The best putters in the world are “spot” putters.
That is, they concentrate on “rolling” (not “hitting”) the ball over a spot about 6 inches in front of the ball. They still see the whole putt and visualize it going in, but they use their spot to get aligned. Spot putting helps you move closer to achieving the 4 pillars of good putting (you need all of them to putt your best).
Alignment is one of those 4 pillars. If you don’t align perfectly every time, the only time you’ll hit a good putt is when you get lucky with a mis-hit or your body compensates (like in the full swing, your subconscious tells your body it needs to make compensatory movements for poor alignment). But none of us want to rely on this as this doesn’t allow for consistent improvement. We all need to know we’re consistently aligned to the target and this putting tip will show you how important it is and what you can do to achieve it.
How do you find your “spot”?
Once you’ve read the green and determined the line of your putt (need putting tips on green reading?), you will know which direction the ball needs to move in the first 2-3 feet. For the alignment phase of your routine, this should become be the focus as (with the long game too) it’s a lot easier to align yourself to a spot close to your body that way out in the distance.
Before I find my spot, I like to make my practice swings (you’ll see why in a moment) where you rehearse the feel and visualize the ball moving and dropping in the hole.
I like to pick my spot 6 inches in front of the ball and this is how I do it…
1. Read the green and find the “apex” of the putt. This is the furthest point outside the hole where the ball starts to turn in the other direction.
2. Check out the diagram below (courtesy of Aimpoint Technologies) and you’ll see that the putt needs to start on a line that (if hit straight) would take it outside the apex of the putt. Hold your putter (vertically) out at arms-length and close one eye. If you’re right handed, this would be holding the putter with the grip in your left hand and closing your left eye and find the line that the putt would need to start on (in the first 2-3 ft so that the ball rolls over the apex.
3. Next move your focus (along the shaft of the putter) to about six inches in front of the ball and find a spot. This could be a discolored piece of grass, a spike mark or whatever you can pick out. If you the roll the ball over that spot, you will be hitting the ball on the line to take it over apex and if the speed is right, you’ll hit a perfect putt every time.
Now the reason I like to do my practice swings before I find my spot, is because if I did them after, I could lose sight of my spot and have to start over, which would disrupt the fluidity of the process.
Another of the 4 pillars of good putting is fluidity (making a tension-free stroke), which spot putting helps us with. The more focused you are on the spot and the line (visualizing the putt), the less you’re focused on your putting stroke. You become more “connected” with the putt. Putting needs to be as fluid as possible – any focus on what your body is doing will affect that fluidity (same as the full swing).
When you make finding your spot part of your routine, you’ll know that the putter face is squarely aligned to the target line, which (over time) will breed confidence and a more relaxed stroke.
I also like to have my students not think about hitting the ball. Even thinking about hitting the ball can interfere with focus on the line (which is where it all needs to be). It’s a stroke that the ball gets in the way of.
So what is it you need to align to the “spot”?
Some golf coaches will tell you that you should align your feet, hips and shoulders to the line of the putt, but I beg to differ on this one.
Some of the world’s best putters play with an open or closed stance – take Jack Nicklaus and Jim Furyk, for example. For me, all you need to align is the putter face, your forearms and shoulders (getting the putter face aligned is the first step). The forearms and shoulders determine the path of the putting stroke, not the lower body. If your shoulders and forearms are pointing to the right of the target line, you’ll push more putts to the right (it’s that simple). There’s no need to worry about the alignment of your feet and lower body (do whatever feels comfortable). When you’re over the ball looking at your spot, start to become conscious of the putter face, forearms and shoulders being square to it.
Another thing that an intermediary target does is make you less likely to come out of your posture prematurely and look at the ball’s final target (the hole), which causes miss-hit putts. Staying over the ball until the ball has been hit over your spot will improve your ball striking leading to more consistent putts.
You’ll achieve a much more consistent “roll” on the ball, which is the most important factor in good putting. Not “trying” to make putts, but instead hitting a solid putt to an intermediary target will make you a much better putter.
How to test your alignment
One of the best ways I’ve found to test your alignment while you practice is to use an alignment mirror that can be purchased for less than $40. Players such as Graeme McDowell use this religiously.
Repetition with this tool will get you in the habit of aligning correctly at your spot.