He was feared by most of his fellow competitors for his prowess on the greens and was acknowledged by Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen as being the best putter of his era.
Horton Smith won the 1934 Masters Tournament, the very first Masters, and also won the third. He is also credited with being the first professional to truly study the putting stroke to gain an advantage over opponents.
Horton Smith`s thoughts on putting.
(Taken from a clinic Smith gave to USPGA members in 1949)
As in other golf shots, uniformity of motion is vital to putting success. At the same time, the truer and more precise the stroke-the better. I try to hit the ball squarely and true with the thought that the greater the distance I can roll it with the least force- the more sensitive my stroke will become. I have always tried to roll the ball, visualizing it as a wheel rolling on the "track" of the chosen direction line. I dislike the idea of chopping, pushing or shoving the ball. Stroking it with the swinging clubhead is the best method, in my opinion.
Keeping the blade on the line and fairly close to the turf is vital, in order to eliminate blade rotation and lifting and chopping action.
The club must be gripped securely enough by the palm and little finger of the left hand to prevent twisting of the blade and to provide firmness at impact.
The light finger touch of the right hand permits its use as the "trigger" hand to help adjust the strength of the stroke for the proper distance.
The "reverse-overlap" relaxes the right wrist and encourages the free backstroke, and emphasizes the right-hand action through the ball in the forward stroke.
The ideal in putting is to have sound mechanics and sensitive touch. Sometimes it is possible to achieve good results temporarily with a compromise but generally the sounder the mechanics the better the expression of the feel or touch elements. Direction should be consciously produced with mechanical alignment while distance is more dependent upon feel or touch.
I feel that my grip has certainly been the "key" to my stroke and controlling the alignment of my blade. Also, I know it gives me access to maximum hand security, comfort, and feel. A partial squaring of the left elbow has also helped, along with the legs to provide a "base" for the operation of the stroke.
I have always tried to maintain a balance between the length of the backward and forward stroke. The longer the putt the more I try to swing or stroke because the shorter putts emphasize more of the "tap" stroke element.
I feel that the left hand should be the "leader" of the stroke in both directions just as in other golf strokes. The left certainly should initiate the stroke with emphasis upon the little finger effort and pressure.
On the fast greens the grip should be lighter with emphasis on freer wrist action, while on slower greens, the grip must be firmer with more arm energy used, especially in the long putts.
As in other golf shots, minor adjustments must occasionally be made if the stroke gets too dead or "sluggish," more wrist action will usually "sharpen" the action. A slight move or swing of hands and arms will usually modify the jerky or choppy type of fault. Generally, I favor the "centered action" type of wrist motion with the slight forward movement of the blade hand and forearms just after impact.
As we discussed, to properly analyze any golf swing or shot, one should view it in either direction along the line of intended flight or at a right angle to such flight. Everything relates to this line of flight-blade position-stance-ball placement as well as general positioning.
As putting is a special department of the game of golf, special adjustments of grip, stance, posture, and ball placement are made-emphasis is placed upon precision- accurate alignment and finesse or touch.
I feel that, as in other golf shots, a proper grip is a key to a sound stroke and method as is the proper conception or visualization of the stroke that is to be played. In other words, the "imagination" plays a constructive or destructive role in planning the shot, whether it be putt or drive. Also, the proper survey, preliminaries, taking aim, adjusting stance and posture verifying line up, and getting smoothly into the stroke itself. These are essentials to the successful putt as they are to the success of the longer golf shots.
Except on the simplist type of greens, one has to be a good surveyor to be a good putter. By surveying, I don`t mean taking minutes to study the putt.
Fundamental mechanics, such as secure balance, comfortable posture, and particularly the square-blade right-angle to the line, are vital.
The third essential phase is the proper composure of mind, nerves, and muscles with the purpose of giving one access to the most delicate and sensitive touch and feel of the club head.
I recommend the free-controlled clubhead swing and not the sharp hit, jab, or pushing type of shove movement. I feel that the former produces the freest overspin ball and the most sensitive feel.
I am willing to grant that the Tournament putter who takes an inordinate amount of time in the preliminaries is subject to criticism. Yet I cannot help but come to the defense of those who, realizing how much is at stake in a single putt, will not overlook any opportunity to foresee a hazard.
I refer of course to the "survey" of the green- the reading of the topography, and any geometric hazards that can affect an otherwise well-ordered putt between the stroke and the hole.
The character of the lip- the grain detail of the grass, the type of grass, wetness or dryness- has tremendous effects on the planning and execution of the putt. Again, in defense of the player who seems to take too much time in analyzing his shot, I must point out that the putt can be an excuse for more time in the preliminaries than any other shot unless it is a chip or a trap shot where the actual hole is the objective.
The player about to hit the drive, or a long wood shot or iron need not figure out the delicate variables that are dangerous to the putt. A good putt should terminate only in one place- a small hole in the ground, whereas most long shots have a larger area in which to stop and still be considered accurate.