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Touch versus Direction in Putting

The 47th Secret

As you may have concluded by our past discussion of putting, the great difficulties with this part of the game arise from its many variables, some of which are not subject to our direct control, such as course conditions. There are two variables that do come within our powers: speed and direction. Anything we can do to improve our ability to gauge distance or to increase accuracy should be done. Unfortunately, by taking measures that improve direction we often injure our touch for speed. The big undecided issue in putting has always been whether to emphasize the mechanical adjustments that accentuate touch or those that help guarantee direction.
Should the grip be firm or delicate? Should the wrists be unyielding or broken? Should the ball be stroked or tapped? Should the blade be light or heavy? And there are many other questions. The answer to the problem of putting form is generally decided by copying whatever player has the current reputation of being the best.
There may not be a hard and fast answer. In the short putts,for instance, accuracy is at a premium. Our chief concern is that the blade will always meet the ball at the same angle. A firm grip, firm wrists, and arms that do not wobble eccentrically are indicated. We must deliberately sacrifice touch for accuracy.
In the longer putts touch is at a premium, for in most cases a three-putt green results from balls that are too short or too long, not ones that are off line. Our chief concern is distance gauging is to use the grip and muscles that will produce the maximum touch. This indicates a looser grip and smaller muscles in order to capitalize upon the inherent greater sensitivity of the fingers of the right hand, particularly the index finger. We must deliberately sacrifice accuracy for touch.
Although putting in itself is difficult enough, it would seem that for the perfectionist there is no alternative but to use varying styles of putting according to the "logic of the situation." Putting situations have great variety; hence it would seem that the next advance in putting technique will have to come from the abandonment of the idea that one stroke suffices for all shots.
The right combination of the light touch versus firmness comes about through variety in putting practice. In order to achieve this variety, it is recommended that you scatter a number of balls around the hole in the form of an ellipse. This will give practice with the grain, against the grain, downhill to the right, downhill to the left, etc., at varying distances.
An important variable to be removed in putting is not hitting the ball squarely. This variable can best be removed by practicing long putts—the longer the putt, the greater the observable distance between the well-hit putt and the slightly mis-hit putt.
If only short putts are practiced, the difference between a well-hit putt and a slightly mis-hit putt is hardly detectable.
One of my golfing companions who had been sold on the idea that "if you can make the short ones, you don't have to worry about the long ones," never practiced anything but 3-and 4-foot putts. He was quite accurate with these, but rarely made a long one. Of course, if my friend had conscientiously practiced weaknesses, he would have split his putting practice time to provide for remedial practice of long putts.