A very wise man once said, “You drive for show, you putt for dough.” Sure, massive drives can thrill the gallery and make you feel, even briefly, like a golfing God, but it’s the golfers who are great at putting the ball in the hole that regularly cash the checks from the Tour. Putting is a huge part of the game (and some would even say the easiest), but sadly, only a small percentage of golfers practice this skill with the same regularity as they do other shots. This is extremely unfortunate.
According to professional golf instructor Dave Pelz, “roughly 40 percents of a golfer’s shots during a typical round will be putts, and more than half of those will be short putts, approximately 6 feet from the cup and in.” That’s a pretty big chunk of your game that can be improved upon, and a very meaningful statistic when you think about how many shots you could potentially save just by becoming somewhat more adept with the old flat stick.
To assist you with this, in the following article we have compiled a series of well-established tips designed to help you improve your all-important short game—tips that have proven successful with many golfers just like you.
On Reading Distance and Breaks in Your Putts
It is now a scientific fact that the majority of amateur golfers tends to under-read the break and distance on their putts—regardless of grip, setup or technique. In a study conducted by Golf Magazine involving 72 golfers, it was found that “65 percent of participants under-read the break on their putts and misjudged the overall distance on the short side.” Needless to say, this resulted in plenty of missed opportunities and a higher score.
Experts suggest there are two things golfers can do to help properly read their putts:
- Judge the distance and break from the side of the putt
- Make several practice swings before actually hitting the ball
Judging the putt from the side—rather than from behind the ball or behind the hole—will give you a better appreciation of the overall putt length. Once you look at the putt from this angle while judging the distance, you can return to the ball and make a more confident swing.
Making practice swings—with the same club speed you intend to use when actually hitting the ball—can help you transfer the information in your brain to your arms and hands. When making these practice swings, stand to the side of the ball with the club face facing the hole.
Grasping the club too tightly when putting can negatively impact the shot. Instead, try to grip the putter lightly. By “lightly,” we suggest you apply just enough pressure to prevent any slippage of the hands. Regardless of the grip style you use, experts say that the proper grip pressure is the “key to a consistent putting stroke.”
When addressing the ball prior to striking the putt, stand at a comfortable distance from the ball with your knees slightly flexed. Your arms should be able to hang comfortably with the putter directly behind the ball. This will help relieve tension in your arms and upper body and lead to a more consistent putting style. At address, your eyes should be directly over the ball. A perfect setup is one in which your eyes are directly over your line of putt. This will help avoid any distortion in your viewpoint while attempting to aim. To ensure you are set up correctly, you can drop a second ball from your lead eye—the eye closest to the hole. If your setup is perfect, the second golf ball will land directly on top of the first.
Rhythm and Tempo
Once you have judged the distance, taken your grip and properly addressed the ball prior to the putt, you are ready to take your shot. To do this, swing the putter back then forward through the ball by slightly turning your shoulders. Remember, rhythm and tempo should be your primary aim here. This will also help with matching the back and through stroke. Maintain a consistent tempo for all of your putts, regardless of the distance. Whether you have a long putt or a short putt, the same rhythm and tempo should be applied, although the stroke itself will be shortened or lengthened depending on the distance. This will cause the putter to cover more or less distance in the same amount of time, thus enabling you to control the pace of the putter as it makes contact with the ball
Practicing Short Putts
As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. And if you want to be a great putter you will need to spend a lot of time practicing the art. In fact, for every hour you spend on the driving range, you should probably practice at least two hours on the putting green—given the fact that 40 percent of your shots on the course will come on that surface.
When practicing shorter putts, those within about 6 feet of the hole, any of today’s top golf instructors suggest that you spend a little time employing the “don’t look and listen drill.” Here is how it is done:
Place 3-5 golf balls on the ground, approximately 4-6 feet from the hole. Next, go through all of your normal preparations, including reading the putt, addressing the ball, and making your practice swings. Once you are setup and ready to putt, look down at the ball, and keep your head and eyes still and in place while making the putt. Do not look up or look at the hole until after you are certain the ball has stopped rolling. Of course, if you make the putt, you will be able to hear the ball hit the bottom of the cup, otherwise known as the “best sound in golf.” So why should you spend some time on the “don’t look and listen drill?” Actually, this will help your putting game in three ways, including:
- Steadiness.. This drill will teach you to stay steady over short putts, while also improving your rhythm and tempo.
- Visualization.. Looking down at the ball throughout the putt, rather than jerking your head up to see the roll, will help you to better visualize the distance and the break.
- Trust.. By looking down at the ball throughout the putt you can learn to trust your swing, rhythm and tempo, ultimately making you a more confident putter.
Practicing Long Putts
Practicing long putts, especially very long putts, is a great way to shave strokes from your score—and a great way to eliminate the dreaded “three-putt” that plagues so many amateur and weekend golfers. For this drill you are actually going to reverse what you did on the short putt drill. Here are the specifics:
On the practice green (or on an actual green), pick a spot about 25 feet from the hole, and drop 3-5 balls down onto the green. Again, you will want to go through all your normal preparations—read the putt, take your grip and practice swings, and setup to the ball in a comfortable position, with your knees slightly flexed.
Once you have addressed the ball, look up at the target while you make a confident stroke, looking only at the target and not the ball. Do this with all the balls you have dropped to the green. This “look at the target” drill will enable you to focus on two very important things, including:
- Trusting Your Mechanics. When you look at the target instead of the ball, you are forced to trust your mechanics and the rhythm and tempo of the shot.
- Correctly Judge Distance. Looking at the target, instead of the ball, will give you a better idea regarding the distance of the shot. This is especially true after hitting a few balls in succession. The more you practice this drill, the better you will become at reading both the distance and break of your long putts.
Read Putts like a Clock
According to Mike Shannon, a golf instructor at the Sea Island Golf Performance Center in Georgia, reading putts like a clock will help you “simplify your reads and visualize where the ball will enter the cup.
When you approach the green with putter in hand, try to picture a clock on top of the hole, with six o’clock pointing directly towards your ball. Then, as you assess the line of the putt, try to imagine exactly where on the clock your putt will roll over and fall into the cup.
Now simply react to the position on the dial. For example, if you see the ball falling into the cup at five o’clock, try to address and setup in such a way that you are focusing on that particular edge of the cup. Once you have done this, you can smoothly and confidently enable that line to guide your stroke. If your mind’s eye sees the putt entering at seven or eight o’clock, do the very same preparations while focusing on that part of the clock’s dial.
Once you have determined, in your mind’s eye, the entry point of the putt, you can allow your instincts to take over and confidently putt using the read you have determined.
By following all of these tips—tips that help you with your grip, stance, rhythm, tempo, and your confidence in judging the read and break of your putts—continue to practice these drills regularly on the putting green. Chances are that in no time at all you will be impressing your regular foursome with your newfound putting ability.