Let’s agree on some basic terminology

With hundreds of different gurus and training devices promoting the perfect putting line, it’s confusing to even know where to start. Therefore, I’d like to begin by defining some basic putting terms.

Putting Terminology

  • Baseline – This is the straight line between your ball and the hole. It’s also the line your putt would travel, if the green were perfectly flat. It’s the black line in the above illustration.
  • Putting Line – This is the curved line on which your putt will actually travel. It’s the blue line in the above illustration.
  • Apex – This is the point on your putting line that is the furthest distance from the baseline. It’s the blue dot in the above illustration.
  • Aim Point – This is a point in the distance you use to align your putt. It’s the green dot in the above illustration.
  • Aim Point Line – This is the straight, imaginary line between your ball and the aim point. It’s the green dotted line in the above illustration.

Now that I have established some keys terms, I’d like to highlight the two main methodologies of putting.

Straight-Line versus Curved-Line Players

Mike Shannon discovered that golfers approach visualization in two profoundly different ways. In his study, Shannon found that the vast majority of golfers see curved lines when putting. This means they select the hole as their target, rather than an imaginary point in the distance.

Which type are you?

If you’re unsure as to which type of player you are, think about the last long putt you holed. Did you pick a point in the distance or did you see the path of the putt with your mind? If you did the former, then you’re likely a straight-line player. If you saw the putt tracking into the hole, you’re probably a curved-line player.
For additional help on finding out which type you are check this video by Mike Shannon: Are you linear or nonlinear?.

So you think you’re a curved-line player?

Welcome to the majority. Most golfers fail when taught the conventional approach to putting, which uses a straight-line visualization. However, this is easily corrected when you understand the difference between the aim point and the apex.

Do NOT aim at the apex. Seriously!

If you’re a curved-line player and you’re missing the majority of your putts on the low side, it’s likely that you’re aiming at the apex. If you look at the illustration above, you’ll notice that a putt aligned with the apex never has a chance to get on the putting line you visualized. Instead, you’ll want to aim higher than the apex, so that your putt travels on the proper line.
Further reading for curved line putters: Mike Shannon’s tips for Non-Linear Putters

Practice the curved-line approach

To practice and improve your curved-line visualization, you can create a putting gate on the practice green by doing the following:

  1. Find a breaking putt.
  2. Visualize the line of the putt and determine the apex.
  3. Place a tee on either side of apex to create the gate.

You can track your performance by playing a simple game. Give yourself 1 point for every putt that goes through the gate, 2 points for every putt that goes through the gate and goes in, and -3 points for every putt that misses the gate. To make the game more difficult, you can make the putting gate smaller.

After reading that, I think I might be a straight-line player.

You’re in good company, although there are fewer of you. Straight-line players benefit from conventionally taught methods. When you’re putting as a straight-line player, you start by visualizing a point away from the actual hole. This is your aim point.

Simplify aiming: aim to a point one inch in front of your ball

From here, you’re not visualizing the line your putt will travel. Instead, you create a straight line between your ball and the aim point. One benefit of this method is that you can move your aim point anywhere along this invisible line.

Dave Stockton recommends placing this point one-inch in front of your ball. He believes this takes your focus off your mechanics and allows you to putt more naturally. Similarly, many golf professionals pick a spot 6 to 18 inches in front of their ball.
Further reading for curved line putters: Mike Shannon’s tips for Linear Putters

So, which type are you?

Have you figured out which type you are? The best way to find out is to try out both methods and decide based on your preference. Personally I’m definitely a straight-line putter. I guess my analytical brain has something to do with that! Let me know in the comments what your preference is.

So am I ready to be golf’s next greatest putter?

You’re almost there. You’ve built the perfect stroke, you’ve made the perfect read and your aim is true, but you still need to master distance control to be a great putter.