FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 17, 2013) -- It is a skill unto itself -- using specialized techniques and talents, some of which are set apart from those required for the rest of golf.

This miniature part of golf, which brings a conclusion to every hole, has been castigated by some -- "Golf would be a great game if it weren't for putting," -- and praised by others -- "Putting is the great equalizer in a game that otherwise would be dominated by the strong and the mechanical."

In the realm of golf, how important is putting? Putting is a vital part of the score and therefore, most certainly, a vital part of the game.

If you don't putt well, you don't play well. According to a recent study, putting accounts for 43 percent of all shots golfers play. Even that may be conservative, but if putting is half the game, my question is to golfers who are wanting to lower their scores: Are you spending half your practice time on the putting green? Is it that putting seems so simple that practice is considered unnecessary?

Putting seems simple. It's rolling a small ball into a larger round hole. It always ends in success. The mechanics, physical motion and mental strength required for putting is vastly different from what's required for every other swing. Realizing that there are so many personal preferences when it comes to equipment, grip, set up, stroke and special thoughts, it's easy to see why there is so much frustration.
Here is checklist to help you improve your putting:

• Brush up on basics -- grip pressure, (don't squeeze the putter too tightly, you create tension in your hands and forearms), posture (set up comfortably and let your arms hang naturally; try to keep your eyes over the ball to help see the line).

•Shoulders parallel to target line -- since you are using your arms and shoulders to swing the putter, double check your alignment by placing a club on the ground outside the target line and work on setting your shoulders parallel to where you want the ball to go.

•Keep the left elbow (for right handed players) tight on longer putts, and practice holding your finish until the ball stops rolling.

•Improve your touch and feel by practicing three-foot putts looking at the hole and not the ball; or take it one step further and practice putting three footers with your eyes closed.

•Negative thoughts -- step back and laugh. Be positive, will the ball into the hole.

Knowing where to aim, considering the slope of the green, the speed of the green and the grain are all information you must gather. Follow these steps to help sort things out:

• Determine the pure downhill direction of the green (most greens are built low in the front and higher in the back).

•Stand behind the hole and verify in your mind the direction.

•Factor three times the visual break to account for the actual break of the putt.

•The faster the green, the more putts break.

•The grain direction is the direction the grass grows toward the setting sun; check the cup to see where the uneven edge is.

• Players can become as "ball bound" in putting as in the full swing. Remember the stroke is through the ball, not to it.

• Focusing on a spot an inch or two in front of the ball on the target line helps to start the ball on that line and hitting through the ball.

• Even perfectly stroked putts don't always go in, due to a poor read, a poor aim or poor green.