Being able to make putts is as much mental as it is physical. In order to be successful on the greens, you need to believe in yourself and trust your stroke. You can not allow yourself to become negative or let doubt creep into your short game. Most amateur golfers miss putts before they even take their stroke.
Arnold Palmer once said “The whole secret to mastering the game of golf — and this applies to the beginner as well as the pro — is to cultivate a mental approach to the game that will enable you to shrug off the bad days, keep patient and know in your heart that sooner or later you will be back on top”.
How can you fight the putting demons? How can you avoid getting down on yourself after a 3-putt? Here are five mental putting tips for you to try when you feel the pressure on the greens.
1. See the Ball Go in the Hole
Most professional golfers leverage visualization during their pre-shot routines. They see the shot they are about to hit in their head before they start their swing. This is critical when you are putting and should be part of your green reading process. Do not just look at the break and try to guess how much the ball is going to curve. “See” the ball rolling on that line and turning in to the cup. If you can not see it in your mind, your read is probably incorrect.
Once you can see it in your mind, stroke the putt. Simply recreate what you just saw and watch the ball roll towards the hole.
2. 100% Commitment to Your Stroke
When you are playing a round of golf, there are several steps you perform before you even hit a putt. You read the direction of the break. You read the speed of the putt or the slope of the green. You mark and clean your golf ball. Once you have completed these steps, address the ball, and hit the putt with 100% commitment.
If you have doubt in your read or your stroke, you are not going to make the putt. If you only have 75% commitment, you might be thinking “this putt might move more than I thought” or “this putt might be extra quick” and you are going to make a poor attempt. You have completed your pre-shot activities, so trust them.
Yes, you could argue that breathing is more physical than mental, but when it comes to putting under pressure, you may need to remind yourself to do it. It sounds funny, but golfers can forget they need oxygen to survive. A couple things to keep in mind when it comes to breathing on the greens.
First, are you holding your breathe? Many players do this without knowing it. They stand over an important putt and hold their breathe. Second, if they are feeling pressure, tension starts to build in the hands, wrist, arms, and mind. The best way to counteract this tension is to take a deep breath before you stroke the ball. Release all of the tension and stroke the ball.
4. Don’t Panic
All golfers do it. You see a potential negative outcome on the horizon and start to worry about that happening. The best example, you hit your first putt 6 feet past the hole and you immediately start to worry about the 3-putt. You start to panic, and your mind starts racing – “why did I hit that putt so hard” and “why didn’t I just lag it, instead of trying to make it”.
None of these negative thoughts help you prepare for your second putt. They will not help you read it better or make a better stroke. It is ok to be frustrated with the result of your first putt for a few seconds, but then reset and focus on properly executing your second putt. Neither the golf ball, the hole, nor your putter know anything about that first putt, so you should not bring that baggage to this stroke either. Relax and roll it in.
5. Remember Your Practice, Remember Your Makes
If you feel the nerves starting to creep in as you stand over a putt, remember your practice. How many times have you made this exact same putt on the practice green? How many times have you made this putt on the course to save a stroke?
It is important to have positive memories when you start to feel the pressure on the greens, so have a few ready. Focus on times you made a putt to win the match over your buddy or to shoot your lowest round ever. Block out any thoughts about misses in the past. You want to purge them from your mind.
In order to master the greens, you need to spend time practicing your stroke and learning how to the read the break, but you will truly become a great putter when you gain control of your mind. Trust your practice and your pre-putt routine. Believe in your stroke and have faith that you have made this exact putt before, so you can do it again. If you start to panic, take a deep breathe to relieve tension. Visualize the ball dropping into the hole before you even hit it.
Now take the putter back, roll the ball on the line you picked, and wait for the sweet sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup.