On the Psychology of Putting

This week I’ve been reviewing an old book of mine by Dr. Bob Rotella called Putting Out of Your Mind. And I’d like to take some time to reflect on what he says about the psychology of putting. We know that putting—like the rest of golf—is done by real people so that means it’s an act that involves the whole person: body, mind, soul, etc. That may sound complicated or philosophical but it’s not very complicated experientially. When you putt your mind doesn’t shut off, you still feel the effects of the good or bad news you heard on your way to the golf course, you may be a little jittery or sleepy based on what you ate for lunch, or any number of other things that are going on with you…I’m just simply making the claim that when you putt you remain a person with all of the intricacies that come with that. Though the mental and physical side of golf are deeply connected, I will be focusing in this post on what the mind is doing in putting. Leaving mechanics aside for a little bit, I want to consider how great putters tend to think when they putt.

To paraphrase what Rotella says in the book: good putters have the attitude of a child who loves putting. They have an aggressive and carefree attitude about putting and they enjoy putting. This is the key point of this post.

To give readers a picture of what this looks like Rotella notes that kids are very often great putters. They have a simplicity about their putting; they look at the target and make an aggressive stroke. They don’t worry about missing, or getting the speed just right, or the putts they’ve just missed. They are enjoying putting and trying to make as many putts as possible. They are more focused on the putts they make than the putts they miss. This is the attitude you want to have when you putt and the attitude that you want to become instinctual when you step onto the putting green. Too many players have a subtle fear, dread, or increase in tension when they get to the green. They fear missing a short birdie putt or not making a part saving putt.

Here are a few keys to having this kind of attitude:

1. Liking your putter and how your stroke feels

It’s hard to enjoy putting if you don’t like how your stroke feels. Though there are general mechanical principles that good putters practice, there is a lot of variation in the mechanics of good putters. The key is to have a stroke that feels good to you, a stroke that you enjoy making, and a stroke you can be confident in. Some players may find that putting left hand low allows them to make a more free stroke, others find that they feel better stroking the putt from a slightly opened stance. Some players prefer a mallet putter over a blade. Whatever it is, you need to find what putts you the best position to make putts and love the stroke you are making. Finding your mechanical sweet spot is obviously a process, but once you find a technique that feels right (and works well) – then you do best to stick with it and not to tinker.

2. Being aware of what you are telling yourself

Many players spend more time chastising themselves over missed putts than they spend enjoying the putts they make. This negatively alters your self-perception by causing you to think of yourself primarily as someone who misses putts. If you continually tell yourself that you are a bad putter you will not be unaffected. It’s important to enjoy and celebrate the great putts you hit and make and to let go of the bad putts you hit and the putts that miss. If you continually tell yourself that you are someone who enjoys putting, often makes a lot of putts, and is always working hard to make more putts then you will put yourself in the right psychological position to be a great putter. You don’t want to be your own enemy on the putting green. How you talk to yourself is important.

3. Having a routine

We are habitual creatures and much of what we do in life is by routine. It is the practice of every great golfer I know of to have a pre-shot routine. This helps them to be able to putt the way they want – free and aggressive – even in new situations and in situations where they are under pressure. Even when their body is nervous and unsteady their routine is able to take over and help them to make a great stroke under pressure. Having a routine allows putting in tournament play to feel more comfortable and more familiar. It’s like having your speech memorized so that when you get up in front of a crowd you are still able to perform no matter how you may feel.

[The summarizing thesis of this post is that if you want to be a great putter you have to work at developing a child-like aggression and carefree attitude on the green. You have to work to love putting. Perhaps in the future we’ll go into greater depth about how to develop and sustain this attitude but the three keys we discussed today are a good start: find a putter and stroke that feel good, pay attention to how you are talking to yourself about your putting, and stick to a routine that puts you in a position to consistently make great strokes.]

Hunter Brown