Frank, I am enjoying my game a lot more now but I do have a putting question, which is bothering me. I have marked a line on the ball the same way the pros do to help me line up properly. The problem is when I step up to the ball, ready to make my putt, it looks like my putter is correctly aimed at the target but this is in conflict with the line on the ball. What am I doing wrong?
– Brian, Vancouver
Brian, your problem is not uncommon and unfortunately something we have run into with several of our students at the putting studio. It is generally very good advice to make sure that your putter is aligned at the target line when you address the ball just before you make your stroke. It is much more important, however, that the face is pointing at the target line when you strike the ball.
There are quite a few golfers who have very good strokes, and when striking the ball will have the face perfectly orthogonal (at 90 degrees) to the target line. The problem is that when they address the ball the putter face may be slightly off line by a couple of degrees. This is a fairly common trait with many good golfers and it is sometimes better to leave this as is (if it is not too far off) rather than trying to correct it which can cause other problems.
The fact that the face might be aligned slightly different than the line on the ball – because this is how you set up the putter naturally or you have lined up the ball incorrectly – is not conducive to making a good putt because it creates doubt just when you are about to make your stroke at the ball. This type of mental conflict is something we need to avoid whenever possible, especially when you are about to make a putt.
If you are a natural “open-at-address” person but get the face correctly aimed at the target at impact or find it difficult to line up the ball with the target line then I strongly suggest you abandon the practice of marking a line on the ball for aiming purposes.
Some students have a routine of lining up the ball with the line on it because they have seen the pros do this with some success. When we first analyze their putting stroke they go through this ball alignment routine and then make practice putts before putting. This has become part of a drawn out pre-shot routine – it is very good to have a preshot routine – but in many cases adding to it by trying to line up the ball and the club adds potential sources of error.
We need to know what we want to do – distance and direction as if you were throwing a ball – having carefully made this assessment and then go and do it relying on your instincts to do what they do best. This must be a simple, relaxed process without any psychological interference.
Brian, I suggest that you stop marking the ball with a line and trying to align this to a target. It has worked well for some golfers but it does not sound as if it is working for you.
Hope this helps and have faith in your instincts.
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org