Putting: Fast Greens 101

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How confident would you feel if this sign greeted you on the first tee?

I played Stoneridge Country Club in Poway Monday morning, and if you’ve heard anything about Stoneridge, it’s likely about their lightning-quick green speeds.

The greens on Monday were zipping along at a 13 and seemed to only get faster as the round progressed. (For comparison, Augusta National reportedly can run between 13 and 15 for The Masters.)

I used to struggle with putting fast greens, but a simple tip I received (that I’ll share later) after a nightmarish putting round in school last January during a tournament at Lomas Santa Fe CC helped me quite a bit.

What it used to be like for me is something like what happened to the player I was paired with Monday. Not having played Stoneridge before, he putted the ball OFF the first two greens and then got so skittish he three-putted inside 20 feet – three times. Painful.

He reacted the way the course wants you to react, which is to get tentative and become unsure of your stroke. When green speeds rise is when you’ve really got to buckle down on the basics of putting to be successful.

His three-putts came from decelerating, which is the death of any golf shot, including putting. Faster greens speeds make avoiding this more difficult because you’re trying not to be overaggressive, but you’ve got to maintain that acceleration through the putt or it’ll end of short, off line, or both.

A better answer is simply to shorten your stroke, cut down the takeaway and focus on the line and finishing the stroke.

This is where a guy like Dave Pelz and some of the other renowned putting gurus of golf can give you much better technical advice than you’ll get here. But faster green speeds also seem to amplify problems you have with your putting stroke in general, so if you really struggle, you might want to have your stroke looked at. I can tell you the guy I played with needed a major putting overhaul, which certainly didn’t help his situation.

The one thing I’m sure of when I step on a golf course is my putting. I may not always hole a bunch, but I keep my three-putts to a minimum and have rarely yipped my way to a bunch of extra strokes like I did on occasion in school tournaments.

The tip I got after my putting debacle at Lomas was the simplest, and possible best, putting lesson I’ve ever received. The more I learn about putting, the more I come back to this, especially when green speeds soar as they tend to do this time of year in California.

You ready for it? Here it is: Make a smooth stroke.

That’s not exactly the stuff of 30-minute infomercials much less entire books about putting, but if you think about it, there’s a lot of wisdom there.

When green speeds pick up, what to people do? They change their stroke. The often get stabby with their stroke or otherwise lose their tempo. At worst, they use that stroke that STOPS at the ball, which never works.

If anything, you want to exaggerate the finish to make sure the putter is going down the line.

The other tactic, or swing thought, I adopt when greens getting humming over 10 is this: Hit it half. For me, that means half the distance. Pick a point halfway to the hole and trust the green to carry it the rest of the way.

You might not hole a lot of putts this way, but you likely won’t be facing a bunch of those dreadful 6- and 8-foot comebackers either.

Anyway, “make a smooth stroke” paid the greatest dividends for me this year when I played Barona Creek, where the greens are quick but also role true. If you read it right and control your pace, you can make putts there. I know. I did.

So the next time you feel greens are pushing you over your speed limit, check your stroke and remember to stay a “smooth” operator under fire.

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