Updated May 14, 2019 – Original Article March 12, 2017
It’s all about the finish
Putting has been described as a skill, a science, and an art form all rolled into one. In theory, putting is simple. It is the most basic of the golf skills. All you have to do is start the ball in the right direction at the right speed. If you are missing putts, it’s because of distance, direction or a combination of both.
To improve your putting, you’ll need to do three things:
- Assess the putt with which you are faced. Is it uphill or downhill? Does it break right or left? Does it have multiple breaks? Is the green fast or slow?
- Check your pre-shot fundamentals. Even if you have read the green perfectly, you may miss the putt because of a problem with your setup.
- Establish a solid repeatable putting stroke. There’s more than one way to putt effectively, but there are also some basic characteristics common to all good putting strokes.
How to Read the Green
Start assessing your putt before you get to it – as you are walking to the green. Sometimes the break is obvious, but other times it is more subtle. PRO Tip – The ball will tend to break in the direction that water drains from the green. Look for streams, ponds or other bodies of water, drains around the green, dips, or other low-lying areas.
When you get to the green, don’t just look at the line from behind the ball. Instead, look from the low side, especially the last half of the putt. The ball will take most of the break as it starts to slow down. If possible (without stepping on someone else’s line), walk in a circle around the hole about halfway to the hole. You’ll be able to feel the break with your feet. Notice when you are walking uphill and where the transition is between uphill and downhill.
The side of the putt is also the best place to get an idea of the distance. Factor in uphill vs. downhill and the way water drains from the green to determine the speed of the putt. For example, if you are putting in the opposite direction that the green drains, your putt will be slower than if you are putting in the direction that it drains.
Check Your Setup
The setup includes grip, posture and alignment. There numerous ways to hold the putter, many of which can be effective, but most good putters cradle the grip with their palms facing and no tension in the hands. Bend slightly at the hips, allowing your arms to hang freely from your shoulders, and keep your eye line directly over the line of the putt. Set your feet, hips and shoulders parallel to the line of the putt to ensure your putter stays on line during the stroke.
Remember the Three R’s
Now that you have finished reading the putt and setting up, there’s nothing left to do but execute it. But, all of the preparation in the world won’t do you any good if you don’t have a solid, repeatable putting stroke. The three R’s – rotation, relaxation and rhythm – will help you establish a putting stroke that will be the envy of everyone in your regular foursome.
We think of the full swing as being a rotation around the spine, but a putt involves rotation, too. The different is the amount of rotation. For a putt, the rotation is so small that it appears to be more of a rocking of the shoulders. It’s not, though. It’s a slight rotation around the spine.
Relaxation allows the muscles to respond appropriately without tension. Make sure you don’t have a death grip on the club and that your shoulders are relaxed.
Rhythm is the final piece of the puzzle and the key to making putts consistently. A putting stroke is just that – a stroke, not a hit. Do you have trouble controlling the speed of your putts, leaving one short but slamming the next one well past the hole? If so, you are likely stabbing at the ball, using your dominant hand to give it a push. You may even stop your hands at the ball and let the head of the putter flip. Instead, imagine a pendulum in a clock going “tick-tock.” It neither speeds up nor slows down. It also goes the same distance back and through. Find that rhythm and adjust the length of the stroke to the distance of the putt. Shorter putts require a shorter stroke, while longer putts require a long stroke, not a harder hit.
If you properly assess the speed and direction of your putt and execute it with a sound, repeatable stroke, you’ll reap the benefits of a consistent putting game and lower scores.