Putting is theoretically the easiest part of the game of golf. The simplest stroke, the shortest shot, yet it produces the most maddening results. Every golfer who has ever played the game has wondered how to putt better in golf, and it is one aspect of the game where any level of golfer can see the most dramatic improvements.
In this article we’ll take a look at what makes a good putter, and some skills and techniques to refine your approach and focus on what is actually going to shave strokes and provide long-term results on the greens.
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In This Guide
- Tips On How To Putt Better
- How To Lag Putt Better
- How To Putt Better On Bermuda Greens
- How To Putt Better On Poa Annua Greens
- How To Putt Better On Bent Grass Greens
- Final Thoughts
Tips On How To Putt Better
The thing about putting is that, more than any other shot in golf, there are a wide variety of approaches that can work. When driving the ball, for example, there are some techniques which will severely limit your power and ability to stay balanced, swing hard, and control the face or path.
With putting, you see players have lots of success even with supposed “flaws” in their technique. As long as they are able to make the same flaw every single time, they have a chance!
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Find The Right Grip For You
One of the first things people tend to notice when putting is the variety of putting grip styles that are used by successful putters, some of which are extremely unorthodox. Again, since we are not trying to generate power like in the full swing, none of these grips are a barrier to success.
Almost all putters land on their grip of choice through experimentation. A few grips to try if you want to experiment are the “lead hand low” putter grip (a la Jordan Spieth or Nelly Korda) or the “claw” putter grip (a la Sergio Garcia or, at times, Phil Mickelson).
Matching up the physical grip that you put on your putter to the way you hold the club will also enhance your feel. It may come as a surprise, but there are all kinds of different grips for your putter!
Proper Grip Pressure
According to many top coaches, grip pressure is one of the most overlooked and most common mistakes they see in amateur or poor putters. While there is some room for personal freedom and perception here, almost all the advice tends towards gripping the club lightly.
One notable exception is Cameron Smith who says he is very different from his peers, and grips the putter at a “6 or a 7” out of 10. Meanwhile Ben Crenshaw puts himself at about a 4. Naturally, this is a bit subjective, but you can see that even a player like Cam Smith who considers himself a strong outlier amongst pros is “only” at a 6 or a 7. It is common for some players to feel like they are just barely gripping the club hard enough so that it doesn’t slide out of their hands.
Obviously this is somewhat subjective, but the key is in all cases that the player benefits greatly from being able to feel some responsiveness in their fingers and hands. This lets the player feel the tempo and transition points of the putter as it swings in a natural pendulum stroke.
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Find The Right Stance For You
The stance is another area where we’ve seen some very dramatic and seemingly odd approaches - like Jack Nicklaus or Michelle Wie - have great success. The key to finding the right stance for you is to make sure you are comfortable. This will allow you to get into the same posture repeatedly and also allow you to practice putting without feeling fatigue or pain, and take a relaxed approach on the greens.
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Use Good Posture
Going along with a good stance is to also have good posture. It is tricky with putting because, while with a driver you might see a dramatic result such as standing up or backing out of the shot or finishing off balanced due to bad posture, it is possible to have bad posture and maintain that bad posture throughout a short putting stroke. However, the results show up in smaller ways that still result in poor contact and missed start lines due to the player very subtly and gradually moving back into balance, even on a swing as small as a putter swing.
The key here is to learn your proper posture first without holding a putter. You can do this by standing straight up and down, unlocking your knees slightly, feet shoulder width apart, and then bending forward at the waist/hips solely until your armpits are over the balls of your feet or your front of your shoulders are directly vertical over the tips of your toes (these should be the same posture just with different reference points).
The result is that your weight will be centered on the balls of the feet - not the toes or the heels - and you would feel like you’re in a good position to where somebody could not easily push you over or knock you off balance. From here keep the arms loose and let them unfold at the elbow while keeping the triceps on your ribs and find a putter that is the appropriate length and lie angle to fit this setup instead of trying to crouch or bend into a setup that fits a given putter.
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Eyes Over The Ball
Given the above setup parameters, with a relaxed neck most players will find that with a putter of a relatively normal lie angle, everything will naturally align so that their eyes are looking straight down on top of the ball. This is a great checkpoint and you will often see PGA TOUR pros using a putting mirror to verify this fact during their practice routines.
A common problem we see with amateurs is standing too close to the golf ball.
