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Smart Golf: Putting Tips

"One of the biggest barriers to good putting is not knowing which of these two types of putters you are and then confronting conflicts when you try to be both," Shannon said. A good illustration of this is when a caddy tells his player to aim four inches to the right of the hole. A linear putter will do just that and the ball will have a chance of breaking appropriately into the hole, whereas a nonlinear putter, focusing on the spot four inches to the right of the hole and trusting to his touch and feel, will often start his putt eight inches to the right and see it finish at the spot the caddy indicated. Most traditional putting drills are designed to get putts started off straight in the right direction and are oriented to linear putters. For nonlinear putters, whom Shannon has found to be in the majority, learning to have faith in their touch and feel can take some extra work, but it can also be extremely liberating (see the "Putting Clock Drill" below). "You often hear them say something like, 'This is how I've always wanted to putt, but I never felt I was supposed to,'" he said.

As for pace and rhythm, one of Shannon's principle discoveries in his work with Tour pros is that the best putters were either always aggressive (consistently trying to make the ball finish two to four feet past the hole if it didn't go in) or always nonaggressive (trying to make the ball tumble over the front edge of the cup and, if it didn't, finish between a foot short or a foot and a half long). The worst Tour putters, by contrast, were "situational" putters. On putts inside ten feet, they might putt aggressively, but then on long lag putts or downhillers, putt nonaggressively. "Situational putters have big problems, and it shows up a lot in bad reads," Shannon said. "Every player will be better served if he finds the putting style he is comfortable with and uses that style every time, regardless of the situation."

THE EYES HAVE IT
The best ball position for aiming a putt accurately is not necessarily below the nose. Depending on which eye is dominant and the degree of farsightedness or nearsightedness, some people's vision naturally triangulates to the left of dead center and others to the right. Mike Shannon has found that positioning the ball at the spot where vision naturally triangulates is necessary for perfect aim.

THE TRIANGLE STROKE
The stroke used by almost all of the best putters on the PGA Tour is a simple, natural arc, which Shannon calls the triangle stroke. Think of the spot on your torso at which the putter shaft points at address as the top of the triangle. The shaft should point at that same spot when the putter pauses at the end of the backswing and also when it stops at the finish of the forward swing. When players break their wrists on the follow-through or otherwise divert from the ideal arc, the shaft points elsewhere and the triangle is broken.

THE PUTTING CLOCK DRILL
Most traditional putting drills and tips—using chalk lines and strings, putting over intermediate spots and so forth—are designed for linear players. This drill helps nonlinear putters develop trust in their touch and feel and rely less on linear vision. Address the ball with proper grip and posture, but do not consciously attempt to aim the putter using your sight. Instead, look at the hole, imagine it as a clock face and determine at what hour on the face your putt, if properly struck, should enter the hole. While still looking at the hole, adjust your feet and body slightly, if necessary, until you sense that the putter is aimed correctly, and visualize the intended line all the way back to your ball. Then look down and, without realigning, make your stroke.

LINEAR VERSUS NONLINEAR
Many golfers are linear putters, who tend to convert all putts into straight lines; if a putt breaks four inches to the left, their strategy is to aim four inches to the right and then try to stroke the ball dead straight at that spot. But Shannon believes that as many as two-thirds of all golfers are nonlinear; they visualize the ball finishing in the hole and trust their touch and feel to send it along the correct curving path (see drill above).

PRIVATE LESSONS
MIKE SHANNON
Sea Island Golf Learning Center, Sea Island, GA
800-732-4752 or seaisland.com
Individual lesson: $150 per hour

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