ON THE AIR - Joe Roberts
Better Golf With Joe Roberts seeks to improve the game of the average golfer by asking questions of leading teachers and having them describe solutions to common golf situations and developments in teaching the game.
In my last column, I passed on some tips for improving your game as seen through the eyes of Lee Trevino. I had the opportunity to interview Lee on several occasions in connection with ďGolfing America and the World,Ē a show I hosted on the Travel Channel some years ago.
Today, we pick up with some more of Leeís views on improving your putting.
Joe: Lee, Iím going to try to sum up a few of the main points you pointed out about putting. You said that the back of the left hand (for right-handed players) must always be facing square to the clubface. Surprisingly, you also said that you donít believe that the ball should be played from the same spot in your stance for every putt. On uphill putts you want the ball played deeper in your stance. On long putts, you try to strike the ball with a slightly descending stroke. Is that generally what you believe?
Lee: Joe, thatís right on the money. Iíll need to keep your number in case I need a character witness sometime.
Joe: You also have some thoughts on grip pressure.
Lee: Yes, I do. I know most teachers suggest a very, very light grip so that itís easier to sense the weight of the club head. But, my experience leads me to grip the club a little more firmly because on strokes that are slightly off the sweet spot it keeps my club head from turning off line. Also, on longer putts, with a very light grip there is a tendency for folks to take the club back too far and then decelerate coming through.
Joe: Lee, we have not mentioned anything about set-up.
Lee: Iím glad you remembered that. Just as it is in a full swing, the way you set your body up for a putt is very important. I use a square stance and I like to have about 60% of my weight on my front foot. There should be a nice comfortable flex in the knees. Just a little. When I grip the club, I like to see the first knuckle of my left hand. Also, I prefer that the right elbow be tucked into the right side, not floating around somewhere. On all straight putts which, incidentally, are the hardest putts to make because there is no room for error, I check the line from behind the ball and pick out a spot about six inches in front of the ball. I place the ball on the inside of the front heel. Now, here is a small but very important point. Grip the putter with the front hand square to the club head, and then donít re-grip at all. I canít stress that enough. If you donít and set the club behind the ball then take your grip, there is no guarantee that your hands will be square. Remember, you take your stance after you have placed the club head behind the ball.
Joe: What about the stroke?
Lee: I prefer a stroke that accelerates through the ball. That means that folks should experiment with how long the backstroke should be. Practice is so important. You just want to feel that your hands are pushing through toward the hole. I take the club straight back and through. Probably one of the most important points of all is to keep your head still. I know youíve heard it time and time again, but in my pro-amís I see it all the time. They putt and peek. Sometimes they peek too soon and the ball goes off line. Watch Tiger and other good putters. They donít move their heads until the ball is two or three feet on its way. As a matter of fact, donít move your head at all on short putts until you hear the ball drop in the hole.
Joe: Any final thoughts, Lee?
Lee: This may seem a little advanced, but it could save a stroke or two, especially for the better players. On double-breaking putts, donít concentrate too hard on trying to figure out the entire line. Itís the last few feet from the hole that you should really key on because thatís when the ball starts slowing down and breaks have the most effect. You should also start reading the green from the moment you begin approaching it. Remember that in the northeast, most of the grass is of the bent variety. That means that the blades of grass are soft and the greens are usually fast. And they always grow downhill. If the grass looks glossy, you are putting with the grain and the putt will be faster. Now, for the snowbirds who play their winter golf in the south, they will most likely be putting on Bermuda grass. The thing to remember is that Bermuda always grows toward the setting sun. So, you should always know where west is. Rye grass grows straight up and has a tendency to make the ball fishtail sometimes, so you may need a firmer stroke to keep the ball on line.
Joe: Lee, a final word on the dreaded yips.
Lee: You know, Joe, with all of the long putters now available, the yips are becoming less of a problem. With the top hand anchored against your chest, there is less tendency for the nerves in the hands to twitch. However, if you feel a little edgy, try gripping the putter with the palms facing up and not grounding your putter. Oh, and one more thing. Pray!