Grant Rogers: Practice your putting!

By Ron Bellamy | Golf, Oregon, Oregon Coast |

Want to lower your golf scores? It’s simple — spend more time on the greens

BANDON — The stainless steel face of Grant Rogers’ putter, an 8-year-old Scotty Cameron model, tells a story. The sweet spot is darker than the rest of the surface, worn from the repetition of putter striking golf ball, again and again and again.

“Somebody has putted a lot of balls with this putter,” said Rogers, the director of instruction at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, “and the only person who has ever putted with it is me.”

Which simply means that Rogers practices — though he avoids using that word — what he preaches, because the veteran teaching pro is a veritable Pied Piper of the Putter, one who carries not just one but two putters in his bag, using an old Odyssey 550 putter for longer putts, approach shots and even, in windy conditions, off the tee.

(Playing the new Bandon Preserve course recently, Rogers teed up a ball on the 105-yard first hole, flew it to the green with his Odyssey putter, and took two putts for his par; a three-putt par 3, so to speak.)

As golfers embark on a summer on the links, they’d do well to consider Rogers’ Philosophy of Practical Putting, as it were, built on some very simple principles:

“It’s an area that everybody can be very good at if they want to be,” Rogers said. “It doesn’t require power. … It’s the fastest, easiest way for people to get better. No doubt about it. And I’m talking about anybody — Tour player, beginning golfer, whatever. You just have to want to do it.”

“The best way to putt is the way you putt best,” Rogers said, echoing the advice of putting guru Jackie Burke Jr. “I kind of like that. There’s a lot of room for being yourself with your putter. You don’t have to do it like everybody else.”

The way to become a better putter is to sink more putts.

To illuminate the latter point, Rogers tells the story of a golfer who, at a different golf course years ago, came to him for a putting lesson. He gave her an assignment — go sink 10,000 putts, and then he’d give her a lesson. She grumbled, and complained, but over time made 10,000 putts and came back to him for her lesson. Whereupon he told her to go make 10,000 more; she did, and along the way won a tournament, seemingly making every putt she looked at.

It’s an exaggerated case, but Rogers uses it to make the point that golfers don’t spend enough time on this important facet of their game.

“What usually happens here when it’s really busy is that there are 25 people hitting at the practice range,” Rogers said, gesturing around the expansive practice facility at Bandon Dunes. “About 15 of them are hitting drivers. When that’s happening there are usually two people on the putting green. And you know what they’re doing? They’re putting, but what they’re really doing is waiting for the shuttle. They fool around on the putting green for a while and then they’re gone.

“That phenomenon is not just once in a while. It’s quite often. And these are people who are really serious about getting better.”

A comfort zone

So if you resolve to spend more time on the putting green, how do you approach getting better? Rogers offers these thoughts:

Establish your comfort zone for making putts, then work to expand it, the comfort zone being the distance you’d be willing, without qualm, to bet a fortune that you’d make the putt. Maybe that’s six inches, but that’s a start. Practice making putts within the length of your putter; listen for the sound of the ball dropping, become confident at that distance, and then suddenly lag putts have a much wider target area for success, and pressure putts don’t seen quite so pressurized. (If he were a basketball coach, Rogers said, he’d have his players spend a lot of time in practice making layups.)

On the practice green, putt three balls toward the next hole; if you sink one on the first try, move to the next hole, or when you sink two of three on the second try. On the golf course, if you don’t get down in two putts, and there’s no one behind you, go back and try again until you do. “It’s like solving a math problem, or a chess problem,” Rogers said.

When Rogers goes to the range, he spends as much time putting as he does hitting other shots, whatever that is. His favorite football player was Dick Butkus, the Chicago Bears linebacker who wore No. 51, and so in each putting session Rogers makes 51 putts, of various lengths.

If a golfer complains of poor putting, Rogers likes to “round up the usual suspects.” Often, a putting problem can stem from a chipping or pitching problem. “The putter is doing the best it can,” he said, “but it’s putting from awkward places.” So work on that part of your game to put yourself in better putting positions on the green.

Rogers putts with his left hand low, a technique he’s used for about 15 years because he believes it helps him keep his shoulders square to the target line. But technique, he said, is secondary to the amount of time spent on the putting green, which he described as his “favorite putting instructor,” and the type of putter used — long putter, belly putter, standard putter — is vital only in that the golfer must like the way it looks and feels.

“The secret to great putting is to putt a lot,” Rogers said. “If you putt a lot your distance control on all putts will improve, which will instantly lead to lower golf scores. On the other hand, if you think you should have more weight on your forward foot, or keep your wrists firm or that you should stand taller when you putt and that helps you putt better then you should keep doing it. … Putting technique can easily become a belief system.”

Hold the finish

However, Rogers does offer one piece of technical advice:

“If we analyzed the top 10 men and women putters on the Tour, sooner or later we’d have to agree that they’re all quite different,” Rogers said. “They have different putters, they have different putter styles, they’re just different people. They’re all good, but they’re not putting the same.

“But there is one thing that all of them do. … Every single person who putts well, when the putter goes forward, it never goes backward. It just stays there, and they wait to see what happens. It never recoils.”

Rogers compared that to a gymnast sticking the landing.

“If you can putt, and be able to stick that landing, you’re going to putt well,” he said. “It’s the same stroke, you’re just holding the finish.”

On the course, Rogers believes that golfers should have “some sort of pre-shot routine. That’s important. They should give some thought to what the ball’s going to do when they hit it; what direction it could possibly go, and sometimes that’s not obvious.”

Rogers’ approach on the green is to stand behind the ball, at a consistent distance, face the target line and take two practice swings; he then walks up to the ball and putts it without further ado.

“There’s a tendency now on the Tours to kind of get ready back here (behind the ball, facing the target line), make some decisions, and once you’re ready to go, don’t take any more practice swings,” he said. “You don’t have anything more to think about. You’ve made a decision and you’re going to go for it. It’s a more relaxing way to putt. You’re not fidgeting around worrying about things too much.”

With golfers, Rogers urges positive self-talk, dwelling on the makes, rather than the misses. “The faster you get interested in your next putt, the better,” he said. “You want to have a really short memory for putts you don’t like.”

Not every putt that fails is a bad putt. It was with that in mind that Rogers once replied to a caddie who expressed surprise that Rogers had missed a putt on the previous green.

“I didn’t miss the putt,” Rogers responded. “The ball just didn’t go in the hole.”

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