It should be noted that many great putters also prefer to have their eyes slightly inside the ball instead of directly over it. This is because some peoples eyes are configured in a way that the line looks straight to them from this perspective and it doesn’t when they are looking straight down on top of it. If this is the case for you, typically you will match up with more of an arc putting stroke since you are standing slightly farther away from the ball.
Use Your Shoulders
While once again there have been a variety of strokes and methods used with success in putting, one huge pitfall is a player being too “handsy” or not “using their big muscles” enough.
With a good setup, a putting stroke can be as easy as simple shoulder-rocking motion with a relatively stable lower body. Even if a player likes to feel some hands or release through their putt, it will be built on top of this baseline pendulum motion in almost all cases.
A good putting drill to work on this is to put a towel under both of your arms and hit putts like that. If the towel falls out, you used too much of your arms.
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They say that golf is 99% psychological, and for many players who struggle with putting, even at the highest levels, it’s not a technique issue or even a skill issue so much as they start to get in their own heads on the putting greens, and it is a very hard spiral to get out of.
There is an old saying in golf along the lines of: if you hit the wrong shot with 100% commitment it always works out better than being uncommitted to the perfect shot.
Even the best putters mis-read a putt all the time. They also will miss-hit or pull or push putts or get the speed wrong. But one of the best things you can do for your putting routine is to make your read, pick your speed, pick your start line, and then 100% commit to that even if you are unsure, and hit the putt.
The best putters will often comment that on their best days the hole “looked really big” or something along those lines. The best putters can under-read a putt or have bad speed and still catch the low side of the hole and make the putt. Also they can have a short putt that they pull, but they hit it fully committed and put a good roll on it at the right speed, and it will go in the left side of the cup anyway.
Sometimes you do everything right and the ball just doesn’t go in. The key is to stick with your process and even if you aren’t sure about a putt, pretend like you’re completely sure what it’s going to do and how hard to hit it before you walk into the putt, and you’ll start to get better much faster.
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How To Lag Putt Better
In reality, you don’t have to sink a ton of putts to be a very efficient putter. By far the most useful skill you can acquire to improve your scores dramatically is lag putting. Lag putting simply means any putt where you are not necessarily trying to make it, but just cozy the ball up to the hole for an easy 2-putt.
The first thing to do is recognize when you are trying to lag a putt instead of making it. When good players make long putts it’s almost an “accident” - something that will happen as a result of hitting a lot of quality lag putts throughout the round … sometimes the hole just gets in the way.
For PGA TOUR pros they start to 3-putt more than they 1-putt somewhere in the 30-35 foot range. Even scratch golfers can adjust that number significantly downwards, and for a high handicap player the reality is until you get really close to the hole, your overriding goal for scoring should be to try to two-putt everything you can and take any 1-putts as a complete bonus.
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How To Putt With Better Distance Control
There are several factors that can really help systematically understand distance control, so let’s take a look at each one and break them down and see how they all work together.
The first part of the process is properly reading your putt. It’s imperative that you have a system or routine for reading the speed of the putt and apply it consistently so you can make adjustments throughout your round and continue to refine your feel the more golf you play.
One great way to do this is to look at the putt from the side. If you want to be technical, the best way to do this is to go to a point that is at the midpoint of the putt, and stand the same distance away from the line as the length of the putt, thus forming a perfect “triangle” between you, the hole, and your ball. Always do this from the low side if there is a significant side-slope, and always get a feel for this and calibrate your speed before trying to read the break from down-the-line.
From here you have a chance of reading the uphill/downhill nature of the putt with your eyes, but also use your feet while you are walking to this spot and if the slope is subtle you can train yourself to get a feel this way.
Finally, if you don’t want to make two reads, then start reading your putt as soon as you can see the green. Look at the whole green as you are walking up to it and get a feel for the slope. Think about and watch the way the other players’ approach shots, chip shots, or lag putts move on the green. Take all this information in and get a feel for the speed of the putt you have upcoming.
Choosing a Target
Many players suffer with speed on lag putts because they simply don’t choose the right target. For PGA TOUR pros they are more likely to miss a 10 foot putt than make it at an average course. At 30 feet, avoiding a three putt starts becoming the dominant consideration. As much as we hate to admit it, these numbers go down to 5 or 6 feet and around 20 feet respectively for the average amateur.
The whole point of this is that so many golfers live by the adage that “you have to get everything to the hole”. You will commonly hear golfers or groups lamenting the fact that they didn’t get their putt to the hole.
