or square to the target line at impact. Just as influential is the point of impact on the putter face—i.e., whether the ball is contacted on the heel, toe or center of the putter.