Mickey Walker: Ever considered putting with your eyes closed?
As we’ve come to expect in recent years the world of women’s golf has already been dominated this year by Asians, with the rookie Ha Na Jang from South Korea impressively having won two out of the five tournaments that she has played in.
Her compatriot Hyo Joo Kim also won in the Bahamas and Hara Nomura, from Japan, was victorious in the Australian Open.
The one interloper, so to speak, has been the 21-year-old American Lexi Thompson, who won in Thailand by six shots from her nearest challenger.
Lexi is the longest hitter in women’s golf – she is currently at the top of the driving stats with an average drive of 287 yards, whereas she sits a lowly 97th in the putting stats with an average of 30.69 putts a round.
Compare that to Alison Lee who leads the stats with an average of 27.50. The amazing thing is that Lexi has risen to be the number three in the world despite her putting – and her current putting average shows a marked improvement on her form previously.
When you think that Lydia Ko and Inbee Park, the Numbers 1 and 2, only hit the ball 249 yards on average, it shows that the rest of their games are very much sharper than Lexi’s.
But, also, if Lexi could sharpen up her short game, and particularly her putting, she would be virtually unbeatable.
One of the things that Lexi has done this year, with some very positive results, has been to take the putting drill that she’d been using on the practice green of putting with her eyes closed onto the course.
This is a drill which I often use when I’m teaching putting but anyone who has ever tried it knows just how scary it is to do in practice, let alone in the heat of competition.
Lexi isn’t the only tournament professional to do this. Suzann Pettersen and Colin Montgomerie, who have both had well-documented struggles with their putting at times, have resorted to putting with their eyes closed.
Of course another drill for putting, and brought to prominence in recent years by Jordan Spieth, is looking at the hole rather than down at your ball when holing out. This also takes a leap of faith.
The key with both of these drills is that in both cases, either shutting your eyes or looking at the hole, this has to be part of a continuous routine.
If you freeze after closing your eyes, or stare at your ball for too long before looking at the hole, then the intuitive sensation of feeling the distance or of your putter face moving through the ball in the direction that you want to send it in is lost.
There have been all sorts of quirky routines that we’ve seen leading players use over the years to help with their swings, but putting is such a hugely important area of the game and it arguably is affected most by what is going on in a player’s mind.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to see Lexi nearly four years ago to play so well from tee to green at what was then the Kraft Nabisco Championship, only to see her three-putt, missing tiddlers left, right and centre before breaking down when she came off the final green absolutely distraught.
It seemed some sort of karma that two years later she would return to play at Mission Hills and go on to win her first Major in a head-to-head against her compatriot Michelle Wie.
Contrary to what a lot of amateurs believe, that good putters are born and not made, if you struggle on the greens, book a lesson with your professional and have a putting lesson.
In my experience, poor technique is the forebearer of poor mentality. Having said that, absolutely the best book that I have read on the mental side of putting is Putting Out of Your Mind by Dr. Bob Rotella.
Like all of Rotella’s books on the mental side of golf, everything that he writes is put in easily understandable words no matter what level of golfer you are.
As someone who has worked with many Major champions in both women’s and men’s golf, he is definitely worth listening to if you recognise that you have a problem with your thinking on the course.
So, with this year’s Majors already underway it will be fascinating to see if Lexi can add to her Major tally and how rookie Ha Na Jang can contend in the big ones.
What a season in prospect.