You need two things to make putts: a good read and a good stroke. Many experts think my stroke is one of the best on Tour. My secret? I “pop” the ball, rather than putt it. It’s old-school; players needed more oomph at impact back when greens were slower. But it works, even on ultra-fast greens. It gets the ball rolling sooner with less wobble and skid.
The keys to the pop method are hinging your wrists and transferring all the energy into the ball at impact, not past it. Once the ball leaves the putterface, there’s no reason to keep moving the putter. Many everyday players use a short backstroke and long throughstroke, thinking that it will help promote deceleration. Big mistake. In fact, a stroke like that can cause an inconsistent steering motion. With a pop stroke, you’re always getting smooth acceleration.
If you make good reads but miss a lot of putts, try my pop stroke. A quicker, shorter stroke helps the ball hug the line, turning your frustrating flatstick into a legitimate scoring weapon.
Step 1: TAKE TWO GRIPS FOR MORE FEEL
The quality of your grip determines how well you can control the putterface, so you’ve got to spend some time working on it. A lot of players hold the club in a way that fuses their hands into a single unit. That’s not my preference. I think a method like that deadens your feel for the putterhead. Instead, I put my hands on the grip separately, so I can feel the club with all of my fingers. For a better hold and more control and feel, follow these simple steps.
1. Place the grip over the lifeline in your left palm. Make sure the butt of the grip sticks out above your heel pad.
2. Set your left thumb on top of the handle and squeeze your pinkie, ring and middle fingers around the grip.
3. When you apply your right hand, again set the grip against the lifeline in your palm.
4. Press your right thumb against the top of the handle and wrap all four fingers firmly around the grip.
Don’t worry about overlapping or interlocking your fingers -- simply rest your left index finger against the knuckles of your right hand.
Your goal? Feel the club with both hands, which you can’t do if you press your left index finger hard against your right hand, or interlock it with your right pinkie. Make sure the Vs formed by both thumbs and index fingers point at your right shoulder, as with your irons and woods. In this sense, the putting stroke is a small version of your full swing, and you want to treat it the same way.
Step 2: USE YOUR EYES FOR BETTER POSTURE AND AIM
It’s important to feel comfortable at address, but you don’t want to get sloppy. Make sure you bend from your hips and not your waist, and that your eyes are directly over the ball. This is critical, because if your eyes aren’t over the ball, it means you’re standing too close or too far away from it, and your stroke won’t be consistent. Plus, setting your eyes over the ball aligns them with the target line, making it easier to aim the putterhead.
Here’s a trick you can use to practice getting this right. Address the ball, then hold a second ball against the bridge of your nose and let it drop. If the dropped ball hits the one on the ground, you’ve nailed your setup. You can also use your putter to check your address by holding it in line with your eyes and making sure it points straight down at the ball.
If you’re left-eye dominant, tilt your head so that your left eye looks directly at the ball. If you’re right-eye dominant, like I am, tilt your head so that your right eye looks directly at the ball. This extra fine-tuning helps you keep your head steady when you putt. Your dominant eye always seeks out the ball’s position, and if it doesn’t have a clear view of it at the start, you’ll instinctively move your head so that it does at impact. This makes it impossible to produce consistent contact, roll or distance.
Step 3: HINGE AND POP FOR A PURER ROLL
Now for the good stuff! Here’s my step-by-step guide to making my pop stroke. Before I tell you what to do, here’s what not to do: Don’t lock your arms and wrists in an effort to control the club by rocking your shoulders. I know that this is the method most people are taught, but it adds a lot of tension to your body and your stroke. A good pop stroke nixes these errors, and a lot more.
Takeaway: As you start back, actively hinge your wrists, as though you’re flipping the putterhead away from the target. No need to overdo it. It can be subtle. But the pop stroke requires some wrist flex right from the start of your stroke.
Backstroke: Keep your arms loose and swing them in response to the momentum created by your wrist hinge. The photos above show that I get the putterhead fairly deep in my backstroke without much shoulder or arm movement. You don’t want to rigidly control the club with your shoulders, like you’ve probably been taught.
Forward-stroke: Once you transition from backstroke to forward-stroke, smoothly unhinge your wrists while swinging your arms down the target line. You want to feel that the putterhead is moving more than the handle, sort of like it does when you release one of your irons through impact. Swing the putterhead into the ball, not the grip.
Impact: It’s critical that you strike the ball with a neutral putterface. Never add or subtract loft from the putterhead at impact -- either mistake can cause the ball to hop, skid or otherwise roll inconsistently. That’s why I don’t rehinge my wrists after contact. If you’re going to miss, miss by hitting slightly up on the ball. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than hitting down on it.
Throughstroke: My pop stroke pretty much stops at impact. All that talk about matching the length of your throughstroke to the length of your backstroke? Forget it! To vary distance, vary the length of your backstroke and see how far the ball rolls. My eyes tell me how far I want the ball to travel; then I simply take the putter back as far as needed. Your backstroke determines distance. Your throughstroke is an afterthought.
BONUS! A Drill for Smooth Pops
To get the proper feel for the pop stroke, try my favorite drill. Place your left hand on your right biceps and hit putts with only your right hand and arm. To do it, you’ll need to flex your right wrist to get enough power on the ball, and you’ll have to swing the clubhead more than you swing the handle. Use your left hand to make sure your right elbow doesn’t fly out as you make your stroke. Keep your right elbow in. This helps you to move the putterhead straight down the line and contact the ball with the putterface in a neutral position, without adding or decreasing loft.
At first, you’ll feel like the ball is coming off too fast. That’s okay, especially if you miss putts on the low side, which is what most weekend players do. Those misses seem like green-reading errors, but it happens when you don’t give the ball enough pace. A slow roll is more susceptible to break, and putts that reach the hole with pace are less likely to lose their line and more likely drop!
Finally, I strongly recommend that you practice three-, four-, and five-footers. I work on these constantly. If you build up your confidence on the short ones, you’ll feel comfortable and confident on the longer putts. In fact, a key to my success is never having to worry about three-putting. I take dead aim and try to make every putt I look at, and I deal with the comebacker -- if there is one -- afterward.