After listening to Feherty’s interview with Dave Stockton this week I was intrigued by how little one of the greatest putters of our era had to say about putting. Well what I actually mean is how little he had to say about the mechanics or techniques of putting. So I decided to fill in the blanks by reading his 2011 signature offering on the subject called “Unconscious Putting”.
In an act of full disclosure, even though I am a self-confessed obsessive golfer I read very little instructional material on the subject. My extensive golf library has maybe 8 books that involve golf instruction and none of them were published after 1975.
I gave up my subscription to Golf Digest about 20 years ago because the magazine was all resort ads or those one page instructional caricatures with doozies like “for proper posture on a bunker shot imagine you are standing on the sidewalk and someone is dropping a sack of potatoes to you from the first floor fire escape of a Brooklyn tenement building…….”.
My standard response to someone who asks me for swing advice on the course or the range is, “it is an act of lunacy to accept swing advice from anyone you are not paying to give it to you” .
Which is probably why I found Stockton’s book so intriguing. There are only a handful of putting drills mentioned in the book. In 90 pages of text there are almost no professed must-do putting mechanics that are emphasized. He provides no metrics for swing length, swing path, or cadence of a stroke. The closest he gets to putting minutiae is waffling on whether it is acceptable to leave a putt 16 or 18 inches past the hole. If you are the type who is only satisfied when every box on the New York Times Crossword Puzzle is filled in this book is probably not for you.
His core assertion is ”Unconscious Putting involves learning how to accurately see the optimum line that a putt should take to the hole and giving yourself a consistent pre-putt routine that lets you preserve that visualization and roll the ball on your intended line”.
This should be the focus of all your practice time and pre-round preparation.
That is pretty much it though he does provide eight chapters to emphasize and support this thesis. He suggests that about 50% of your practice time should be on building a sound repeatable pre-shot process for ascertaining the proper line for a putt. The rest of it should be spent building a confident stroke that can roll your ball on the intended line. There is plenty in the book on learning to read greens properly, refining your pre-shot routine to make it efficient and serve the Unconscious Putting axiom, and managing your emotions so that your putting can be productive and fun.
As to putting mechanics he has no preferences or biases. It is only a 36 to 48 inch swing from end to end so how much mechanics can be involved in it. He feels that If you can deliver the club face to square of the intended line and two inches past it you can pretty much do it with any grip, swing path, swing length, cadence, or putter, for that matter, that works for you. Trusting your inner putting zen is very important to Unconscious Putting.
He is not in favor of spending hours on the putting green hitting the same length putt over and over. He says, “you should never practice with more than two balls at a time and you need to change up the length and break of the putts after every sequence of two putts”. Stockton says that of all of the instruction he has ever gotten on putting “90% of it has been on the mental side-maintaining my routine, staying positive, believing I would make every putt, and not blaming myself when the ball didn’t go into the hole”.
On this last point he gives the example of Nicklaus who he says believes he never missed a putt when the tournament was on the line. Truth is he missed his share but to his credit he never carried the misses with him after the fact. His miss amnesia ability was instrumental to his putting success in major events. I heard a teaching pro recently say to his student during a putting lesson, pick your line, put a good stroke on it on the intended line, and if it doesn’t go in blame the green superintendent.
This is a book well worth reading even if you do not buy fully his emphasis on feel over putting mechanics and result analysis. Stockton has helped some of the greatest players in the game, Mickelson, Sorenstam, Tiger, and Rory, rediscover their putting Id through the philosophy fleshed out in this book. It has to help your golf game to read what Stockton has to say about unlocking “your signature stroke” and then step back and give it some air on the putting green.
Dave Stockton (2011)