Whenever the contours of the green area make it possible to putt from off the green and the aprons are cut so that the ball will roll accurately over them, I use my putter as often as I can instead of chipping. I realize that in the book of high-style playing the "Texas wedge"—that's putting off the green—is still frowned upon, but it really is a great stroke-saver. I sometimes putt from as much as 10 or 20 feet off the green, and unless the apron grass prohibits it by being too high or rough, I almost always use my putter when I'm three or four feet off the putting surface.
I've probably had a little more experience than most golfers putting from off the green, growing up as I did in Odessa in Texas. The point is to use exactly the same technique as you would on the green. The gauging takes a little practice, but otherwise it's the same stroke as an approach putt. The main misconception people have is that they think they have to hit the ball from off the green a little bit harder than is really necessary. When they try to give it that extra clip they come off the ball. Sometimes, both consciously and unconsciously, they tip the face of the putter back to give it the loft of a four-iron. Now, when you tip the blade back or simply hit the ball too hard, that makes the ball jump and bounce off the ground and lose its line. Use your normal stroke. That will keep the ball running true over the apron to the putting surface. You'll be up close regularly, I assure you and, what is more, you can "miss" a shot when you're putting from off the green from long distances and still get the ball within five or six feet of the cup.
BILLY MAXWELL, Odessa CC, Odessa, Texas
NEXT WEEK: Joe Cannon on unwinding the shoulders