Dave Pelz - Fundamentals of Good Putting

Published 27/08/2013 07:10:00

Dave Pelz is golf coach and seminal author of 1999 best seller Short Game Bible. Pelz is known for a scientific approach to the game which has extended into putting as well. In this exclusive interview for Into the Rough he talks short game fundamentals.

Into the Rough: How is it you've come to focus on the short game, especially putting?

DP: If you care about score and handicap, about excelling in the game of scoring in golf, you have to pay attention to your short game. You have to find out where you are losing strokes and solve that problem. The nice thing is that it turns out it doesn't take a lot of physical talent or hand-eye coordination or strength or agility. It takes knowledge and understanding and practice. Those are things we all have, or can have.

ITR: Knowledge and understanding of what?

DP: Of what you are trying to do. For instance, most golfers don't know why they miss putts. They strike a putt, look up and see it miss the hole, and they honestly, deep down, have no idea why. They don't know if they aimed wrong or if they turned their wrists or if they hit too hard or if the ball hit a ball mark or foot print. Golfers instinctively blame themselves. They blame their stroke. So, if they miss a putt, they'll change their next stroke.

ITR: Why is that?

DP: Most golfers go about putting in a "random change" mode. They continually change what they are trying to do, never knowing what is right or wrong. When I work with a golfer, I measure what he is doing and then we revert to the laws of physics - what makes the ball start on a straight line or move in the direction you want. I measure what he is doing that does not conform to fundamentals and we go from there. You can practice your whole life on something that does not work, and it still will not work.

ITR: What are the fundamentals you look for?

DP: I teach four fundamentals of the putting stroke, of putting stroke mechanics. First, you have to aim the putter where you want the ball to go. Most golfers aim poorly, so before they start they're fighting a loosing battle. You can never develop a good stroke if you aim wrong because then, good strokes will make you miss. Next is the path of the putter. The direction the putter is moving in during the stroke should be along the line you want the ball to start on. The third perimeter is the face angle. It must be square, be perpendicular, to that line you're moving along. If the blade of the putter is square and the putter is moving in the direction you want, the ball has to start at that direction. The last fundamental is the point of impact on the putter face, where the ball strikes the head of the putter. Different putter heads need to be struck in different places, and most golfers don't know where (on the face of the putter) to strike the ball.

ITR: What is the most common mistake you see golfers make when they "take aim?"

DP: Aim is a learned phenomenon. It's not something you are born with or that you're saddled with the rest of your life. You change it in a fairly short period of time. In general, people aim poorly - they don't put their eyes in a good position to see how to aim. Imagine aiming a gun with your eyes off to the left. Nobody would ever consider doing that, but golfers (effectively) do that. They stand so that their eyes are not on the "aim line."

ITR: What happens to a person who tries to aim with his eyes off the line?

DP: There's no absolute, but usually when a person's eyes are left of, inside the line, he'll aim a little to the right. If his eyes are past the line, outside of it, he'll aim left. The farther away from the line your eyes get, the less idea you have of where you're aiming. Once we've measured where your eyes are and where you're aiming, we'll put your eyes in the right place. Things will look very, very different. We have to show you how to repeat that proper position, so over a period of time you can learn what this new, accurately aimed putter is supposed to look like.

ITR: Why would someone try to aim with their eyes off line? Is it something they do unconsciously?

DP: Yes. When people start playing golf, they're told putting is an individual thing and that they should pick a putter they like the looks of, get comfortable, and putt. None of those things have anything to do with accurate putting. A putter you like the looks of has nothing to do with the putter you should be using, based on your stroke or impact position or path. Getting comfortable has nothing to do with putting well. It turns out that good players get comfortable when they make putts. If you can make putts, you feel good, and that makes you comfortable.

ITR: In what position should a player have their eyes in order to be able to aim properly?

DP: Your eyes should be over the ball's starting line, preferably behind the ball a little bit. There are two lines. What we call the "target" line is the line that runs between the ball and the hole, and usually, that's a curved line. It starts off in one direction, and then, based on the slope of the green, it curves. The "aim line" is the straight line that starts the ball ... if your ball starts in the direction of the aim line, it will curve into the hole. We want our students to be able to aim by placing their putters exactly perpendicular to the aim line.

ITR: Once you've established aim, what's the next step?

