By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, TOUR Academies
Before Andrew Loupe could walk off the 18th green on Sunday at the Web.com Tour Championship, he was intercepted by his former LSU teammate, John Peterson. It was then that he realized the magnitude of the 5-foot putt he had just sunk for par. Had he missed it, Andres Gonzales would’ve grabbed the last of 50 PGA TOUR cards available for the 2013-14 season. Instead, it was Loupe who punched the final ticket to the TOUR.
Loupe probably had some inclination that his putt was meaningful, but at the time, I’m sure he was better off knowing it wasn’t one putt for his TOUR card. Such a scenario unfolded a short while earlier on the very same 18th green at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye's Valley Course, when Lee Williams had to sink a 50-foot birdie putt to earn his TOUR card, and did.
There’s no bigger pressure putt in golf than a 5- or 6-footer for your PGA TOUR card, except maybe a similar-length putt to win the Ryder Cup or a major championship. For those of you reading at home, it could be a par putt to break 80 or 90 for the very first time, or to win the club championship. Regardless of the circumstances, here are a few keys to bring these knee-knockers to their knees.
Step 1: Relieve the Tension
It’s only natural to be nervous, and those nerves can lead to clenched hands and tight forearms and wrists. The tighter your hands and arms are, the more difficult it’s going to be to release the putterhead naturally. To remove some of the tension, take several deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Give yourself some time to decompress. By slowing things down and controlling your breathing, you should perform better when under the gun.
Step 2: Stick to Your Routine
If you have a pre-shot routine, then use it. Now is not the time to veer away from it, or speed through it, just because you’re overanxious. A pre-putt routine can help you in a number of different ways when you’re nervous: 1) it slows you down; 2) it builds a cadence for your brain to follow so that it knows when to pull the trigger (for example, after your final look at the hole); and 3) it gets you to focus on the process of the routine, and not the outcome (i.e., whether you make the putt or miss it). The more you become engrossed in the process, and not the outcome, the more relaxed you’re going to be.
Step 3: Release the Putterhead
The most common putting mistake you see under pressure is a tendency to guide, or steer, the putterhead through impact. The golfer leads with the heel of the head in an attempt to help it, causing the putterface to stay open and the putt to be pushed to the right. I call it the “Push and Go,” because you start walking as soon as you hit it. You know you’ve missed it immediately.
To sink more of these pressure cookers, like Loupe, you have to allow the putterhead to release. In putting, the release occurs when the putterhead passes the low point of the swing, just below the left/lead wrist. This is usually just forward of the ball. The putterhead comes in, strikes the ball, and then starts to pass the left wrist. To encourage this release, it helps to keep your wrists soft—in particular, the lead wrist. You also want to keep your left elbow in, pointing toward your left hip, throughout the stroke. Golfers who steer it, or hang on, generally lead too much with their left wrist, which causes the left elbow to pull away from the hip.
Travis Fulton is Director of Instruction for all TOURAcademy locations nationwide. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole you play, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.