Match | Play: Every PutterCup Purchase Supports The First Tee

Growing up in Waterbury, CT, I wasn’t a typical teenager.  Sure, I enjoyed the usual pastimes of hanging out with friends or going to the movies.  But I have been obsessed with golf since I was 13.  My happy place as a teen was my local muni, Western Hills Golf Course.  Outside of school, that’s where you would find me more often that not, either out on the course or practicing my short game.

Much of what I learned about golf as a kid I learned from my grandpa, who lived with my grandma out in Arizona.  Even though I only got to see them for a few weeks each summer, those weeks were packed with golf.  And as much as he tried to teach me to swing a golf club, he spent just as much time trying to teach me how to be a good person.  And while many of those lessons were delivered on the golf course, their impact extended well beyond it.  I was lucky to have him in my life.  Many kids aren’t so lucky, and that’s where the First Tee comes in.

I first heard about The First Tee as a college student, and admit, my first reaction was sadness (and maybe a bit of envy) that I hadn’t been able to participate in it myself!  I love what they do, providing a mix of golf and personal growth that reminds me of my time with my grandpa.  And so it was an easy decision to aim for doing good while growing PutterCup by donating a percent of every sale to the First Tee, starting with my now local chapter Greater Seattle and the goal of expanding that support to every chapter across the U.S.  And it's not just a good match in terms of values—PutterCup trainers are designed to help every golfer feel more calm and confident on the greens, and that includes all ages and skill levels.

I recently sat down with Evan Johnsen, Director of Programs & Development at the First Tee - Greater Seattle, to discuss how they teach putting at the First Tee and why PutterCup trainers are such a good fit.

Matt Davis: How do you teach putting at The First Tee?

Evan Johnsen: We do work on a lot of putting—it’s the most common thing we do.  It’s arguably the most important shot in golf.  You can also get really creative on a putting green in terms of setting up drills or games that are fun for kids, but also help them understand the basics of golf.  

If nothing else, it’s the only place on the course where you can actually see the ball go in the hole, so there’s something really satisfying and final about that.  Like Jack Nicklaus said, that’s how you teach the game—start from the hole and work your way back.

MD: How do you approach technique?

EJ: We teach both distance response and target awareness.  Those are fundamentals of the First Tee coaching philosophy, usually trying to isolate those things.  With younger players we keep it really basic, and as players get older we start talking about things like intermediate targets, like shrinking the hole.

When it comes to putting technique, that’s something that’s going to be individual to the players.  What you want to do—and that’s why PutterCup is great—is you want to make it more challenging than it will be in a game situation, because it’ll tend to expose your misses and any flaws in your technique.

MD: We like to say that PutterCup helps you make more putts with your stroke, rather than trying to change it.

EJ: There are a lot of players who’ve made swing changes, setup adjustments that are objectively more ideal, but they don’t actually play better.  Maybe that unique setup that they had works.  All PutterCup does is tell you what you need to do; and at First Tee that’s what we focus on more than technique, is, “What do you want the ball to do?”  And then we work backwards to, “How would you do it?” And everybody’s got a different swing and method, but first, understand the goal and the context. If nothing else, the human body and mind can figure out how to do it.  Putting is something everyone can do.  Nobody is “too good” to use PutterCups.  If you were, what does that look like?  You’re making everything?  PutterCups only promote a more ideal roll of the ball.  There’s nobody who’s going to argue that a ball made using one of these devices is not how you should be putting, or approaching it.

MD: How about putting mindset?

EJ: Especially with our older players, we incorporate a lot of the Strokes Gained concepts—mainly to set reasonable expectations for yourself, because we’re all about building confidence and if a putt doesn’t go in the hole we can often think we missed it and that weighs on our confidence.  It feels like a miss, but it’s not always a miss—it depends on how you like at it.  You might only want to consider it a miss if you statistically make more than half your putts from that distance, or even 75% of your putts.

MD: Yes, instead of measuring success by making it, I like to think about a stat I saw, that pros leave only about 1% of four-footers short.

EJ: When you’re practicing golf, [getting] close matters.  You don’t have to make everything, especially with putting.  You have to make the next one.  If you’re trying to make this one, you’ve got to make the next one.  I think that’s why the Speed Bump is great, because you’re working on that speed.  And you can hit a putt off that thing that would’ve gone in the hole without it, but if you can make it with that inserted, you’re definitely gonna make that putt on the course.

I find myself saying this a lot—you miss a putt and it stops right next to the hole and someone will say, “Oh, good speed,” and I say, “Yeah, I left it 17 inches short,” because next to the hole is not the right speed.  Give it a little extra speed, it allows you to reduce the amount of break.  That’s what I like about the Speed Bump.

MD: You mentioned your older players.  I was recently able to share PutterCup with your ACE students.  What did they think?

EJ: They really liked it.  For a lot of people, putting practice is boring and anytime you can add something interesting, whether it’s a challenge or a goal or a game or an objective, to keep yourself engaged while you’re practicing putting, is always really good.

MD: And do you remember your first impressions of the PutterCup trainers?

EJ: The simplicity of it, and the realization that I hadn’t really seen anything like that before.  I’ve seen lots of training aids, maybe things that do something to the cup to enhance it, but I’d never seen anything this simple and functional.  With the Center Cup and the Speed Bump you have two options based on what you want to be working on: Do you want to shrink the cup or do you want to work on your speed?  So I liked it from the first time I saw it.

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