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June 16 2012

1:22 PM

On the Mark: Better lag putting

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Steve Stricker studies a putt at Olympic on Friday in the U.S. Open.

By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM

Everyone knew that, under the auspices of the USGA, The Olympic Club was going to pose a very stern examination to all of the U.S. Open contestants this week. With its slopes (that often camber against the curve of the doglegs), its undulating greens, and the winds that come off the Pacific Ocean, it continually asks tough but fair questions. It often does not give the correct answers from all who challenge it. 

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A two-round cut of 148 (+8) and only three players under par and barely so (-1) go a long way to confirming the venerable San Francisco gem’s status as one of the most challenging major championship venues in the game.

The play through two rounds of the season’s second major had me completely engrossed, and my mind was awhirl with all of the lessons we could learn from the U.S. Open participants: The need for tenacity, discipline and patience; holing out successfully; controlling the trajectory of iron shots; course management off the tee, playing with success from the rough…

Finally I settled on an aspect of the game -- lag putting -- that I feel has been crucial this week. The firm underfoot conditions, coupled with the undulating, fast putting surfaces have made it hard to get approach shots close to the hole. Consequently, the competitors are likely to face more than their fair share of putts from 30 feet and beyond this weekend and proficiency from long range will certainly go long way to determining who lifts the trophy on Sunday.

Just as the gladiators in the U.S. Open have to putt well from long range, you too must putt well from long range and eliminate three-putts if you want to lower your scores.

To improve your lag putting, you must first get out and practice it. Embrace the long putt -- beyond 40 feet -- and practice it a lot. (If you really took stock of your practice regimen, you would be surprised how little you really worked on your long putting.) Further, consider this statistic: the leaders on the PGA TOUR in Proximity to the Hole, Jason Dufner and Steve Stricker, average 33.2 feet, and the PGA TOUR Average is 37 feet. Let me put this plainly, if the average PGA TOUR's player’s approach shot comes to rest around 37 feet from the hole, there is every likelihood that you will putt from a lot further away.

A few key ideas you can employ when hitting long putts are:

Bottom your stroke out correctly: Good contact is crucial to good distance control and lag putting. Consistent contact is ensured when the base of the swing arc bottoms out in the right area. To practice this, place a quarter on the ground where you would normally locate your ball and then strive to strike the quarter as you make your stroke. (If you miss the quarter, then clearly your stroke’s base has not bottomed out correctly.) Once you have become proficient at striking the quarter consistently, address a golf ball and make your stroke. You will sense proper contact and this will go a long way to improving your distance control.

Ensure the correct ball position: Check that the ball position is located in the area corresponding with the base of the putting stroke's arc. This will typically be under an area defined by the nose and the left eye (for righties).

Keep your body still, and hold your follow-through: Good distance control is a product of the correct ball speed which is in turn a function of good contact and the correct swing pace. You can ensure that contact is clean and the swing pace is correct by keeping your body stable throughout the stroke. As you practice, intensify your attempts to remain as stable as possible by engaging your abdominals and keeping your eye on the ball. Also, hold your follow-through for a couple of seconds after contact has been made and watch out that you do not recoil the putter too early. Swing through and hold that finish for success.

Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.

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