If you’ve added a couple of strokes to your handicap lately, the first place to look for improvement is probably your putting. Even if that’s not the primary cause of your scoring problem, a better putting performance is still the quickest way to cut strokes off your game. And if you want to putt better, the guy to see is Bill Smittle at Scarsdale Golf Club.
Smittle studies putting the way Stephen Hawking studies black holes in the universe—scientifically. A couple of years ago, Smittle created a state-of-the-art putting studio to analyze students’ strokes using numerous high-tech tools like Science & Motion’s Putting Lab that employs ultrasound to measure and analyze 28 different putting stroke parameters. Having seen a definite deterioration in my putting this year, I paid him a visit recently to get a diagnosis, prescription, and if nothing else, a glimmer of hope. I was not disappointed.
Bill and I talked a bit about what my putting has been like this season, then he measured the two flat sticks I’ve been using. He then had me stroke a half dozen putts with each using his high-tech tools to measure what happens versus what I think happens when I swipe at the ball. Basically, the diagnosis is that my set-up to the ball is pointed about 2.5 degrees to the left (which would translate to a three-inch miss on a ten-foot straight putt). The path of my stroke opens the clubface about the same amount, so I’m essentially self-correcting and hitting the ball straight most of the time, although not where I’m actually aiming.
So why don’t I make every putt? The answer was in how Smittle described the process of getting the ball into the hole. “If you aim correctly,” he said, “get the ball off the club head straight, and have a feel for distance, you can make a lot of putts.” So far, I accomplished one out of three—I hit the ball straight off the putter face.
Bill Smittle demonstrating solid stroke and alignment at Scarsdale GC
The next test was to determine my aim—requiring nothing more than a ball, a pencil, and a target about ten feet away. Smittle had me lay a pencil in front of the ball pointing dead straight (as I perceived it) at the target, then stand behind it and sight along the pencil using a club shaft and my dominant eye to see if my aim was correct. It wasn’t. I consistently pointed the pencil right of the target, which would help explain why I was aiming my set-up to the left—I was subconsciously compensating.
The third element, the feel for distance, has been problematic for me lately; I have been leaving a lot of putts short for some reason. Smittle’s measurements showed that I was hitting the ball slightly below its equator, which gives it a bit of backspin and robs it of energy.
After the analysis, we went to the putting green. Bill suggested I move the ball forward an inch and move my hands with it, essentially creating a path that would impart some top-spin. He then had me practice several strokes along a taut string to straighten out the path of my stroke a bit to improve its consistency. It wasn’t long before I was pouring in fifteen footers one after another. The added confidence I gained from the lesson alone should be worth two strokes a round.