PROGRESS

Are you happy with your golf clubs?

Short Game Mastery Series: How to Improve Your Putting

Published on 03/28/2023 · 9 min readIn Part 5 of this series, Curated expert Bill S. dives into the one aspect of the game that has the potential to influence your score more than any other.
Bill S., Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Bill S.

Photo courtesy of Callaway

Were you aware that about 40% of the total strokes taken during a round of golf take place on the putting surface? That may surprise you, but the statistics bear this out. Regardless of your handicap level, approximately four out every ten shots that golfers take in a round of golf are putts. That means that scratch golfers will take, on average, about 29-30 putts in a round. Players that shoot 100, on the other hand, will take upwards of 40 putts!

There is no other shot type in golf that even comes close to this percentage. For example, a player will only take a maximum of 14 drives in a round, and a relatively small number of fairway woods, hybrids and long irons.

The message should be clear. Because putting consumes such a large percentage of your total shots taken in a round, it represents the one part of the game that has the potential to influence your score more than any other. Put another way, it is far easier to lower your average score by making improvements in your putting than it is by making improvements in any other part of the game, simply by virtue of the sheer number of putts that occur in a round.

What You Need to Improve

An analysis of the statistics of higher handicap golfers reveals that there are two primary aspects in putting that are the source of most of the strokes that are wasted on the greens.

  • Poor Distance Control
  • Missing Too Many Short Putts

We’ll take a look at both of these issues, and how you can improve in each, but it’s easy to see at the outset that an inability to manage your distances on long putts, combined with a ‘make’ percentage on short putts that is not as high as it should be, is the perfect recipe for 3-putt greens.

From 3-5 feet, even mid-to-high handicappers will make a decent percentage of their putts. But beyond 5 feet, it’s been shown that ‘make’ percentages decline rapidly and significantly. As an example, 15-handicappers make about 84% of their 3-footers and about 50% of their 5-footers, but only about 20% of 10-footers.

To eliminate the dreaded 3-putt from your repertoire, then, along with all of the wasted strokes that come along with them, it’s essential that you get better at lagging the ball on your long putts to within this makeable range (3-5 feet), and then to increase the number of these short putts that you then make.

The Keys to Distance Control

1.

It may sound trite, but the first key to improving your long distance lag putting is to actually practice it. Most amateurs spend little to no time on the practice putting green, other than in those last five minutes before their tee time on Saturday morning. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to them, then, when they leave their first lengthy putt of the round 10 feet short or 10 feet past the hole, resulting in a likely 3-putt.

The best solution is to spend at least some of your regular range time during the week on the putting green. When you do, devote a good portion of that time working on these long putts, during which you should be trying to ingrain the feel you’ll need to hit the ball various distances.

If your schedule doesn’t permit practice during the week, then at least spend some of your pre-round time working on lag putting. And instead of standing in the same spot hitting repeated putts from the same distance over and over, practice putts of varying distances and to varying targets.

2.

Remember that your focus on these 30-40 foot putts is not on actually trying to make the putt. As we’ve already mentioned, the odds of a ‘make’ on these types of putts are extremely low. Instead, shift your focus to that 3-5 foot circle around the hole, so that you can then have a reasonable chance of making your next putt. Also, you’ll find that there will be less tension in your stroke when you aim for this larger target, rather than the much smaller one.

Photo by Bill S.

3.

One small swing change that you should make on these long putts is to incorporate a very slight hinging of the wrists on the backswing. This is obviously in contrast to your stroke mechanics on every other shorter putt, in which you should try to keep your wrists fairly firm throughout the motion.

Butch Harmon commented on this when he said that doing so “gives the head of the putter time to gain momentum from the longer backswing. Allow your wrists to react to the weight of the club by hinging them a bit. This prevents you from rushing the backswing and making a short, stabby motion.”

