Driving is important, but players win championships with their putter

collin morikawa gives a thumbs up

You’ve heard it before. Every golfer has: “Drive for show and putt for dough.” 

As a kid I heard this preached to me and it lodged in my mind. Recently, however, Strokes Gained data debunked the axiom and attention and emphasis shifted to the Driver.  

The truth is the driver is an important club and the focus it has received is fitting.  The shadow of that truth though is the Driver is indeed important but if you want to win tournaments you have to make putts.  

It may sounds old-fashioned in the modern day game but a guy who can putt is typically a match for anybody.

collin morikawa lines up putt

On the odd occasion you may find an instance where the player is able to ball-strike his/her way around a balky putter, but the reality is that if you are not holing putts you are likely not contending.

How about we remember this quote?: 

“Miss putts and miss cuts.”  Add to that, if you want to win you probably have to make every putt inside eight feet over the final nine holes. 

Please do understand, I am not discounting the value of long, STRAIGHT driving.  In fact I emphasize accurate (and if possible, long) driving to all of my students, because offense begins in the fairway and defense begins in the rough.  

As we saw in last week’s PGA Championship, it is possible to play from long wayward drives but that approach is unpredictable at best.  Building on the theory of driving it well for success, I will concede that in any given week on the PGA TOUR, the best putter of all of the top ball-strikers is likely to win.  Last week that was Collin Morikawa.  He struck the ball beautifully (as usual) and he made putts, and timely putts at that. 

morikawa trophy

Morikawa led the field in Stroke Gained Putting. He gained over eight strokes on the greens and parlayed that performance (one of his best on the greens) into his first Major Championship victory.  

How about we learn from what our newest Major Champion was up to in a effort to putt that well under pressure? (His coach, Rick Sessinghaus shared some insights):

Posture and Weight Distribution

Collin’s caddy, JJ Jacovak (a good player in his own right -—Div. II National Individual Champion at Chico State) recommended a posture change to Collin in the lead-up to The PGA. Specifically that adjustment was moving 60% of the weight to the front foot to promote a lower arc though impact.

In the era of trying to “hit up on the ball” to promote a cleaner roll I have seen too many players swinging upward too much. A number of issues, most notably excessive head movement and putts being struck “thin”, arise from this misunderstanding.

Mishit putts will never roll cleanly and/or anywhere close to the intended distance so I advise that you spend time focusing on contact while putting.  You can also fiddle with your weight distribution at address.  Try moving a little pressure to the front foot – you may be pleasantly surprised how it will stabilize your body and improve your strike. 

(Incidentally, it is a tip Gary Player has always stressed to me and he made his share of putts en route to the Hall of Fame.)

Speed Control

Rick Sessinghaus mentioned to me that he and Collin always focus on speed control on mid to long range putts. 

This probably sounds trite but it is a highly overlooked key to success.  One statistic that I stress to golfers of all stations is “3-Putt Avoidance”, and the easiest way to limit 3-putts is to be really sharp with controlling the speed of the ball.

Practicing short-range putts is worthwhile but, if you show good speed control the speed you will leave yourself shorter second putts, which means less stress.  Also, good speed “widens” the hole and your putts that are slightly off the mark will have a better chance of toppling into the cup.  

So get out on the putting green and devote some time to rolling long putts to within a three foot circle around the cup.   Do it from all ranges and all slopes.  Have fun, be creative and do it everyday – your score will manifest your investment quicker than you realize.

Onwards and Upwards.

Golf.com Contributor

On-course announcer and analyst Mark Immelman is passionate about the game of golf. As a decorated instructor, award-winning NCAA college golf coach, and an accomplished golfer, Mark brings a robust knowledge and vast experience to his role as a television broadcaster and golf instructor. He is currently a Golf Analyst for CBS Sports HQ, and an Analyst and On-course Announcer for CBS Sports and Golf on CBS. He currently also serves as a Studio Analyst and an On-course Announcer for PGA TOUR Live  for PGA TOUR Live.

The older brother to 2008 Masters Champion, Trevor Immelman, Mark grew up in Somerset West, South Africa. After a successful amateur career in South Africa he was offered a golf scholarship to Columbus State University (Columbus , GA). He enjoyed a prolific collegiate tenure highlighted by his four-time All-America selections, two-time Academic All-America awards, and two NCAA Div. II National Championship victories. After graduation, Mark had a short season as a playing professional, but quickly turned his attention to his true passion – golf teaching.

As a golf instructor, Mark believes in cultivating ability and talent by providing comprehensive, holistic golf instruction that is easily understandable and of the highest quality to golfers of all abilities and skill levels. His passionate approach and keen knowledge of the game have led to him being a sought-after mind by leading Professional and Amateur golfers alike. Through his career he has taught and/or consulted to PGA TOUR and European Tour professionals and tournament winners such as: Larry Mize, Loren Roberts, Trevor Immelman, Scott Brown, Patton Kizzire, Louis Oosthuizen and Will Wilcox. He has been recognized as one of “Golf Digest’s Top 20 Instructors Under 40”, Golf Digest’s “Best Teachers in the State of Georgia” and Georgia Trend Magazine’s “Top 40 Under 40 – Georgia’s Best and Brightest”.

As a NCAA College Coach at Columbus State University (since 2001) Mark continues to coach the Columbus State Men’s Golf Team and his program is a perennial contender for Conference and National Titles. He is a two-time NCAA Div. II Atlantic/Southeast Region Coach of the Year, two-time Peachbelt Conference Coach of the Year, and the 2009 NCAA Div. II National Coach of the Year.

In 2019 Mark was selected as Captain and Coach of the (Arnold) Palmer Cup International Team. His team triumphed over the United States Team in the Palmer Cup Matches held at The Alotian Club outside of Little Rock, AR.

Mark’s additional broadcast duties include being a guest analyst on the CBS Sports “First Cut Podcast”. CBS Sports also uses Mark’s unique voice for audio and promotional PGA TOUR advertisements and promotional reads.

He has also served a 6-year tenure as a Play-by-Play Announcer for Sirius/XM PGA TOUR Radio.

Additionally, Mark hosts “On the Mark”, a PGA TOUR Podcast, which to date has been downloaded more than 3 million times in more than 125 countries.

He has also written golf instructional columns and articles for Golf Digest SA, Golf Digest USA and is currently penning instructional pieces for Golf Magazine. As an author, Mark has published two e-Books on golf instruction: “Scandalously SImple – The Easy Way to Accurate Golf Shots” and “Golf is a Game of Recovery”.

You can learn more about at MarkImmelman.com