flag stick

The Clank vs. the Kiss

One of the secrets to improved putting starts with the sound you’re trying to achieve

By Michael Bamberger

We know you don’t come to this site for putting tips, and this embedded reporter has a long history of poor putting that makes him particularly ill-suited for today’s theme.

And yet we proceed.

In high school and college, I was an average putter, at best. In my 30s, I was better. In my 40s and 50s, I was way worse. Not so bad on the long ones, especially after a good friend and an experienced golfer gave me this tip-of-a-lifetime: you want your putt breaking toward the hole. But the short ones became harder and harder for me.

But I am 63 now, and over the past few years, my short putting has actually improved. I will spare you the whole mishegoss of when I go lefty and when I go righty, except to say, from about 10 feet and in, I nearly always try to have a hook putt. (Yes, I have a two-way putter. If you really, really want to know about it, I refer you to pages 207 to 210 in a book called The Ball in the Air. Maybe your library has it.)

It is helpful to know your tendencies. Uphill, I tend not to hit the ball hard enough. So I try to hit it harder. On straight short attempts when I putt lefty, I tend to shove the putt, toward 7 o’clock. So I aim a little right.

It’s not rocket science.

But here are the two short-putt breakthroughs from this year’s golfing fun that have been helpful, at least to your green-blooded correspondent. I offer them on the chance they prove to be a public service. As it is written, if you help even one yipper yip less, it is good.

Part I: I putt the short ones with the flagstick in, unless the day is so windy the flagstick is shaking like a Deadhead dancing to Althea.

flag scaled

I know, your favorite LPGA stars, to say nothing of various male professionals on the various circuits, are taking the flagstick out pretty much all the time. But I’m leaving it in because the flagstick really lets you do what Harvey Penick advised so often: Take dead aim. It lets you play most straight putts with less break.

So when I get over a short putt, I think about the sound the ball is going to make when it strikes the flagstick. On this basis, every short putt becomes an either/or proposition. You know your ball is going to strike some part of the flagstick on its way to the bottom. So I have two speeds: clank (firm) and kiss (soft).

If the ball’s point of entry is between roughly 5 o’clock and 7 o’clock on the sundial that is the hole, I strike the ball hard enough to get a clank sound. In my experience, from about five feet and in, if your ball clanks, it’s going to fall in 99 percent of the time, even if the putt is downhill. Many putts can be aimed directly at 6 o’clock. If the green speed is sane and the flagstick is in, 6 o’clock is your best friend. Yes, I do believe that all putts have some break in them. But that ball will drop if the entry point is 5:30 or 6:30.

Which leads me to this important by-the-way. By the way: You don’t have to be perfect. As many have noted, the hole’s diameter, per the rules, is 4.25 inches. The diameter of a golf ball is 1.68 inches. There’s some wiggle room there. More to the point, a tumbling, end-over-end putt will drop even if it’s slightly offline.

Lucas Glover has figured that out. That and a whole lot more.

Now if the path to holing the putt is around 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, clank won’t work. Any short putt (defined here as five feet and in) where the starting line is outside the hole requires an extra level of finesse. But even that golf ball is going to touch the flagstick on its way to the bottom.

So in these instances I’m listening for the kiss, a gentle meeting of golf ball and flagstick. You can roll your ball over a certain spot on the way there, if you like. Or you can see the whole shape of the thing like you have a tracer in your mind as you make one or two (no more!) rehearsal swings. 

Then you do it for real.

I’m not pretending it’s easy. We all know it’s not. But it is not rocket science. 

I recently mentioned to Brad Faxon that sometimes (often?) when I am over short putts, the ones you are absolutely expected to make, my thoughts turn dire: Nothing good can happen here (you’re supposed to make it); all that leaves is something bad (you miss).

Brad had straightforward advice. You have to get so into the process of what you do to make your putts that there’s no headspace available for a negative thought like that.Yes, such a negative thought is both true and pathetically logical. Still, you must bury it. Overwhelm it with something else.

That’s why clank and kiss are so useful to me. I am going to choose one or the other. And I’m going to make a stroke that is going to allow me to be greeted by one sound (clank) or the other (kiss). I get out of my head, or into another part of it, anyway.

The next sound after clank or kiss is your partner, or maybe even your opponent, saying, “Yep.”

Or maybe you’re saying it to yourself.

Yep, yep, yep.

You have to be nice to yourself in this game, even though you can’t be, not all the time. You have to try, though. The game’s difficult. Short-putting is difficult. Keeping your composure is difficult. The flagstick in is your friend. It will speak to you, if you let it.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]

1 thought on “The Clank vs. the Kiss”

  1. Read “Putting Out of Your Mind” by Bob Rotella. It helped me, a lot. No practice swings. Practice long putts with no hole. Practice most of your putts from inside four feet.

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