Tour player learns to putt more freely

Earlier this week I had the privilege of an all-day coaching session with Matthew Guyatt. Matt plays here in Australia and on the Japanese tour.

I hadn’t met Matt before but through a mutual friend I had heard quite a bit about him. I learned that Matt is an excellent ball striker, has a wealth of talent and is an all round great bloke.

And after playing 36 holes with him I can testify that the above sentence is entirely true. Matt can really whack the golf ball and has all sorts of ability to make it talk. I’ve played with a lot of excellent golfers (both amateur and professional) but I’m not sure I’ve played with anyone better. The guy hardly missed a shot and really impressed with an ability to move the ball both ways at will.

Matt’s concern and the reason for our meeting had to do with putting. Like a lot of golfers who have mastered ball striking, he had gotten a little lost with the putting game. He was thinking too much and trying too hard.

Although this seems like the right thing to do, long-term, it leads to confusion and poor performance. And once you hit the skids, the harder you try and the more things you attempt, the worse off you become. It’s a contradiction that many golfers struggle to grasp.

Matt’s putting had become a source of frustration and he also mentioned that horrible “Y” word. The putting yips can bring a grown man to his knees and make the most talented golfer a basket case.

The way forward is to step back and approach the putting game like you would any other skill. You know, like riding a bike or throwing a ball.

But this can seem too easy and I wasn’t sure a player of Matt’s caliber would like that message. Although I knew I could help, there were some nerves and apprehension on my part because I wasn’t entirely sure Matt was ready for my message.

Any doubt was eroded in the first few minutes of meeting him. Matt was welcoming and open. I learned that he had tried many things to help his putting and was fed up. There’s a saying that sort of goes, “the teacher will show up when the student is ready”.

Matt was ready.

I’m not a fan of most practice environments. Not much good happens on the practice putting green or driving range. The golf course is where the magic lives and this was where I wanted to go. I wanted to see Matt putt in a realistic environment – everyone putts well on the practice putting green.

“Let’s do it”, said Matt. “Do we need to warm up?”.

“Let’s just go play. We can warm up on the golf course”, was my reply.

His opening tee shot was solid. He belted his 3 wood and only had 90 metres left in. When the uphill approach landed next to the pin, I could tell Matt had mastered the art of ball striking.

There was no apprehension. There was no self-doubt. He swung the club like there’s no tomorrow and he owned a ball flight that would make any amateur golfer jealous. For a very long time I’ve termed the art of playing this way “dancing”.

To the untrained eye Matt’s first putt wouldn’t have seemed out of the ordinary. But I’ve been watching golf and golfers for a long time and I feel I’ve got a special knack for seeing “flow”. Flow is another word for dancing. When you’re flowing there’s no apprehension and the motion has a rhythm to it that’s unmistakable. In my mind it’s almost impossible to play your best golf if you can’t learn to let your game flow. And new clubs or special tips from Golf Digest aren’t going to help you. Flow comes from within and can only truly be unleashed on the golf course when you can strike the ball without fear of the consequences.

Matt wasn’t flowing with his putting stroke. He was tentative and it was almost like he was happy to two putt. He left the ball a foot short of the hole. I had an 8 foot putt for par – I looked at the hole, walked in, got comfortable and pulled the trigger. When I looked up the ball dove into the center of the cup. It was my first putt in over 2 months but it felt like I had never missed a beat.

“How did your putt feel Matt?”, I asked.

“Not sure… I didn’t feel great… I don’t really know”, was the answer I received.

I continued, “Matt, your first two shots were perfect. And from a scientific/biomechanical point of view, they are incredibly complex. The skill, dexterity and timing required to hit a 250 metre drive and a lofted approach is staggering. Science showed me that it’s close to impossible to achieve, but the human system is quite amazing and you have been able to master this ability. With no warm up or too much thought you hit the ball to ten feet in two shots.”

