Start Putting (and Making) the Short Ones

Taking gimmes impact your handicapI remember reading somewhere that the average golfer effectively lowers his or her handicap a full 3 strokes by taking unwarranted gimmes.

In other words, taking gimmes on a regular basis results in a handicap index that is lower than your true ability. This is bad if you’re giving strokes to your friends on Saturday mornings. I don’t know how accurate that 3-stroke statistic is, but it’s compelled me to take the time, even when I’m just playing by myself, to putt everything out. I always want to know that my handicap is an accurate measure of my game, and unfortunately my game includes a fairly severe incompetence from inside 5 feet.

The day I left a 24-inch putt 6 inches short was the day I knew I had to do something about my short putting. If you’re like me, the sight of your golf ball coming to rest anywhere between 2 and 5 feet from the hole causes immediate, involuntary twitching. In fact, I sometimes will my chips to roll 10 feet past just so I won’t have to face the shakes from 4 feet. Missing a 10-footer is much more fun. The ones inside 5 feet are nothing-to-gain, everything-to-lose propositions. If you make it, who cares. Everyone’s already walked to the next tee anyway. If you miss it, well, you start missing all of them.

If we can’t in good conscience sweep them up with the back of the putter, we might as well try to figure out how to make them, right? I’ve recently seen three great tips that are really helping:

1. Commit to the process, not the outcome.
This is a fairly well-known mantra by this point, but I first read it in one of Bob Rotella’s books. The idea is this: You can’t control the outcome of the putt. You can’t really even control your stroke once you start the putter back. The only thing you can control is how you prepare for the stroke. Commit to that preparation. Hold yourself accountable to that preparation and nothing else. From 2 to 5 feet, my new preparation consists of rehearsing two thoughts over and over again in my head. What used to be variations on “you suck, you know you’re going to miss this” has turned into…

2. 25% back, 75% through.

This I got from Phil’s new short game instructional DVD. It’s simple, but it works. Think about taking the putter back 25% and through 75%. This thought will force you to accelerate through the ball. No chance of leaving a 24-incher 6 inches short. Your strokes will be firm and positive.

Back of the left hand to the hole
 3. Back of the left hand to the hole (right hand for lefties).

Another tip from Phil. As you prepare for your putt, think about how the back of your left hand will move through the ball and directly at the hole. Maybe even rehearse the physical motion a few times with your left hand. No wrist-break, no flipping of the hands, just a smooth motion right at the hole.

(back 25%, through 75%, left hand to the hole… back 25%, through 75%, left hand to the hole)

Try it. Rehearse these thoughts as part of your pre-putt routine instead of worrying about how humiliating a miss would be. If you train your mind, the execution will follow.

Now, quit giving yourself those short putts. Start knocking them in instead.

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