Don’t let your age dictate your stroke.
People tend to think that the first thing to go when you get older is speed, and therefore how far you can hit the ball. But with the advances in training and nutrition, as well as the incredible equipment we have today, guys are still able to carry it 300-plus yards well into their 40s – and sometimes 50s.
I’ve actually found that as the years pass, putting excellence might be one of the hardest things to maintain. It’s not a coincidence that you see so many guys on the Champions Tour switching to longer putters or different grips. They do it in the hopes of regaining some of the success they had as younger players. But it’s a real challenge.
First, it’s harder to put in the hours of practice you need to stay sharp because bending over to get into a good putting stance is not easy on the ageing back. Second, it can be harder to see the right line because your eyesight simply isn’t as good as it used to be. (Not to mention it’s harder to crouch down on the greens.) And then there’s the attitude part of putting. When you’re young, you putt super aggressively, especially on the shorter ones. But as you age, sometimes you start to think more about the comebacker, which can lead to defensive strokes and even more misses.
‘“My approach to putting hasn’t changed in 24 years on the PGA Tour.” ‘
But no matter how long you’ve been putting, when you find yourself struggling on the greens as I was during parts of 2020, it’s so important to return to a few consistent keys to get your stroke back – the things that made you a better putter in the past. Although I experimented with a new putter and a new grip during the middle of last year, my approach to putting hasn’t changed in 24 years on the PGA Tour. You can see in these two photos, taken roughly 16 years apart, that my set-up and stroke look pretty darn similar. And back in 2004, when that first photo was taken, I led the tour in strokes gained–putting. So I know my methods work.
To that point, there are two drills you’ll see me practising on the putting green before every tournament – year in and year out. The first is hitting putts with just my right hand on the grip. Some guys like a straight-back, straight-through stroke, but I’ve always preferred to feel the toe of the putterhead open a bit on the backswing and release through the ball. Hitting practice putts with just my right hand allows me to feel the appropriate release of the putterhead through impact.
For my other long-time drill, I put two tees into the green just wide enough that my putterhead can swing between them when I make a stroke. Then I’ll hit putts trying not to strike either tee. It’s a simple but effective way to make sure you’re making a good stroke and hitting the ball in the centre of the putterface.
I didn’t putt as well as I would have liked last year, but I have full confidence that if I stick with my principles and these two drills, I’ll turn it around. – with Daniel Rapaport