DP: The second step is stroke mechanics: path, face angle and impact point. You have to have all those correct also, but you've made a great step forward if you're aiming correctly because if you also are making a good stroke, your ball will go where it's supposed to. If you make a poor stroke, the ball is going to go badly, so we give you feedback on the stroke mechanics. Feedback is everything to me. People can't learn without feedback. In putting, people don't know what they are doing wrong, so we give them feedback by measuring their face angle, their path and their impact point.

ITR: Let's say I go out to the practice green and putt 30 balls. Three go in the hole, but 15 go right and the rest go left. Is there any feedback involved in that?

DP: None at all, because you don't know which parameter was wrong. If the ball goes left, you don't know if you aimed left or pulled it or closed your face angle, and if you don't know why, you're not likely to correct it. Which one do you correct? If you don't know what to correct. The stories in golf are legendary. Arnold Palmer drove himself to the yips, Ben Hogan drove himself to the yips, and Tom Watson recently drove himself to the yips. They practiced on greens and hit many, many putts. They spent hours and hours developing the yips because they missed putts and didn't know why. They kept changing things, trying to get better, and they changed the wrong things. The whole key to learning to putt better is learning what you are doing wrong and correcting it.

ITR: Which one of the four fundamentals do you see go wrong most often?

DP: Aim will be wrong most often, and face angle is next, followed by not hitting the correct impact point. The last thing is path, the direction of the stroke. The funny thing about that is that path is the one that's practiced the most. Most people practice 'path' because they can see it, and that's usually the least of their problems.

ITR: Why is that?

DP: I think most people practice putting in a state of "mild confusion." They know in general where they want the ball to go, but they don't know in detail how to make it go there. So, they just kind of practice making it generally go there. They get their approximations and compensations, but they never get anything very grooved or accurate. I did a little survey on the PGA Tour. I asked 50 guys at what age they putted best. Most said they putted better when they were 14-to-18 years old, including Ben Crenshaw. Why is it that they spend their entire lives practicing putting, and don't get better? It's because their not practicing right.

ITR: How do you address the subjects of touch and feel?

DP: People think touch is a God-given talent. They think Tom Kite was born with great touch and D.A. Weibring was born with great touch. They weren't. Learning touch is the easiest part of the system I teach, but it's the last part I teach. That's because a putting stroke that is not consistent, that doesn't do the same thing every time, preludes you from ever learning how to putt. You must learn a good mechanical stroke that is repetitive before you can learn touch, because touch is the repetition of a consistent stroke and watching how that behaves on the green. If you don't have a consistent stroke, the result changes every time. But touch is actually very easy to learn. It does have to be learned on the green, on the golf course. You can't learn it at home or in the office, on carpet.

ITR: So a golfer should practice touch on the course, but practice the stroke mechanics away from the course?

DP: That's very close to what our system is. The Dave Pelz belief is that you practice putting mechanics, with feedback, away from the golf course. Those four fundamentals, the mechanics you practice, you practice in your office, your den ... away from the course. When you go to the course, you practice touch. I never practice my putting stroke mechanics on the putting green, because there's no feedback.

ITR: You said earlier the picking a putter that "looks good" doesn't have anything to do with good putting. What part does the putter itself play?

DP: Every once in while, once in 1,000 tries, some guy will go into a pro shop and buy a putter and, due to random odds and circumstances, he'll come right out and make several putts. Stories of Tour pros going into a shop, buying a putter and winning a tournament with it have been promoted, but millions of golfers have bought putters and have not had those results. It's not really the putter. In general, it's the putting stroke. It's the ability of the golfer to putt that determines how many putts he's going to make. Tom Kite makes more putts than most golfers because he's a better putter, not because of his putter.

ITR: And you feel that anyone can become a good putter?

DP: Some of the best athletes I work with have the hardest time learning and progressing. They're pretty good players, but they can't become the best players because they have never had the discipline to learn and develop consistent techniques. Golf is really about repeating. It's not a game of God-given talent or strength or ability or athletic prowess. It's a game of being able to do what you expect to do and it's a game of being able to produce anticipated results. I think that should give non-athletes great heart and encouragement. It's a learned skill. It's not a science, but a good dose of science doesn't hurt, because a true understanding of what you're trying to do makes learning so much easier.


Dave's Putting Bible is available now



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