Practice Strokes are carried out by golfers
mostly out of force of habit.
If you have to practise your stroke, do it from behind your ball while looking at your target. Do away with them altogether at setup, especially if you are looking at your ball.
Often they are merely vague swishes with the putter, rather than precise reproductions of the intended putt. So much so Dave Stockton recommends that you don't take any.
I prefer the term 'rehearsal stroke' to 'practice stroke' as you are not actually practising.
To my way of thinking the word 'practice' has more to do with stroke mechanics - fine-tuning your putting stroke on the practice putting green.
Rehearsal Strokes relate to when you are out on the course. Their purpose is to help you visualise and gain a feel for the putt.
The question is: Do rehearsal strokes improve your chances of holing the putt, and if they do, where and how should they be done?
Common sense tells us that it is easier to estimate the distance of a object when you are using binocular vision - in putting this is from behind the ball. It is also easier to get a fix on where you should be aiming. Aiming from side-on is a poor cousin to aiming face-on.
So it would seem more logical that you should carry out your rehearsal strokes from behind the ball while looking at the hole to identify the path of your putt and how far away the hole is.
If you watch tour players you will observe that many of them take their rehearsal strokes alongside the ball from what I believe to be a compromised position.
The number of rehearsal strokes is not that important other than to say that the longer you take over your pre-putt routine, the more you will lose the picture of the path of your putt. Not only that, but you allow doubt and other distracting thoughts to creep in.
From whatever spot you take your rehearsal strokes I believe you get the best value when you are looking at your target rather than at the ball. You feel distance with your eyes and if you are not engaging your target you are cutting off the information flow.
Consider how long you can hold in your mind's eye the vision of your target when you are not looking at it.
Next time you watch tournament golf on TV observe where individual players take their rehearsal strokes, how many they take, if any, and whether they look at the ball or the hole.
To me the best practice is to:
Rehearsal strokes allow you to program the distance of the putt with your eyes and transmit this information to your brain. Your brain then calculates how much energy is required when you stroke the putt.
So despite views to the contrary I believe that rehearsal strokes from behind the ball can improve your chances of holing the putt. But only if you are focused on what you are doing.
1 = Lee Janzen from Success on the Green by Steve Hosid
2 = Dave Pelz from Dave Pelz's 10 Minutes a Day to Better Putting
3 = Jason Day Golf Australia September 2005