Being a great putter is an elusive goal. What looks simple can often be a frustrating endeavor.
Putting is, in theory, the easiest part of golf. The ball is on the ground the entire time, and ensuring clean contact is rarely a problem. The average golfer may never be able to crank a 320-yard driver like a professional, but they can often make a putt that a professional could just as easily miss.
Still, putting has a way of confusing and mystifying the best of us. There is always room for improvement when it comes to the flatstick.
Here are a few strategies for becoming a better putter:
1. Train to Hit the Center of the Putter Face
Golfers appreciate and know when they don’t hit the center of the clubface on a full shot, but it’s not talked about nearly as much when it comes to putting.
The truth is, hitting putts solidly is the number one factor in being a good putter. Hitting a putt solid often masks other issues, like slight errors in alignment or distance control.
There is a simple drill to learn how to accomplish this on a routine basis. Take two tees and place them on the outside edges of your putter head, creating a gate that is just large enough for the putter to swing through. You can start by leaving a decent amount of room for the putter head to get through, and then narrow the gate as you gain confidence.
The narrower the gate, the more you are guaranteeing that you are contacting the ball on the center of the clubface. It’s a timeless drill that anyone can do at any time.
No matter what putter you use, how you hold the putter or what your stroke looks like, everyone has to hit the center of the face. Make it a priority.
2. Learn How to Control Your Distance
There are two components in putting that have to be matched up properly in order to hole more putts: speed and line.
While both need to be good to make a putt, there is no debate that speed is the most important element of the two. Having great speed control eliminates most three-putts and gives the ball a greater opportunity to spend time around the hole.
The goal in distance is that you generally want to hit a putt hard enough that it would come to rest 2-4 feet behind the hole. It may be less on shorter putts, but overall you are looking to make sure your putt gets to the hole and has a chance to go in while not being hit so hard that it travels well beyond the hole.
Give yourself a chance to make the putt. Statistically, there is no reason to leave a putt several feet short compared to several feet past the hole.
So how do you learn how to control distance? While every putting surface is a different speed, there are a couple of key ingredients to maintaining proper speed.
One is to keep your stroke the same length on the backswing as it is on the follow-through. Going along with this, the putter should be moving the same speed the entire time, meaning that it shouldn’t accelerate or decelerate as it gets closer to hitting the ball.
For some, putting is all about feel. But others like to take a more mathematical, analytical approach. If you visit the putting green and place tees at different distances, learning how to hit to each tee, you can easily step off how far your putts are on the course and transfer your practice to real gameplay.
One best practice to follow is to take practice strokes looking at the hole to gauge how far you need to hit a putt. Our brains are incredible computers and every practice stroke while looking at the putt allows more information to be absorbed.
3. Understand How to Read Greens
Reading greens is an artform.
Golf courses are not flat pieces of property, partly because they need slopes to properly drain. That especially applies to greens where, if you were to drop a massive bucket of water on them, the water would funnel off in all different directions.
Start there when you are reading a green. Where are the drains? What about the highest point? Where would the water go if a torrential rainstorm started? Because wherever the water would go, that is where your ball will be pulled towards.
There are clues everywhere here. On courses with water hazards, greens tend to slope towards the hazard. On courses with mountains, greens tend to slope away from them.
One important clue is to look at the hole itself. If one edge of the hole is more burned out or discolored, that is the low side where your ball will tend to move towards.
Another element in reading a green is grain, which means that the grass is growing in a certain direction. This is a factor mainly in Bermuda greens, like found in the southeast U.S., and can have a huge influence on reading putts. The darker the grass, the more it is growing towards the golfer, meaning the putt will be slower.
It takes time to understand all the nuances, but reading greens is a vital skill.
4. Remember to Release Tension
Golf is an interesting game in that tension plays a significant role in success.
It’s not a game of reacting naturally, like football or baseball. It’s a game of managing tension, allowing the club to swing freely.
Sometimes that is easier to manage with full swings because there is more body movement involved, but putting requires nothing more than a simple rock of the shoulders while everything else remains quiet.
With so much static, it can be easy to grip the putter too tightly.
One of the simplest remedies for this is to take a deep breath while you are over the ball, allowing your arms and shoulders to relax. You can also flex your neck and shoulders tightly together for a brief moment before letting them go, feeling the tension flow away.
Without releasing tension, the putter is not going to swing freely. It’s a forgotten step in the putting routine of many, but it plays a key role.
5. If You Don’t Have Confidence As a Putter, Pretend You Do
Don’t laugh at this one.
Putting, unlike most other areas of golf, has a great deal to do with pure belief.
Always, always start your practice sessions with a series of very short putts so you can hear the sound of the ball going into the hole. Build your confidence.
What you tell yourself over the ball has as much to do with the result as anything. The difference between walking into a putt with a wishful attitude or a cocky attitude is a massive chasm.
Even if your previous experience or stats don’t support you thinking of yourself as a good putter, you just have to believe you are for a couple of seconds while you are over the ball.
A big part of your routine should be saying to yourself “I feel good about this” or “This is going in” right before you take the putter back.
It’s the magic piece that pulls everything else together.