I was struck by the comments of Dave Pelz, the well-known short game guru and teacher of many leading golf professionals, in his book “Putt Like the Pros” with regard to putter alignment. Basically he said that very few golfers are able to obtain align putts properly using just their vision. He gave the example of Jim Simons, who was a successful PGA Tour player some years ago. When Pelz measured his putter alignment he found that on 3 foot putts, Simons was aligned toward the left edge of the cup, even though he thought he was aiming at the middle. For 10 foot putts his alignment was good, but on 30 foot putts Simons was aligned over 3 feet to the right of the hole! How many 30 foot putts could Simons have made? To do so would have taken a minor miracle.
The Brain Compensates for Poor Strokes and Poor Alignment
When a golfer has a stroke that is off-line, his brain and body make subconscious changes to adjust for the error. For example, if a golfer’s putting stroke goes to the outside of the line on his backswing and then to the inside of his intended line after striking the ball, he is essentially applying a sort of cut stoke, and his ball will miss to the left of the hole. Seeing this, his brain will make an adjustment and will cause him to open the putter face at impact so the ball will not miss so much to the left. In fact Pelz states that most people who have a cut putting stoke as described above will miss the hole to the right rather than to the left since the brain and body will overcompensate. I personally had the same problem when I was a young golfer. On tee and fairway shots I would line myself up thinking I was aiming at the target. However, if I were to put a club down in front of my feet to see where I was aiming, it was always far to the right, similar to Simons on a 30 foot putt. As a result my brain and body changed my swing such that I would hit a big hook to compensate. On putts it was the same way. I knew I wasn’t lined up properly and lost a lot of confidence. Pelz said that the best PGA Tour player he worked with on putter alignment was Howard Twitty, who was normally aligned properly on putts of all distances. Almost everyone else is off line, including the pros.
A Simple Approach to a Solid Putting Stroke
Many years ago I played a lot of golf with a person who was an excellent putter. He made lots of putts and could knock the ball in the hole from anywhere. He told me that his method was simple: he would align his putter face to the target, set his feet perpendicular the putter face, and simply swing the putter in line with his feet. This is a simple and excellent way to stroke putts. Of course a golfer also needs good touch to hit the ball the proper distance, but that is another matter. The method described above only works, however, if the putter is aligned properly, if the putter stroke is straight, if the putter face is square at impact, and most importantly, if the putt is struck on the putter “sweet spot”, or the spot on the putter face that is directly in front of the center of gravity of the putter head. Pelz states that if everything is perfect with a putter stroke, but the putt is struck ¼ inch or more from the sweet spot, the putt will miss on average 95% of the time for 8 foot putts. So all factors mentioned above are important if one wishes to make his or her fair share of putts consistently, but it all starts with proper alignment.
A Good Solution- Draw a Line on the Ball
What is the best solution for aligning putts if your normal vision does not allow you to accomplish good putter alignment by sight only? Almost every player on the pro tours uses golf balls that have a line drawn on them. The line is pointed toward the golfer’s target, and he can simply follow the advice of my playing partner of many years ago, that is:
1. Set the putter face perpendicular to the line on the ball.
2. Set his feet parallel to the line on the ball.
3. Stroke the putt in line with his feet.
By the way, there is no reason a golfer couldn’t use the line to align his tee shots as well. Simply place your ball on the tee with the ball line pointing in the correct direction, and align your stance using that.
Good Touch is Paramount
Once again, another factor is extremely important in putting, and that is touch, or the ability to hit the ball the proper length. In fact this is of primary importance, especially on long putts. Pelz’ research shows that putts should be struck with a force that will take the ball 17 inches beyond the hole. That is, putts have the best chance to go into the hole if hit with that amount of force. One other comment is necessary with regard to achieving good putter alignment using a line drawn on the ball. The line should pass through the heaviest or lightest part of the ball. Most golf balls are not perfectly balanced, but if a ball rolls over an axis containing the heavy and light portions of the ball (these are of course on opposite sides) the ball will roll true. Otherwise an unbalanced ball can break to the right or left simply because of defects in the ball. A report describing how to determine the heavy or light spots on a golf ball can be found here:
Putter alignment is a major problem for most golfers, and improper alignment causes multiple flaws in one’s putting stroke. A line on the golf ball can help enormously to improve a golfer’s aim and help him to make more putts on a consistent basis.