With the weekend warrior in mind we created Bump and Run, a weekly Q&A with some of the game's top instructors. Each Friday, a teaching professional will occupy this space and answer questions directed at improving your game. This week it's Todd Sones, owner of Coutour Golf and one of Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers in America.
Owner, Coutour Golf; teaching professional, White Deer Run Golf Club, Vernon Hills, Ill., Indoor Golf Nation, Paladine, Ill.
- Golf Digest's 50 Greatest Teachers in America
- Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America
- 1994, '96 Illinois PGA Teacher of the Year
- 2003 Horton Smith Award winner
Students (past and present)
- Paul Goydos, Steve Jones, Chip Beck, Hilary Lunke
Sones, the author of two books, including 'Lights Out Putting,' patented the Tri-Fit Method of fitting putters in 2003 and has taken the art of custom-fitting putters to a new level with Coutour Golf.
'You have one club in your bag that is responsible for almost half of your score,' said Sones. 'That's why it's the most important club in your bag. Everybody is getting fit for their irons and now their driver, but they only make up 60 percent of their score. If you’re going to get anything fit, make it your putter.'
To submit a question to Sones or one of our teachers, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and check back every Friday to see if your question got answered.
What is the most common fitting mistake you see with putters today?
Two things. Incorrect length, which affects ultimately the distance you stand from the ball, your posture (relationship to the ball), and your arms in relation to your body. Those are three really important things because if your putter is too long, you’re either going to stand too far from the ball, or you’re going to have your arms jammed up into your body. If the putter is too short, you’re either going to bend over past the ball or have your arms stretched out, because you’re reaching down, and disconnected. If you can get the right length putter then you can lock in your setup every time.
I would also have to say swingweight. People get confused by swingweight because it’s hard to explain a feel, and that’s what swingweight is. It’s the feel of the putterhead as it goes back and forth. If a player doesn’t feel the clubhead, it affects his distance control because he can’t really develop good rhythm or balance during the stroke.
Do amateurs typically play with putters that are too short or too long?It's really hard to say, because it depends on the individual’s height and body type. You might have two guys who are the same height – one who’s all legs and the other who’s all body – but the guy who's got long arms and a long torso is going to use a shorter putter. Length really does make a difference, but it’s got to be right for your body type. What we have found in our fittings is that guys who are typically 6-foot-3 to 6-5 need something in the 36-inch category; guys that are 6-1, 6-2 need a 35-inch putter, guys who are 6 foot, 34 inches, 5-9, 33 inches, and so on.
If you don’t know if your putter fits you, or is the proper length, is there a way to check?
It’s like trying to fit yourself to eye glasses – you’re not going to be very successful at it on your own. At coutourgolf.com, we have a fitting form where you can plug in your height and your knuckles to ground measurement (arm length in relation to ground), and it will tell you what length putter fits you based on this information. It will tell you what length putter and swingweight fits you based on your height and arm length.
What length putt gives amateurs the most trouble and why?
Where putting is made or broken is how good is your speed control in lag putting, how close do you get that first one, and how well do you convert from 3- to 5-foot range? That’s where your mechanics really show.
Is there a drill you'd recommend for short putts, long putts, or both?
I'd recommend you practice both: Hit your long putt first, then try and convert the short one.
Most golfers have what I like to refer to as a signature backstroke. They take the club back the same distance for almost all putts. Let’s say it’s 12 inches – if they take it back 12 inches on a 4-foot putt their brain starts screaming, “Slow down!” If they take it back 12 inches on a 40-foot putt their brain screams, “Speed up!” Ultimately, what you really want to learn is what length backstroke is right for each putt. If you’ve got a 4-foot putt you should really have a backstroke of 6 inches. (Normal green speed, stimped at 10). If you’ve got a 40-foot putt you really need a backstroke that’s somewhere around 15 inches, so you’re allowing the putterhead to create its own momentum.
Think about a pendulum: A pendulum you swing way back and the distance it travels determines how fast it moves forward. If you swung it 6 inches it would swing slower than if you swung it 15 inches. What happens with most people is they’re controlling the putter’s speed versus letting it swing by itself. If you look at the best putters, they have a constant rate of acceleration and an equal back and through motion.
What makes Tiger Woods such a terrific lag putter? Seems like every time he has a putt of 30 feet or more, the ball grazes the hole or finishes a foot away.No. 1, he puts a great roll on the ball, and that’s because his mechanics are very solid. The face of his putter is squaring to the path at impact, not cutting against it, and he has that constant acceleration. He never looks like he’s holding the putter back or accelerating it; it looks like the putter accelerates itself. And finally, he practices long, breaking putts. You’ve got to hit it solid to be close to the hole from long range.
Tiger talks about releasing the putterhead. Is that a good thought for amateurs?
That’s a word that describes a specific feel for a very good player. It goes back to the pendulum: if you keep your center (head and sternum) still and you let the weight of the putter go past your center, that’s releasing the putter. I don’t think it’s flipping the putter or necessarily closing the face; it just has to do with simply letting the putter go past your center.
Any advice for the weekend golfer? Something that might help them drop a stroke or two over the weekend?
I'd say this: We have 10 people come through our short game school regularly, and I think 70 percent have the wrong putter; it’s not the right specifications for them. So they’re never going to get better. It’s like glasses: You won’t see clearly until you have the right specs.
Stop wasting your time with band-aids and quick fixes that don’t do anything. Get to the heart of the problem, and get fitted for a putter through instruction. A better setup with a fit putter will develop a good putting stroke.