''I wonder if you can help” says the voice at the other end of the phone, “What’s up?” I ask. “My putting is CR**!” says the voice. I ask, “What makes you say that?” She says, “I keep three putting!''
My day often starts like this, someone calls for help, seemingly knowing what the problem is and expecting me to work on that particular area of their game. My problem is, however, that when I analyse someone’s game seldom do I find a player’s ‘problem’ is just one thing, and simply put, frequently the problem is not what the player had diagnosed.
Let me provide an example to help explain what I mean. One player, Gill we’ll call her, told me her putting was terrible, and that it was ruining her scores. While her putting may have been terrible, when I analysed her game the first thing I noticed was a high percentage of her shots to the green finished short of the green. I also found that of the shots that actually hit the green a high percentage finished outside 30 feet from the pin. This meant she was always leaving herself with long putts, and was always under pressure to save par.
Additionally, whenever Gill chipped up from short of the green, seldom were her chip shots finishing within three feet of the pin, so she didn’t ever just ‘tap in’ for her par. She was always left with a tricky 8 to 10 foot putt to save par, again, this added pressure to her putting.
When we discussed my analysis of her game she agreed that her shot choice, club selection, distance control and chipping were more destructive when compared to her poor putting.
As a coach I can’t tackle every problem at the same time, nor is every problem equally destructive. I have to look at a variety of areas of each person’s game, as well as her or his mental state, technique, shot preferences and so on, and then devise a plan. In Gill’s case, we first identified the most destructive elements and after analysing her play it was clear her long game played a big part in her putting inconsistencies. The first aspect of Gill’s game that we worked on therefore wasn’t her putting, but rather, helping her know the distance she hit each club and become better at judging the distance to the pin. We also worked on helping her to hit each club a consistent distance. After that we spent some time working on her chipping.
After six weeks Gill was, on paper, putting better, but we hadn’t even begun to work on her putting. As her shots to the green had improved she found herself with shorter first putts and there was less pressure on her putting. When she missed the green she began to chip closer and each of these improvements ‘miraculously’ made it seem as if her putting had improved.
I don’t expect other golfers to mirror the problems Gill faced. But what I am aware of is that without looking at your whole game it is possible to blame one area of your game for poor scores when other aspects of your play may be at greater fault. Often a player will assume that poor technique is ‘the problem’ when rather it is that she is trying to hit the ball too hard or too far.
What I am suggesting therefore is that the beginning of the season is an ideal time to analyse your whole game, like giving it a spring clean. The following list may help guide the process and help you objectively explore where you might most effectively invest your time.