Making More Short Putts

All of the great work you did on your long distance lag putting will go for naught if you then consistently miss a high percentage of the remaining 3-5 foot putts. As we’ve already said, 3-putt greens are momentum (and scorecard) killers. You will benefit a great deal by spending time improving this critical part of the game, with the goal of reducing significantly the number of 3-putt greens that you have.

Photo by Bill S.

But what things should you work on when you practice short putts? There are many things that contribute to better short-range putting, but the three primary aspects that you should emphasize are:

  • Focus On the Process
  • The Importance of Aiming Correctly
  • Square Putter Face at Impact

1. Focus on the Process

Often, the cause of a missed short putt is that golfers tend to rush them. Perhaps thinking that these short ones are easier, or subconsciously fearful that spending too much time on the pre-shot routine will actually make the putt harder, amateurs frequently simply step up quickly and hit the putt, without much effort being taken to study the line and to prepare for a solid stroke.

If you watch the best putters, you will see that they don’t take these short putts for granted. They go through the same pre-putt routine that they do on longer putts, taking their time and focusing on their process.

Let’s face it, there can sometimes be a little added pressure to make these short putts, simply because of the expectation that you should make them. The best way to overcome this added pressure is by shifting your focus away from the outcome and instead maintaining your focus on the process and routine.

2. The Importance of Aiming Correctly

Here’s a startling bit of data for you. A putter face that is aimed a mere 2° off on a 5-foot putt, will cause you to entirely miss the hole! How common are these aim issues with amateur golfers? Well, in his book entitled The Laws of the Golf Swing, author Dr. Jim Suttie claimed that 9 out of 10 putting errors are the result of aiming the face incorrectly.

Photo courtesy of Callaway

Knowing just how small this margin of error is should be all you need to know to make absolutely certain that you have your putter face aimed properly before you pull the trigger.

One way to improve your aim is to employ a technique that many of the best putters in the world use. Draw a line on the ball which you can then use as an alignment aid (or use a ball that comes with lines on it). Position the ball on the green so that this alignment aid is aimed precisely down the line on which you want the ball to roll. Then, armed with the added confidence from knowing that you are indeed aimed correctly, you can make a freer, more positive stroke.

3. Square Putter Face at Impact

Years ago, computerized launch monitors provided irrefutable proof that the face angle of the club at impact is the primary determinant of the direction that the ball starts out on its flight path. For example, a club face that is closed to the swing path will produce a shot that starts out to the left of the target line and, conversely, a face that is open to the swing path will create a ball flight that starts out to the right of the swing path.

Photo courtesy of Callaway

Although launch monitors are used almost exclusively for full swing analysis, this principle of physics and motion is true for putting as well. A putter face that makes contact with the ball even a degree or two open or closed will send the ball off its intended line.

To determine if you have an issue with the orientation of the putter face at impact, you can use the same line that we suggested you draw on the ball in the previous section. On the practice green, set the line on the ball so that it is aimed properly. Then stroke some practice putts and watch the rotation of the ball as it rolls. If the putter face was delivered square at impact, you will see the line on the ball roll end over end. But if that line wobbles during its path to the hole, that would be an indication that your putter face struck the ball with either an open or closed face.

Keep practicing these short putts and focus on making sure that you are delivering a square putter face to the ball. By continually ensuring that the line you drew on the ball has a true, end-over-end roll, you will “re-train” your hands and arms to consistently bring the putter head back to the ball square to your target line.

Conclusion

Putting is a skill that golfers of all levels can improve upon. You don’t need to be a low-handicap golfer to be a good putter. What it does take, though, is a dedication to get better. Instead of just spending hours on the driving range hitting drives, take some of that time and head on over to the practice putting green. If you can’t get to the golf course to practice, you can at least work on your short putt technique right on the carpet at home.

With putts consuming 40% of the shots you will take in every round, even minor improvements can have a big impact on your score. This is the closest thing you’ll find in golf to “low-hanging fruit.”

To explore more articles in the Short Game Mastery Series, please see:

PROGRESS

What's your typical score for 18 holes?

Answer questions to receive a personalized product recommendation from an expert.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read next

New and Noteworthy