There is no component of the game that steals more strokes from players than putting. Players lose more strokes on the green than virtually anywhere else on the course.
You may be surprised to learn that over forty percent of the strokes you make during a normal round of golf are on the green!
If your goal is to become a better golfer and lower your score, putting is the place to begin.
The Mechanics of Putting
There is no golf shot as individualized as putting. It is impossible to offer universal tips that will work for every golfer, but there are some common factors everyone can apply for better putting.
Like other golf shots, your grip on the putter should be neutral. Opening or closing the putter face will lead to missed putts.
Good balance is vital to good putting. It’s fine to use a variety of stances, as long as the stance you choose provides you with solid footing, does not cause you to sway in any direction, and allows you to look directly over the ball when putting. Do not position your head too far forward or too far behind the ball.
Some players prefer to putt with straight arms, while others prefer bent arms. Choose whatever position feels most comfortable for you, and apply it consistently throughout the putting stroke.
You can play off of either foot or somewhere in between. Most professionals play the ball more toward the inside of their left foot.
The Putting Stroke
Resist the urge to over-think the putting stroke. It is a simple pendulum movement that uses the shoulders and arms. Your hands should simply hold the putter and do nothing else. Your hips and legs should not move at all.
When putting, your weight should be evenly placed on both feet, with no shifting to either side during the stroke.
As with other golf shots, it is important to keep your head down until well after you hit the ball. Moving your head too soon can cause the putter face to come out of square.
How to Read a Green
Learning to read a green can only be done by reading greens. No amount of written material can replicate hands-on experience when it comes to mastering this part of the putting experience.
To read a green properly, you have to be able to assess the break, if there is any break. Here are some tips:
Squat down behind your ball and look from ball to cup. See if there are any slopes between the ball and the hole. If so, you will have to deal with them by compensating your target path.
Keep in mind that the slower a ball is moving, the more it will break to the downside of a slope.
Look at the grain of the grass. If you will be hitting into the grain, the ball will travel slower and break more. If you are putting into a side-grain, the ball will want to move downside with the grain, so aim a bit higher to compensate for this.
Another way to improve your putting skills is to learn to hit the ball harder when needed. Many golfers shy away from this, and their breaking putts often fall short on the downside of the cup.
You must strike the ball hard enough to keep it rolling along the slope until it reaches the side of the cup and falls in.
When you read a green and check for breaks, do so from all angles: front, rear, right and left. This can be accomplished in a few seconds once you get the hang of it, and will reveal more information than just looking from the rear.
The only way to master this skill is to spend time on the practice green, reading one putt after another. Nothing can replace hands-on experience when it comes to breaking putts.
The next essential to effective putting is distance control.
Distance control is simply getting the ball to the hole or as close as possible. It is based on two things:
1) The length of the putt
2) The speed of the green
Distance control is both an art and a science. It is often a matter of “feel”. Start by looking at the putt and judging how far the cup is from the ball.
With experience, you will get a sense for how hard you need to hit the ball to get it to the hole, but you must also consider the speed of the green.
Green speed is determined by many factors, including the grain of the grass, the level of dampness or dryness, and the slope.
Tips to Improve Distance Control:
There is no substitute for practice. To become proficient at distance control, you have to consistently hit the ball from various lengths, across various lies. During these drills, don’t try to sink the putt—concentrate only on distance.
During your practice sessions, move around the green and experience as many lies as possible. Carefully read each putt and pay attention to your results. Do not become discouraged. This skill set takes time to master.
A major mistake some golfers make when faced with a long putt is to use their wrists as hinges to give the stroke more power. This often causes the face of the putter to open or close, throwing the ball off-line.
The better option is to employ a longer stroke. Bring the putter back further to get that added power.
Also avoid the “fast” stroke. This happens when players believe that swinging the putter much faster than normal will achieve more distance. Again, the better option is to use a longer stroke.
Just like any other golf shot, putting requires a follow through. Keep your head down until well past impact and let the putter move forward about the same length as you brought it back.