Putt with a Snooker Player's Confidence

By: JJ Gowland

Harrison Frazar shot a 59 during his fourth round at the six-round PGA Q-School. His last putt was a tap-in. Despite his heroics, Frazar didn't automatically assume he'd earn a 2009 PGA Tour card (he did, finishing as the medalist by a margin of eight shots).

Frazar joins a very short list of players who shot a 59, except it doesn't count in the record books because Q-School is not an official event. He averaged just 3.28 strokes per hole. Frazar's iron shots were pretty much on-target, but his most-used club was probably his putter. Even he seemed surprised that his putts were dropping with regularity. The spectators watching Frazar putt practically taste his confidence.

Confidence breeds reassurance, poise and more confidence.

We golf-club-swinging and wedge-wielding putter-pushers are always looking for ways to improve our scores. We spend hours on the driving range with most of the clubs in the bag: driver, a 3-wood, irons, wedges and hours on the chipping green with other clubs. We devote time in green-side bunkers on the practice facility, and even a few hours on the putting green. But there are ways that one can train the eye, the muscles and the mind without using a golf club.

Improving physical fitness is one way to increase stamina and flexibility. Lessons from instructors can improve technique. Practicing various swing techniques can improve one's skills. Remembering how to do these things also helps. Knowing the distance of each club, how hard to hit the ball on an uphill or downhill lie or on long or short putts are also keys to success.

But how do you train your brain to analyze the line, the direction to that small hole on the green? How do you build confidence?

A couple of years ago as I stood watching my golfing partners try to hole their putts, and as I analyzed my own putt, an assimilated method echoed in my head. It was then that I realized there are ways to train the brain for putting.

My putting has always been pretty good, except during a few games every summer. But I now realized there is a way to improve putting without having a wand in my hand. If I can train my brain properly - not an easy task at any time - I could improve my putting.

I frequently practice putting by playing what I call "carom." I use two golf balls. One is the target ball and the other is the "cue" ball. This works well if the putting green is crowded as it fine-tunes my aiming. It also trains my brain to look for, aim at and make minuscule adjustments with my club head. And if I can hit the target golf ball with the "cue ball," my confidence soars.

Many years ago I learned to play pool and shoot snooker on a competition-sized pool table in the basement of my grandfather's house. That's where I learned the fine art of "carom." So as I analyzed that upcoming putt a couple of years ago, I realized that the echo in my brain was what I had learned playing snooker. I thought that if one could learn snooker or pool that those skills might just improve putting.

I researched tips for shooting billiards and snooker and noticed how remarkably similar the snooker tips sounded to golf tips. Both golf and snooker are considered gentleman's games. Both are played by men and women, as singles or paired matches, and can be a team sport. You can even purchase your own equipment.

Here's just one snooker-billiards tip I found on www.billiardsforum.info: Walk confidently into the shot.

"Because you have already chosen, planned and envisioned your desired shot from stroke to pocket, you should be able to confidently approach the table and take the shot. Approach the table in the direction of the shot, with your body facing the direction in which you intend to shoot and assume your stance. If you are not properly aligned, back away from the table and repeat this step. All the while you should still have the vision of your shot in your mind."

When Yani Tseng won on the LPGA Tour and was asked what she would do with her money, she related that she wanted "to buy a billiards table because it helps me with my putting." I knew then that I had an idea that deserved to be shared.

There are other notable golfers, like Arnold Palmer, who also mastered shooting pool. Then I discovered there are some notable snooker players who are single-digit handicappers at golf.

Canadian Cliff Thorburn, a World snooker champion and avid golfer, told me, "When I teach snooker skills I sometimes use golf examples." I saw Cliff last month at an exhibition match. Music blared, spectators chatted, cameras flashed, and yet through all these distractions his concentration and analyzing techniques were truly impressive.

There are golf courses that have snooker/billiards rooms and even winter snooker leagues. Malahide Golf Course in Ireland is one.

I don't know if Harrison Frazar shoots pool or plays snooker. But he certainly mastered his putting skills during the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Q-School. His aiming and confidence were remarkable.

So while winter snow blows blizzards or rain and lightning pelt your fairways, tune up your putting stroke by learning to play snooker. Sometimes you might be snookered and have to sink a putt to win a hole, a match or a tour card.

J.J. Gowland's e-book, "Snooker 4 Golfers - Improve your Putting without Actually Golfing," was released November 20, 2008, and is available at www.lulu.com/content/4992736. Snooker 4 Golfers includes tips for playing snooker and putting, as well as scorecards from famous golf courses.