One of the most frustrating things in all of golf is missing a short putt you know you should make. You stick it close to the pin for birdie, or hit a nice pitch in tight enough to save par, and step up to that mere formality only to yank the confounded thing left, shove it right, or convince yourself of some imaginary break by the time you stand over it that doesn’t turn out to exist.
I’m convinced that some of the most colorful words in the English language have been invented at these moments, which can drive otherwise sane and rational individuals to engage in displays of behavior that might have the casual observer calling for the “men in white coats” to intervene. And while doing this (again and again and again) can be the precursor to a nasty case of the dreaded yips, I want to intervene before it ever gets that far by pointing out a very common mechanical (not mental) flaw that I’ve observed over the years by a vast majority of players who end up in this frightening place
First of all, most golfers don’t hit short putts as firmly as they should, and being tentative at short distances sets you up for these issues. Unless you’re dead downhill, or staring at the crest of a tier on the opposite side of your ball, you ideally want to hit putts under 4 feet hard enough to take most of the break out of them (if there is any), which also helps mitigate the subtle bumps and inconsistencies in the greens. This translates to at least 18 inches beyond the hole. Dave Pelz did some research to back this figure up a few years ago, but we won’t get into that right now.
Secondly, you need to make sure you keep your shoulders moving until the completion of the stroke. In the vast majority of players I’ve seen who struggle with this distance, you see their shoulders either slow or stop completely at or near the moment of impact, allowing the momentum of the putter head to take over as the lead wrist breaks down and the face closes. This results in the ball being pulled from the intended target line, and after missing more than a few that direction you begin to understand why alignment adjustments (read problems) creep in.
Because the overall length of the stroke is pretty small at these distances, regardless of how aggressive your approach, this mechanical flaw can be subtle enough that even fairly accomplished players are often found to suffer from it without even realizing it.
Here’s a way to start to correct the problem.
First of all, you need to practice putting with your glove on. Don’t wear a glove? Invest in one for this drill and I promise it will pay for itself in just a few short rounds with the money you make back from your golfing buddies when you start making those putts again.
Second, get a freshly sharpened pencil from the golf shop and slide it into your glove at the back of your wrist with the point facing down until it is in as far as the middle of the back of your hand (as seen above). If you keep your lead wrist flat (as it should be) throughout your stroke the sharp point of the pencil will never come in contact with the back of your hand. Stop your shoulders and let that lead wrist break down during your stroke and you’ll get a painful little reminder as the pencil point pokes you in the back of the hand at the moment of break-down.
To further help avoid lead wrist breakdown, make sure your goal as far as pace is concerned is a point well beyond the hole. Even look at a spot at the back of the cup you want your ball to hit as it goes in, rather than focusing on the front of the hole. Once you start doing these things, it should start taking the pain out of missing short putts… literally. Try it, and let me know what you think.