Virtuoso Touch: Brad Faxon shares secret to putting prowess, how he teaches others

(Leah Voss/USA Today Network)

Virtuoso Touch: Brad Faxon shares secret to putting prowess, how he teaches others

Equipment

Virtuoso Touch: Brad Faxon shares secret to putting prowess, how he teaches others

By

Brad Faxon’s prowess with a putter earned him eight wins on the PGA Tour and made him a sought-after coach for a new generation of players. The 57-year-old Fox Sports analyst reflects on working with Rory McIlroy, the best putting advice he ever received and the perils of pizza.

GWK: You’re widely acknowledged as one of the finest putters in PGA Tour history, yet many people seem to consider great putting more nature than nurture. How much did you work at it?

Faxon: I get “You’re lucky you were a good putter!” a lot. It assumes I was born that way and didn’t have to practice. I started playing golf when I was 6 years old. The family rule was come home when the street lights came on, so I was out there a long time. The thing I’m most proud about is that I got better as I got older and was one of the best putters on Tour — maybe the best — for five or six years when I was 35 to 40 years old. It bugs me when people say, “Yeah, you’re just lucky.” That comes with the assumption that not only were you born a good putter, but you couldn’t hit the golf ball at all either, which might have been closer to the truth (laughs).

What separated you from the pack as a putter?

Faxon: I was able to dumb it down. I never allowed myself to worry about missing, never putted like I was afraid. Fear is death for putting. I worked with Bob Rotella early in my career, and one of his tenets was “Long-term memory of your successes and short-term memory of your failures.” I had the ability to forget about my misses. I cared if I missed, but I was able to forget that stuff.

Brad Faxon tries to minimize the situation whenever lining up a big putt. (Leah Voss/USA Today Network)

So as much attitude as technique?

Faxon: I was better at being able to downplay the importance of the situation, whether it was a putt on Friday to make the cut versus on Sunday to win. And I tried to never let one particular putt be more difficult than others. Some people don’t like a downhill left-to-righter. I liked to play my putts as if they were straight. I’d pick out a starting line. That was always easier for me to do.

Your garage is full of putters. How many have you used over your career?

Faxon: I used a couple of different putters when I was first on Tour. I had a Bullseye. I used a Ping My Day. Scotty Cameron, when he came to Titleist, helped make a special Scotty for me. Scotty’s had softer faces, so the sound was different. Sound is a big part of a player’s feel. I wanted to feel a hard hit, so we did a lot of things to make it louder. We thinned out the face, stiffened the shaft. It took us close to a year and half to develop a putter I would use. Since then I’ve played maybe five tournaments with a different putter. I had two backups. One of those got stolen. I have one backup left.

Who is the best putter you’ve ever seen?

Faxon: I always say the guys that won the most major tournaments, Jack and Tiger, seemed to make the most pressure putts. But I had two guys I loved watching most: Seve Ballesteros and Ben Crenshaw. Everything Seve did looked so artistic. Crenshaw had that long, flowing stroke with the best-looking hands on a club you’ve ever seen.

And Ben gave you the best putting advice of your career.

Faxon: I had two points in my career where my putting stats got significantly better immediately. In about 1989 at the Palm Course at Disney (World), I walked up to Ben. He was so nice. He said when he putted, he tried to allow his head and knees to move, and to make his backswing longer than his follow through. I was, “Wait a minute.” That was so different from the perception that your head and knees should be still and your putter should be short-long and accelerate. What it allowed me to do is be more relaxed over the putt. Fast forward to when Scotty Cameron got to Titleist. He had the highest speed camera that let me video my stroke. I had this little over-the-top reroute that we figured out how to get rid of. After that there was a significant jump in my putting stats.

RELATED:

How often are you asked by Tour players for advice?

Faxon: I could make this a business if I wanted to or had the time. I’ve always been someone players would ask to watch them hit putts. And I always asked questions. That’s the big thing I see now missing from instructors – they never seem to ask a lot of questions. They’ve got a way to do it and you’re going to do it that way. I come at this from a player’s perspective. I have the ability to use technology when I teach, but every time I leave it in the car. I still trust my eyes. And I still think the athlete is tremendously talented if you just let him be that way.