In fact, in order to have good distance control and be a good lag putter and 2-putt more often, you should be trying to die the ball right at the hole for anything outside of 15-20 feet, depending on your handicap. This gives you the biggest margin for error and will shave more strokes off of your score, regardless of what your buddies say. If this is done properly, half your putts will finish short of the hole and half will go past the hole (and occasionally go in). If you are leaving every single putt at the hole or short, then you are overdoing it.
When you get to shorter putts, then you can afford to start aiming for your ball to stop rolling 1-to-3 feet past the hole, but no more.
The other part of picking a target, especially on long lag putts with a significant side slope, is to “miss it on the pro side” or err on the side of over-reading the break. This might seem like a myth or silly, but there are some practical considerations to why this saying exists. First of all, you will often hear golfers or commentators say that their putt “never had a chance” and this is when the putt very quickly breaks below the hole. If a putt is high enough, it always has a chance. Putting greens are not perfect and if the putt loses speed or gets bumped off line, it's almost always going to work “down the hill” and you have a chance for luck to be on your side.
The other aspect is that when we are lag putting, we are counting on the ball slowing down at the end of the putt, and we want the ball “always working closer to the hole.” While it’s true that 4 feet high and 4 feet low doesn’t really make a difference, the reality is that low misses can “get away from you” more easily with the ball tailing off at the end of the putt, where a shot that is too high that is losing speed at the end will continue getting better and better and can have that tendency to “cozy up to the hole” that we see with elite lag putters.
Now that we have picked the proper target, it might seem that the pace at which you hit the putt is going to determine whether we actually have the right speed or not. But before we get to that, there’s something that is actually more important and an actual prerequisite before you start worrying about pace or tempo of your stroke, and that is: quality contact.
What constitutes quality contact on a putt is a ball that is hit near the center of the face i.e. not off the heel or toe, and not off the bottom of the blade, and that starts rolling as soon as possible without hopping. Hopping off of the club face can result either from adding too much loft and launching the ball in the air OR from de-lofting the putter and driving the ball into the turf.
It is absolutely imperative to get these down first, otherwise you are going to be totally guessing at speed. Only once you have a feeling for contact and getting the ball rolling consistently can you start to develop any feel and consistency in speed control. Likewise, the number one thing that will determine whether a ball goes the distance you intended to hit it is whether or not you hit it well out of the sweet spot.
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Finally, if we know how to pick out the proper speed to hit the putt, and we can make consistent contact and put a good roll on the ball, can we start to sanely try to develop our touch and feel.
It’s important to develop all three of these skills so you do not drive yourself crazy on the greens. You should be able to pinpoint when you hit exactly the putt you wanted to hit, but you mis-read the speed because, say, the putt was actually more downhill than it looked or felt.
You should also be able to tell when you had the perfect speed and read, but mis-hit the ball. This way you will not go about working on the wrong things or making the wrong adjustments and you can become a very high-level lag putter with great distance control as you efficiently hone your skills over time.
Almost universally, we see that while different elite putters have different tempos and different lengths of their stroke, that their tempo doesn't change from putt to putt, no matter the length. This might sound counterintuitive, but what it means is that they are controlling the length of their putts not by changing their rhythm, but by changing the length of their backswing and nothing else.
Naturally an 18-inch backswing that takes 1 second to go back and through will have the putter head moving faster than an 8-inch backswing that takes 1 second to go back and through, but the golfer is always contacting the ball on the same 1-second count or metronome beat no matter the length of the putt.
Most successful putters in fact fall within a few tenths of a second above or below that 1-second stroke time, and hit “their” time signature extremely consistently on all length putts. This is how golfers keep their tempo the same the entire round and develop elite speed control while contact and face direction stay consistent.
Distance Control on Short Putts
Don’t forget about distance and speed control on short putts, as well. On putts from 5-15 feet it’s often true that speed is still the most important aspect.
Matching line and speed is the name of the game, but putts hit at the proper speed make the cup much much larger and will lip out less often, as well as give all your putts a chance by not leaving too many of them short. Because of this, being obsessed with pace first and foremost is almost never a bad thing. Good things happen when you have the right speed on a putt, even on short putts.
How To Putt Better On Bermuda Greens
Bermuda greens often befuddle even the best golfers, and it is well known that golfers who grew up in warm, humid areas (such as the Southeastern United States or in Asia) where Bermuda greens are a favorite choice develop a knack and feel over many years of reading these greens.
