Golf Tips - Putting - Speed vs. Line

By Joe Sullivan

There is much debate in the world of golf about what is more important in putting. Is it line, or is it speed? There have been many credible sources that have argued both sides very well. One of the best putters of all time, Bob Charles, feels that the line is most crucial. Says Bob, "Give me the right line, and I'll knock it in the hole." Ben Hogan, on the other hand, used to feel that speed was the key.

Allow me to throw in my two cents worth.

My take on putting is that speed is much, much more important than line. Here's why...

When we putt, we do so with a flat faced club. We also take a very short swing (as compared to a full shot). This, in turn, makes it just about impossible to put any side spin on the ball. It also make it very hard to hit it off line in terms of pulling and pushing (more than two feet either side of the hole). You almost have to pinch a nerve or something at impact to pull or push a putt more than two-feet wide of the target, if you have the correct speed.

So if we can surmise that it is quite difficult to hit it off line with a flat- faced club and a short swing, then the only other thing that could cause us to hit the ball off line is if we are improperly aimed. But hard is it to line a putt up? It's a piece of cake if you don't overanalyze things. Just pick out a target and line the blade up perpendicular to that.

Yes, the BLADE. The blade is all you have to concern yourself with. Your body can be open (Ray Floyd), closed (Dave Stockton), hunched over (Jack Nicklaus), or pretty much any other way you want it to be. Just get that little flat faced club going in the direction of the target.

So if the entire line of the putt is taken care of by essentially just lining up one object perpendicular to another, then that leaves us with one thing to think about, speed. SPEED CONTROLS EVERYTHING! Speed is the determining factor with every putt. It controls the line. It controls the break. It controls if your putt will lip in or lip out. It ultimately controls why there are so many three putts.

If speed controls everything, then that begs the question of how someone goes about controlling speed. It's a question that on the whole, has no answer. The fact remains that I can hit a putt 30 feet with a short stroke like Greg Norman, and I can hit a putt 30 feet with a long stroke like Phil Mickelson. I can "decel" through impact like Joe Ozaki, or I can "excel" like Paul Azinger.

There are a bunch of ways to control the speed of the putt, so I am not about to begin to tell you how. Could you imagine if Jim Furyk bought into the notion throughout the golf world that Ben Crenshaw has the perfect stroke. Or could you imagine if Gentle Ben saw Jim Furyk and said to himself, "I'm going to get cross handed and quick like him." They are polar opposite, but both great putters.

The point is that the way you control your speed is the way that is right for you. Maybe you are long and fluid. Maybe you are short and jabby. It's all about what makes you feel comfortable and confident.

This is also why practicing the speed of your putts is so important. You need to find the optimum distance you stroke the club, and what degree of force you hit the ball with. This will allow for you to gauge the situation a lot easier when presented with different length putts.

It different for everybody. There is no one right way. It takes practice. Get out there. Speed is king. Find yours. *

Columns ©1999 Joseph K. Sullivan and GolfLink Inc. All rights reserved.


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