Most use a regular interlocking grip. But some use variations with success:
• The cross-handed, with the left hand under the right, eliminates pushes or pulls.
• The claw puts the left hand on top and right on the bottom, like holding a pencil.
• The belly putter stroke requires a longer shaft that fits near the belly button. It's supposed to create a pendulum motion.
• The split-handed grip is used with a longer putter and the hands split from each other. The stance is open at a 45-degree angle.
There are two in putting, the arching path, which mimics the swing on a drive or iron shot, and straight back, the straight-through method.
There are variations. The belly putter makes the swing like a pendulum. In the side-saddle method, a player puts both feet to one side of the ball and swings like a pendulum. The goal for any of the putts is to have the putter face square at impact.
Lake said the swing plane varies because of how players' arms swing. For some, it is more natural to stand straight up with an arching swing, for others it is better to crouch and use the straight-back method.
"The tour pros, for the most part, have an arching path,'' he said. "Amateurs think keeping it straight is best. It really depends on somebody's physical makeup. Jack Nicklaus was a great straight-back, straight-through putter. Tiger Woods tends to be straight back, straight through. The bottom line for the amateur is hit it square. Doesn't matter how. Just hit it square and repeat it.''
Brian Lake remembers a time about five years ago when he gave a lesson on putting that seemed to make a difference. The student understood what Lake was saying, made the adjustments and started putting better. It was such a good lesson, the director of golf at Pasadena Yacht and Country Club Lake said: "I thought, 'I should write that down.' Then I started writing down other ideas, and five years later I had enough for a book.'' Putt Like a Pro hit the market in late March. It breaks down all aspects of putting in 10 chapters. Lake gives us five tips to better putting.
Aim and distance
Putting starts with touch, and Lake suggests the best way to establish a feel on the green is to practice the short, straight ones first.
"First putt of the day, you want to pick a 3-footer, dead straight. You don't want any breaks that aren't telling you if you're straight or not. If you pull it or push it, then we've got something to work on. If it goes in, then we want to repeat and repeat.''
He's not suggesting a Phil Mickelson-type regime. The world's No. 2 golfer will make 100 straight 3-footers before moving to the next drill. But try to make 10 straight, then move to 6 feet, then 10 feet. The purpose is distance control.
• Place six or eight balls in a circle around the hole, 3 feet away. If you miss, replace the balls and start over.
• Place two tees about 3 inches apart, and place your ball 3 feet away. The expectation is to hit it between the tees, with your expected number rising as you progress.
• Place three irons on the green, end to end but separated by a club length. The object is to putt and have the ball stop within the length of each iron. Start with the first iron, about 3 feet away, then move to the next, about 9 feet away, and so on.
"Distance control is best done without a hole,'' Lake said. "We're not worried about direction; we're worried about distance.''
The right putter
There are putters with center shafts, offset shafts, with mallets and with blades. Some have longer shafts; some are set back from the shaft. Lake says players should be fitted for a putter if they are serious about the game.
"A center-shafted putter is excellent for straight back, straight through,'' he said. "You want the putter with the shaft on the end if you have an arching stroke.
"Those putters with the big stinking heads on them are all designed for the sweet spot. If you miss the sweet spot a little bit, those big putters are going to be more forgiving. If you always hit the sweet spot, then you can use any old blade-type putter.''
Make it interesting
The drills can sometimes get tedious, so Lake suggests:
• Par-2 game: An ace is a birdie, threes are bogeys, etc. … Keep score, and try to beat it the next time.
• Match play: The winner of the hole gets to pick the next hole. Play a predetermined number of holes, a certain amount of time or until a player wins a certain number of holes.
• Target practice: This one takes some twine and tees. Wrap the twine around a tee and create a circle 1 foot around the hole, then another about 2 feet from the hole and another about 4 feet away. It creates a bull's-eye pattern. Hole out for 10 points; the next circle is five; the middle circle is three, and the outer circle is one. Take 10 putts, and the player with the most points wins.
• To-the-line drill: Draw a straight line, or find a crack (could be on a green or sidewalk or living room). Each player stands 10 feet from the line on opposite sides. Each putts and closest to the line wins. First to five points wins, then switch sides.
• Horse: One player picks a putt, and it if is holed, the others must make it or they get a letter. A player reaching H-O-R-S-E is out.
• Twenty-one: A player chooses a putt at least 40 feet long. The player closest to the hole earns a point, 10 points for the first to hole the putt. If a player three-putts, everyone else gets three points. If a second player three-putts, those who have not three-putted each get six points. First to 21 wins.
Rodney Page can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8810.