“Putting on the other hand is way less complex. Kids can perform the motion no worries. You could give a putter to anyone and they should be able to roll the ball along the grass. But you’ve managed to complicate it. You’re not letting your instinctive ability putt the ball in the same way that you’re able to hit your full shots.”

Instantly Matt could appreciate where I was coming from. He was open to the concept and could see/hear/feel what I was on about. He spoke about putting as a kid, and how he’d simply look at the hole and let the putter head fire through the ball. No self-doubt. No fear. Just putting the ball into the hole. It was a perfect start to what would become a remarkable day.

The second hole is a par 5 and Matt let rip with a low bullet drive and then a flushed 5 iron. He got a little unlucky with the second, got a flyer and then a hard bounce on the back of the green. With a difficult recovery, he was ultimately left with a 30 foot putt for birdie.

Once again he looked timid. He didn’t commit to the putt, looked up too early (a sign that he was anxious of outcome) and wasn’t letting his putting game dance. The solution is simple. But it’s easy not to do. One of the hardest (I often say bravest) things a golfer will learn to do is hit/putt/chip without manual control.

This process can be called letting go, trusting your game or playing instinctively. Whatever one calls it, this process can be easier said than done. It takes guts because when you’re on the golf course it’s easy to step back into bad habits.

It’s easy to be fooled into thinking about results or concern yourself about technique or some other thing. But when you let go, there’s no panic about HOW you’re performing. You give in and hit the shot in the moment, having full trust that you’ll find the target.

And there’s no guarantee that doing so will result in fairways hit and putts holed. There are no guarantees. But, this way of playing maximises your chances – the odds are in your favour and this can only be a good thing.

And it’s easier too. Less energy and brain cells used. You can walk off the course feeling energised and alive and not like you’ve gone five rounds with Mike Tyson.

So this was my challenge to Matt. Putt like there’s no tomorrow. Putt the ball like you’ve already made it. Learn to putt again like you did as a kid. Putt the ball HOW you really want.

His first putt on the third wasn’t great, again, he wasn’t settled and didn’t let the stroke flow.

“C’mon Matt. You’ve got to let go and stop trying so hard. Relax and feel the putter in your hand”, was my reply. His next putt hit the back of the hole.

He was away.

From a coaching point of view there wasn’t much more I could do. I didn’t need to add more ideas or concepts. What he needed was simplification and encouragement. So I took a step back and watched from the sidelines…

… and as each hole passed it was clear he started to dance and let the putts flow. He wasn’t trying to putt better. He wasn’t complicating this simple task, but rather, he was letting his best putting game find him.

His speed was vastly improved. His language changed. He started making more putts. He was putting in his own little bubble, free from internal and external distractions.

This is no quick fix. It’s not a miracle cure and it will take time. But the more he does it the better he will get. And in a few weeks, months or maybe a year or so (there’s no exact time frame) Matt will truly experience putting at the instinctive level. He’ll realise that he’s putting the ball just like he smashes a tee ball.

And from here nothing will stop him from playing his very best golf.

Mini update: I spoke with Matt yesterday and he said the last four days have been great. No yips and he is enjoying putting more than ever.

If you’d like to read Matt’s story you can do so here

Resource: If you’d like to read my book on putting and how you can putt more naturally and free from fear, check it out over here.

 

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50 Comments

  • JD Williams

    Reply Reply August 9, 2015

    A pro who was having putting problems at the same time Tom Watson had his putting problems said: “I think Tom’s worse-off than I am. He actually listens to those tips from the sky-caps.” Sounds like Matt was almost that desperate when you two found each other. Glad you did and more power to both of you. I’ll watch for his name from now on.

  • 3 Putt

    Reply Reply August 12, 2015

    I have found in observations over the years the worst putters are the ones that take the longest over the ball and who grip the club too tightly. You can see it a mile off. My other favourites are the 3 or 4 careful practice swings on every putt – guaranteed 36 putts per round.

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    Reply Reply December 19, 2015

    Courage goes a long way.

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