The thing about Bermuda greens is that the grass has a “grain” or directionality to it that can change from section to section. Generally, the grain will grow in the direction of the sunset on a flat green or in the direction that water flows off the green if it has slopes. This means on a flat green the grain would point west, and you will also encounter a lot of “downhill, down grain” and “uphill, up grain” putts.
The other way players can pick up on grain is by looking at the sheen or color of the green. Down grain Bermuda will have more of a lightness and a shine to it while into-the-grain sections Bermuda will be a duller, darker shade of green.
The key is to know that into the grain putts or putts breaking against the grain will tend to roll slower and hold their line a lot easier. Down grain or putts with the grain will be more slick and will roll out more and break more.
How To Putt Better On Poa Annua Greens
Poa Annua grass is commonly used on greens in the Western part of the United States, although you may find it in pockets elsewhere. The peculiarity about Poa Annua grass is that it becomes bumpy. Poa Annua grows faster than other grass types and this effect is particularly noticeable late in the day and during the spring when the plant can actually begin to seed or flower, maximizing the effect.
Knowing this will help one form a strategy for playing on Poa Annua grasses. The reality is, your biggest advantage when playing on Poa Annua greens is having the right mental approach. Putts are subject to a certain amount of randomness, and you might hit a perfect putt and have it knock off line. You could hit 3 of the exact same putts in a row and have one miss high, one miss low, and one go in. Golfers who get frustrated by this rather than embracing the big picture and trusting that eventually the Golf Gods will even it out have very little chance of competing on Poa Annua.
Aside from mentality, the most important practical aspect of putting on Poa Annua - or any greens surface which has imperfections, is to concentrate on quality of strike and quality of roll above all else. Well-struck putts that get rolling end-over-end very quickly are dramatically less affected by imperfections in the putting surface and center face contact and a good roll are going to take a lot of the mayhem out of play.
How To Putt Better On Bent Grass Greens
Bent grass greens (which are favored in the Northern part of the USA) might be considered the most “neutral” or “best” putting surface since they generally lack the frustrations that golfers face with the other two most common types of grass, Bermuda and Poa Annua. Bent grass blades grow very vertical and very tight, and can survive being cut extremely short. For this reason bent grass greens can be made to roll very fast and can have a lot of break even on subtle slopes. Because of this they can be said to roll very “true.”
The key on bent grass greens is to learn how to read and trust your read on subtle slopes. It won’t take much for a ball to break on bent grass. On greens such as these it can be effective to use your feet to discern subtle breaks that your eyes might not pick up on. In general, if you are accustomed to playing on other types of greens, you can always remind yourself to “play enough break” or err on the side of playing the most break you think you can see.
Another aspect of putting on bent grass greens is that you can use a smoother, more languid putting stroke because the tightly mown surfaces will get rolling quickly and stay rolling easily, and also roll out very easily, so it can be easy to use too much speed on bent grass greens when you are accustomed to putting on greens that have thicker grass or some texture to them.
In an average round of golf, you spend far more time and more shots with the putter in your hand than you do with any other club. This makes it one of the most important parts of the game, and it is one part of the game where anyone from children to seniors are all basically on a level playing field when it comes to physical ability and scoring potential. Because of that, it also is a source of frustration for many - making or breaking a golfer’s score and/or their psyche.
There is a lot of subtlety in putting and a lot of nuance and precision is required, but without tightening up or over-analyzing. One fantastic piece of advice given by Cameron Smith is that he sees too often amateurs focused on making a putt when they stand over it, while he says when he is standing over a putt he is “just trying to hit a good putt.” What this means is that he is very process-oriented instead of result-oriented. This is a great way to stay sane on the greens as well as improve your scores at the same time.
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In putting, you need to develop a process and repeat it every single time and stick with it. This includes reading the green, picking a target, maintaining consistent rhythm/tempo, learning to strike the middle of the face, and getting into the same setup every single time. This will allow you to pinpoint which part of the process broke down and refine the correct portions without chasing your tail trying to get better at golf.
If there’s one piece of advice to focus on it would be to always try to get the speed right. Having the right speed on the putt is the biggest factor in not three-putting, and having the right speed on the putt also gives you the best chance of making the putt even if your read or start line weren’t perfect. There can be a lot of complicated aspects to a simple thing such as putting, but above all else when it becomes time to execute, if you can get fully committed to hitting the putt center-face with the proper weight that you’ve read, and keeping it that simple when you’re over the ball, it will have the biggest impact on your scores and consistency.