Dave Stockton’s all time top ten putting tips

Blessed with a putting game that brought him 25 titles – including five majors

By Dr Paul Hurrion

In his prime in the early 1970s, Dave Stockton once went some 950 holes without a three-putt. Still blessed with his revered putting game that brought him 25 titles – including five majors – Stockton is now a consultant for TaylorMade as well as a putting coach to tour stars who have collectively notched 30 wins over the last year, including Rory McIlroy’s victory at the US Open. On his recent visit to the UK, he shared his top tips with Gi’s Dominic Pedler.

Dave Stockton's all time top ten putting tips
Dave Stockton

Consider groove technology

Putting is an art but there is some equipment out there that will help everybody. In particular, I have seen at first hand how much the grooves on the face insert of the TaylorMade/Rossa putters can improve golfers of all levels. The impact and roll characteristics are very different to other putters, as can be measured in the lab. The benefits are astounding in terms of reducing the skidding and jumping of the golf ball and inducing pure roll as early as possible after impact which helps the ball to keep its line.

Develop a forward press

I’m a firm believer that, unlike most golf shots, the grip of the putter should remain perpendicular as long as possible through impact for both putts and short chip shots. This keeps the putter-head low to the ground which allows the golf ball to hug the surface of the green and develop true roll more quickly. The forward press encourages that movement – with Phil Mickelson being one of the finest exponents. Of course, this naturally de-lofts the clubface so you must check that you’re starting with enough static loft on your putter at address. For most players I suggest 4 degrees.

The left hand/right hand roles

For a right-handed golfer, the right hand provides the power and the feel in the putting stroke, the left hand merely ‘goes along for the ride’. But the left hand must do that in order to keep the putter-head low through impact and not pull ‘up and out’ of the shot. Like with a basketball shot, the right hand does most of the work and left would seem to do nothing – but there too it ‘goes along for the ride’. This is another key secret to getting the true roll you need.

Reading the putt

I like to split the putt into three equal parts but give much more emphasis to the final third when the ball will be travelling much slower and be most prone to movement from even the smallest of slope. Look for any break near the hole in order to favor one side of the cup, which will improve your margin of error over a seemingly straight putt.

The ‘one-inch’ marker

Like Jack Nicklaus did with his tee shots, I like to a pick a spot on my putting target line very close to my ball at address. Though in my case it’s only about one or two inches inch away from the ball. That target is then in my field of view at address – whereas a target at the other end of the putt is not! Then all I do is to feel my left hand going directly over that spot as I swing through impact, which also crucially helps me keep my head still.

Beware of practice swings

For many players I advocate not taking any practice swings as this causes you to think too much. But if you do, at least do it directly behind the golf ball on the target line – rather than parallel to that line, as most players do. That way you are viewing the path your ball will actually take, just as you would with a practice shot with a pool cue. Keep looking at the hole, getting the feel of the path of the putt rather than looking down at the imaginary ball position or the movement of the putter head on the ground.

Ignore the line on the golf ball

Many balls have alignment marks on them but if someone lines it up like that when I’m teaching them I’ll roll the ball over so they can’t see it! It’s just an extra thought to have in your head and it often looks wrong when you actually stand over the ball at address. In any case, my focus isn’t on the ball itself – I’m thinking about that spot an inch or two out on the ground.

Dave Stockton's all time top ten putting tips

Nurture a natural movement

People often putt worse as adults as they do as kids by getting too wrapped up in technique. I don’t think putting is nearly as difficult an endeavor as people make it out to be. I don’t like words like ‘try’ and ‘hit’. You need to stroke the putt with ‘feel and roll’ rather ‘trying to hit it’. There’s a big difference. Get a rhythm to your routine. I keep my putter head moving even before starting my backswing by placing it ahead of the ball before returning it to the address position. It is my way of keeping a sense of flow which I have internalized subconsciously so that I have no formal swing thoughts to distract me.

Forget perfection

There’s so much emphasis on knowledge, perfection and optimization in every area of golf these days. But when it comes to putting, trying to get everything perfect will invariably make your tension levels rise. Be relaxed in your approach and throughout your routine. Step up there and feel that you’re rolling it and letting it go.

Be confident

Visualize the putt on its path to the hole and dropping into the cup. Develop a ruthless putting aura where you are genuinely surprised if the ball doesn’t drop. When I’m putting well I have a level of confidence where I’m actually shocked if I don’t hole it!