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
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.