Short putts and whether you hole them or not, can be the difference between shooting your best score ever, or your worst score for a long time.
Short putts initially appear really easy. You are only three or so feet away from the hole but all too often these little putts roll past the hole without dropping. After a few missed attempts you begin to worry about these relatively simple shots and before you know it, your focus, or attention, are on the wrong thing, making holing a short putt almost impossible.
If you notice that as you approach a short putt you have thoughts such as “don’t miss left/right”, or “don’t miss it short” or simply “don’t miss another of these and look a complete fool”, then you are not focusing on what will help you succeed with the task that you face. You are focusing on what you do not want to happen, a negative focus, rather than focusing on what you do want to happen and having a positive focus. Your brain will not hear “do not” in the phrase “do not miss right”, so it leaves “miss right” and when you play the shot, you miss right! Your muscles have responded to what was in your mind – the putt missing on the right.
Instead you want to learn to get your focus on to performance cues. Performance cues help you achieve a given task and help you achieve concentrated attention on the task of rolling the ball into the hole. Anything that helps with this is a performance cue. For example, the line that you want the ball to roll along, the back of the hole, the putter face as it strikes the ball. These all assist you in getting the ball into the hole, rather than distract you away from the task.
The best advice then for holing more short putts is to get your focus on to these performance cues and not let yourself be distracted. The best way to achieve this, is to use a really good pre-shot routine. As you face the short putt, stand directly behind the ball so that you can look straight down the target line at the hole face on. Imagine the ball rolling straight at the hole and going in. There will be very little break on short putts so go straight for the hole and be positive – the firmer you hit the putt, the less any break will influence it.
Always commit to hitting a positive putt at the centre of the hole, rather than a soft putt that trickles towards the hole really slowly and drops into the cup on the last turn of the ball. Pick a spot at the back of the hole, something really small that will focus your attention on it. This could be a blade of grass that you can see, or a mark on the far side of the cup. It does not matter what it actually is, just pick something small and on the far side of the cup.
The smaller an object is, the more it concentrates your focus. If you work on rolling the ball into a small blade of grass, even if you miss it left or right, you will still hit the larger hole and make the putt. If you focus on the larger hole and miss this, you have missed the putt! Aim the putter face at this small focus point, set yourself up and swing the putter away from the ball thinking of the small object you are going to hit. Always pick an object at the back of the hole and this will ensure that the ball gets to the hole and drops in, even if it does not quite reach the object you intended. As you swing through the putt keep focusing on the small object and if you do not interfere with this focus, if you do not get distracted, you will see the ball drop in the hole.
A great drill to work on to help you learn to do this, is to place a tee peg into the ground just on the far side of the hole. This will give you your small object to focus on. Now set up to play the shot, look at the tee peg again and then close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed and just remember the position of the tee peg. Focus on the tee peg so that even though your eyes are closed you can still see it in your mind’s eye. If you struggle to “see” the tee peg in your mind, then simply open your eyes and just look at the tee peg and keep your eyes there on it. Now putt, whether you have your eyes closed, or looking at the tee ball, just putt and your muscles will respond to the image and knock the putt towards the tee peg and into the hole.
Once you get your attention and focus correctly placed on the back of the hole, you will notice that you hole all of the short putts that you face and as your confidence grows as you hole more putts, your focus improves and any distraction disappears.