Rory McIlroy (right) is just one of the notable current PGA Tour stars who have sought out Brad Faxon for his putting wisdom. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Name names.

Faxon: In the last couple of years: Rory (McIlroy). Justin Thomas. Gary Woodland. Justin Rose. Jeff Sluman. Billy Andrade. D.A. Points. Sam Ryder. Peter Uihlein. Cameron Tringale. Harris English. Most of them paid me. Andrade hasn’t. Sluman hasn’t (laughs). The problem is that I don’t travel to Tour events. I don’t have a belief that one method is better. If guys let their innate ability work, they can be their best that way. I teach independence.

Which takes time …

Faxon: I sat down with Rory going through his Players Championship win. A year ago when we met he told me that he’s never thought about a thing when he’s hitting his driver. He just gets up and swings. I said, “Would you be OK if that’s how you feel with your putter?” He said, “Yes!” He had been filled with technical thoughts. At the Players he made that putt on 15 to take the lead. I asked him what he was thinking about, and he looked at me as though that was a dumb question. He goes, “Nothing.” I go, “OK, we are where we wanted to be.” If you’re only looking at stroke mechanics on a student, I wouldn’t call you a coach. You’ve got to talk about how they think, how they prepare.

Brad Faxon works on a putting drill during a video session at Old Palm Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Leah Voss/USA Today Network)

How do things work with Rory in terms of time spent on the putting green versus catching up over a coffee?

Faxon: Yesterday was a good example. We spent three or four hours together, and two hours of it was sitting down. We do some video. I think it’s really important that people get instant feedback. We talk situational stuff. I played in a lot of Tour events. I know what it’s like to face a putt for a lot of money or a title. And I missed my fair share.

Did you and Rory set goals a year ago?

Faxon: We never made hard and fast goals. We’ve tried to say the results take care of themselves when you get far enough into the process and this stuff becomes second nature. He’s one of the most talented guys who’s ever played this game.

Looking into his phone while shooting an instructional video, Brad Faxon explains one of three of his most success putting drills. (Leah Voss/USA Today Network)

From Rory to Jordan Spieth. Do you think he’s got the yips?

Faxon: Hank Haney does. He’s always looked jittery to me, even when he’s putted his best. There’s got to be something in there, issues-wise. I don’t know enough about the science to call it yips, but it’s probably fear-based.

What putt you holed meant most to you?

Faxon: There’s three I think about. Two at the Hawaiian Open. In ’96, I had a 60-footer for eagle to tie and I made it. It was the craziest I’ve ever been on the golf course. Contrast that to the year I won in 2001. I had an eagle putt on the last. It was meaningless. I had four putts to win from 10 feet. It was the calmest I’ve ever felt. It was one of the purest balls ever to come off the face of my putter. I use the next one as an example with kids I teach. I had a 6-footer at the Australian Open [in 1993]. If I two-putted I’d win. My goal was to hit it as softly as I could, have it hit the front edge and just drip in. It was like Tiger’s chip in the Masters. It rested there, then fell in.

What missed putt still comes to you in the dark of night?

Faxon: I have two. I had a putt on the 18th green at Oak Hill in the Ryder Cup in ’95 to tie David Gilford. I let the situation get in the way. That one stayed with me. Then I had a chance to win the [2003] Canadian Open in a playoff against Bob Tway. I had this little slippery putt, but I started thinking about what I was going to say when I won. I got so out of the process.

Thanks in part to this venerable putting grip, Brad Faxon won $17,769,249 playing on the PGA Tour. He now works with other pros to improve their putting. (Leah Voss/USA Today Network)

I know the answer to this, but I want it on the record. What’s your personal record for restroom visits during a round on Tour?

Faxon: [Laughs] I know I lead the Tour in that stat. The 1991 Buick Open. I didn’t know at the time that while I loved pizza and beer, my body didn’t. I was in trouble that Thursday morning. I was worried whether I could make the 20-minute ride from the house to the course. I had to stop on the way twice. I went to the Portalet seven times on the front nine and shot 29. Seven-under on seven Portalet visits, and I went on to win that week.

So why didn’t you have pizza and beer every week?

Faxon: Most courses don’t have seven Portalets on the front nine. Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the April 2019 issue of Golfweek.)

Latest

More Golfweek
Home