'Drive for show, putt for dough' applies to all, from Masters champs to local hacks
Editor's note: With the long winter finally coming to a close and with people looking to get out to the golf course, we are introducing a weekly golf advice column from contributor Kyle Dobbs. Dobbs is a former professional and University of Michigan golfer. He grew up in Ann Arbor and won the individual Big Ten title for the University of Michigan men’s golf team his senior year in 1997. While it's unlikely you'll get to the level of Dobbs, hopefully his expert advice can help you maximize your potential on the course this season.
When you think of a Masters champion, the long drives are entertaining and it's always fun to watch a shot stuck close to the pin on No. 16, but the green jacket is worn by the work done on the putting green. The greens at Augusta National are arguably the most revered in golf. The fairways are wide and the course is short by PGA tour standards, yet year in and year out the Masters maintains an extremely difficult test of golf.
This test is found on the putting green.
Mondays were my travel days while playing professionally. I would arrive at the airport at 5 a.m. and from there it was literally planes, trains and automobiles. Once I had arrived at the next week's venue, I had only one priority for the day -- to familiarize myself with the greens for the week in a hurry.
I would register in the clubhouse, grab a sandwich, then stroll over to the practice green and spend two-three hours casually rolling a few putts. My goal, as a caddy of mine nicknamed "The Growler" put it, "Just learn the tennnnnndancies," in his aged raspy voice.
Lynn, a.k.a "The Growler", for 20 years caddied for one of the game's greatest putters on the PGA Tour, Ben Crenshaw. Wouldn't you know it, Crenshaw has won the Master's twice, is playing in the tournament for the 42nd time this weekend, and is renowned for his touch or "feel" as a putter.
Other than Crenshaw himself, who better to learn from than his caddy? Growler spent hours with me on the putting green teaching me how Crenshaw would prepare his game. Crenshaw key was to enjoy the opportunity to learn the greens and their tendencies of break and speed.
No putt is perfectly straight and every golf course is different. If you have played golf down in Florida, grain is an understatement. Though we don't experience grain much here in Michigan, we still have factors such as green side pond, run off drains and over all pitch creating impact on the green's tendency of break. The best way to shave a few shots off your round is to capitalize on understanding these tendencies.
Whether your goal is to one day win the Masters or to have a better showing next time you're on the course with your buddies, the same techniques Crenshaw used at Augusta may be able to help you at whatever course you're playing.
If there is one thing that is constant about the game of golf it is that conditions are constantly changing. On a dry hot summer day, as the moisture in the green dries up it can drastically change the speed.
Over the years I have found a few practice drills that helped me incorporate feel for learning and reading the tendencies on the golf course and I think they can help you, whether you're a scratch golfer or just picking up the game:
- Use the entire practice green: Find two cups on the practice green that are the furthest apart or putt from fringe to fringe. The goal hear is to develop feel for the speed of the green. Is the tendency for the ball to roll out an extra few feet or is it stopping shorter than yesterday due to a rain storm the night before.
- Tee it up: Grab a handful of tees and place one tee in the ground for a starting position then place four tees at various lengths about a yard apart from the original tee. My game is to roll three balls to each of the four tees, never leaving a putt short of the target tee but never going past a grip length from it.
- Go high or go home: Find two cups 15-20' apart. Putt a few to one cup then reverse and putt to the other. The key is to never leave one short, always have the putt approach from the high side. So if the putt is right to left, make sure the ball never rolls short left of the cup, always in or above if missed.
Try to incorporate a few of these drills into your warmup to assess the daily tendencies. Have a great season and take time to enjoy the opportunity to learn the greens and their tendencies as Crenshaw does.
Schedule a lesson with your local golf professional and have them assist you in developing your short game.
Have any questions for Dobbs about his advice or want some more tips? Leave questions in the comments below and he'll gladly help you out.