Dear Mr. Orts:
Your malady is a most common one. The difficulty of putts of this length, especially under pressure, is that they provide little reward if made and much humiliation if missed. Indeed, one expects to make all putts in the 3-4 foot range. Yet reality dictates that we all will miss such putts on occasion. When one misses a couple of them, self doubt enters the mind. One begins to change technique, abandoning well established routines, trying desperately to change something to regain ones confidence. If you have a solid technique, this is a most ill-fated course to choose. Utilize with what is efficacious for you most of the time and confidently assume that the miss was, as they say, the rub of the green.
However--and this is a rather large "however"--you may have some technique problems. Dr. Putt would suspect this to be the case from your description of the blade wandering around on the back swing. This is most probably the result of a too long a back swing that is being controlled by the small muscles of the hands, which are most likely to be adversely affected by feelings of pressure.
This calls for three actions. First, shorten the back swing drastically to only a few inches at most. Then take as long a follow-through as possible, at least twice the length of the back swing. This gives less room for error on the back swing and ensures acceleration through the ball, which helps produce a stroke that is more likely to be on-line. Second, swing the putter with the shoulders rather than the hands and arms. Large muscles are less prone to be affected by pressure. That is why your longer strokes feel relatively more smooth--the large muscles come into play. Finally, rather than roll the ball over the edge of the cup, think in terms of hitting the back of the cup, or hitting the flag stick as though it were still in the cup. This will promote a more aggressive stroke that is more likely to be on line and stay on line.
Finally, you might make some equipment changes that may
help. Here is where Dr. Putt could insert a promotion for the patented
EOB device that sponsors this column, but he will exercise restraint. Rather,
you may try to use a ball with a soft cover. This will allow a more firm
stroke for the same distance. As noted previously, longer more firm strokes
are easier to keep on line. Of course, the EOB device could help in all
of this, but Dr. Putt will maintain his restraint. Dr. Putt will also caution
readers chuckling about a firm putter being a better putter to exercise
their own restraint. True though that may be, Dr. Putt will not go there!
PS: After you develop a good technique, Dr. Putt advises
that you perform a drill that places some pressure on these most vexing
of putts. Commit yourself to sinking ten four footers in a row before you
terminate your putting practise in the evening. You will begin to feel
pressure on about the seventh putt.
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