Dave Stockton: Great Player Turned Great Golf Teacher

Golf instructors tend to give truth to the mean-spirited old adage, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Fact is, most of the game’s best coaches turned to teaching after their playing careers flamed out.

Dave Stockton is the rare example of one who could do and teach.

As a player, Stockton won a pair of PGA Championships (1970 and ’76), 11 PGA Tour titles and another 14 Champions Tour events, including three majors. He played on one victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team (1977), and captained another (1991).

Stockton’s stock in trade, if you will, was a dead-eye putting stroke. Fittingly, teaching others to improve their putting has become his post-career calling card. (Stockton is a sought-after short-game guru as well.)

Stockton was doling out free advice to fellow pros long before teaching became his vocation. But when a series of operations knocked him out of Champions Tour commission in 2009, Stockton devoted himself to helping others master the art of putting.

His students have included Phil Mickelson, Annika Sorenstam and Rory McIlroy, who won the 2012 PGA Championship by eight strokes after Stockton imparted a few words of wisdom. Based on his pupils’ performances before and after ringing up Stockton, his methods bear fruit in a very short time.

Stockton has authored a pair of well-received books, Unconscious Putting and Unconscious Scoring, and teams with sons Ronnie and Dave Jr. to offer instructional programs at clubs and teaching facilities. As of this writing, Stockton was preparing to introduce a teaching aid called the Spot Putting Secret.

It seems just a matter of time before Stockton’s reputation as a teacher exceeds his achievements as a player. And that’s saying something.

Famous students: Mickelson, Sorenstam, McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Yani Tseng 

Core philosophy:
Stockton isn’t shy about sharing his opinions on putting. His bottom line is that golfers -- amateurs and pros alike -- pay too much attention to stroke mechanics. He considers this an extension of their obsession with full-swing technique, but notes that the putting stroke is infinitely simpler.

Perhaps the most noticeable habit Stockton’s students share is a pre-putt routine with no practice strokes. He believes that each putt should be judged mentally, and that practice strokes introduce a physical element that confuses the mind.

While Stockton primarily preaches feel and visualization, he insists on one technical detail: that the back of the left hand remain firm after impact. In other words, it should not rotate, cup, flip or break down once the ball has left the blade.

A few more pieces of Stockton’s philosophy:

Classic Stockton-style tip: To groove Stockton’s flat-left-hand position, try this drill:

  • Assume your putting stance with only your left hand on the putter.
  • Place your right hand on top of your left shoulder.
  • Make repeating strokes with the left hand, keeping the back of the hand pointing toward the target throughout. 

The right hand serves to hold the left shoulder in place, ensuring that the putter stays low to the ground going back and through – another key Stockton concept.