One of the many wonderful things about the sport of golf is that, compared with many other sports, players can continue to enjoy the game long into their lives. For many, a leisurely game of golf on a weekday afternoon has long been associated with life after retirement. It’s something a lot of people spend their days looking forward to, and rightly so. Golf has many health benefits, both for physical and mental health. It’s an excellent way to mix a social element into light physical activity; helping people to experience nature as well as encouraging people to exercise, stretch and stay in shape generally.
Golf is still a physical sport though, no matter how leisurely it’s played, which means as players age it can get harder to sustain scores and to continue to play in the same style. Although it’s one of the less physically intensive sports, or it can be, older golfers do inevitably have to adapt their games as time goes on. With all of that in mind here is some advice on putting, specifically aimed at older players.
The first thing for all golfers to consider, regardless of their age, is their pre-round warm-up. Many overlook the importance of this element and end up playing the first few holes at a disadvantage while they get into the swing of things, so to speak.
Golf requires some real action in the legs, hips, shoulders and back, and as we get older these areas need to be cared for properly to avoid stiffness and a lack of flexibility when swinging. And no, a drink in the clubhouse does not count!
By making sure to perform a warm-up before every round and, ideally, some stretching or a warm-down afterwards too, all golfers can help loosen their muscles before starting to play and to improve their chances of avoiding an injury, as well as improving their flexibility in the long-term. As we age our flexibility naturally declines and so the importance of this element only increases with age.
There are lots of different stretches and movements that can help and a small routine, tailored to each individual, can make a huge difference to one’s enjoyment of a round. Even just a few minutes can help, and it’s especially important in cold weather.
Now something more specific to putting. Much of this advice is useful to all golfers looking to improve their putting but as older golfers generally lose power and distance with the longer clubs a strong putting game becomes even more important in keeping scores low.
It follows, then, that it’s also a good idea to spend some time on the putting green before a round. Unfortunately a lot of people spend their time on the putting green quite aimlessly. There’s a difference between hitting a few putts and really practicing. Try some drills specifically aimed at finding the right length and getting used to the speed of the green. By focusing your practice time before and also between rounds on putts under five foot you can make a huge difference to your scorecard. Most amateur golfers could lower their handicap by two or three just by avoiding three putts.
So assuming you have the basic mechanics of the putting stroke worked out – that is, keeping your head over the ball until well after contact, lining your body up and having the ball positioned correctly relative to your feet, knowing to putt confidently through the ball and not decelerate on the follow-through and so on – then what else can you do to improve your putting besides practice incessantly?
One thing is to develop a pre-shot routine for putting, which is usually a little different from a pre-shot routine with other clubs as there are other factors to consider on the green, such as the break and the speed. A pre-shot routine can be a huge help in reducing anxiety over putts and is a useful way of clearing the mind and focusing on the shot at hand.
So after practicing thoughtfully, ensuring the basic elements of your stroke are solid and developing a reliable pre-shot routine what else can be done to improve results on the green? Many people use the technique of intermediate aiming, that is, deciding on the line of the putt and then finding something much closer to the ball at which to aim. The theory being that aiming at something two feet away is easier than aiming at something ten feet away, and if the ball is on the right line after two feet it will continue on that right line.
Another tip many people use to help with alignment is to take a felt tip pen and draw a straight line around their ball, then after cleaning their ball they use this line to aim the ball and help ensure that the club is properly aimed at address. Eyesight usually worsens with age and both of these techniques can be very helpful to older golfers. For some people even using a differently coloured ball can help a lot.
One thing many older golfers experiment with is an alternative putting grip. There are two main alternatives, the claw grip, where the lower hand is turned over, and the cross-hand grip, where the top and bottom hands switch places. For some, especially those with joint pain or hands less steady than they might once have been, these grips can revolutionise their putting game. Be warned though that they aren’t for everyone and do take some getting used to.
Finally, there are a lot of other accessories, gear options and putting aids available. A so-called ‘broom-handled’ putter is one where the shaft is significantly longer than a regular club. This allows for a grip with the hands far apart from one another and a more pendulum-like movement of the whole club. Many people have converted to a broom-handle putter and never looked back. The same can be said of oversized putter heads that are designed to spread the weight of the club head more evenly than in a traditional heel-toe putter and also help with alignment at address.
In the same vein many people experiment with custom grips on their putter, whether to alter the girth of the grip or the material. Both can help with feel and touch and it’s a very personal choice. The best advice is to ask a pro or head to a shop and try some different options when it comes to putters for senior golfers. At the end of the day a putter is a very personal club and anything that helps one to feel more comfortable with theirs is likely to help improve the putting game. For old and young alike, your putter should be your best friend in the bag.