Very few areas of golf will ever rival the importance of good putting to having a successful round of golf. Every winter while snow was still covering the driving range and it was too cold to even consider stepping outside to play golf (Wisconsin problems) I would sit in my basement with my astro-turf putting mat, three golf balls, and a putter. This was the beginning of my golf season and may have ultimately led to some of my success. I could spend hours down there putting 5-15 foot putts on cold winter days with my brother. We would play horse, the golfing version of a 3-point contest, and other games, stacking coasters to create different breaks for our putts and honestly having a really good time with the $15 putting mat my parents bought us. Even though at the time I was oblivious to it, I was mastering some of the fundamentals of successful putting.
Putting is tough, let’s be honestly. And putting isn’t glamorous. But putting is where really golfers make their money. John Daly, a pro golfer, was a crowd favorite because he was entertaining for fans to watch. An “average Joe” and a really big hitter he would always attract a crowd but he won very few tournaments even though he could out hit almost all of the other golfers there. Why? Because he threw away a lot of stokes around the green. He didn’t respect putting as arguably the most important part of the game when it comes to scoring well. In fact, putts account for anywhere from 30-40% of the total number of shots you take on a given day. So naturally, if you want to start cutting your scores dramatically, you want to become a better putter. Now we all know just how differently people choose to putt but in my experience there are a few pieces of advice that can apply to almost anyone’s stroke. They are as follows:
- A square stance and a relaxed but solid grip
- a stroke that keeps the club face square through contact
- basic knowledge of your putting conditions
Allow me to elaborate…
A solid stance is the foundation of any swing in golf and putting is no different. While you have to find a stance that works for you I recommend a square stance because it is the easiest to replicate consistently which is all you’re really doing during a putting stroke anyways!
If you look closely at the center picture you’ll notice that feet and club face are both aimed directly ahead, this is referred to as a “square stance”. Frequently I’ll hear a golfer complain about inconsistent putting only to notice that every time they approach a putt their feet are pointing at a different angle. I’ll say this a million times, but the key to golf is repetition. If you can’t repeat a motion, you’ll never be able to truly know where the shot is going to end up.
Another important part about the setup is grip. Now we don’t want the putter to fall out of your hands but you also don’t want to have a death grip on it. Squeezing the putter too hard will make it respond to all of the small motions you make during your stroke, and this can rotate the club head or change your path of your swing. I have always taught other golfers to treat the club as an extension of your arms and thus, you should grip it roughly as strongly as if you gently relaxed your hands into fists. Not only is this good form, but it’s relaxing to let the club do the work instead of you flailing it through the air or however you want to describe some death grip stroke.
Next is actual motion of the club. The entire goal of this is to return the club head to the exact position it started at when it strikes the ball. The only thing that changes is now it has some momentum behind it. Working off of this we want as simple of a putting stroke as possible (less bells and whistles = less opportunities for mistakes) that will accomplish this goal.
The easiest solution to our problem is to just bring the putter straight back and straight forward, which is represented by the picture above. Then we know that all of the momentum that’s going to strike the ball will be pushing it forward. While this seems pretty simple, if it were, we’d all be on tour making the big bucks. It turns out that the club wants to rotate around you as you bring the club back which turns your swing path into a more circular shape than just straight forward and straight back.
Another important aspect that can’t be overlooked is your upper body and the actual movement of the club. Now that you have this solid grip you need to know how to move the club during the shot. Unlike other shots in golf you want your putting stroke to be the absolute simplest one possible. This means no bending your arms or breaking your wrists. With a putting stroke, we’ll sacrifice the power we would get from a full range of motion for the increased consistency we receive from keeping everything more controlled. Your basic swing should resemble the pendulum of a grandfather clock. With each tick it follows simple harmonic motion where the back stroke is just as long as your follow through. Your putting stroke should represent the exact same thing. However far back you bring the club, it should ride through that far.
One major problem golfers will make is tilting their body instead of rotating their shoulders. Once again, simplicity is key, if you can keep everything else stationary and just allow your back and shoulders to rotate then you have a much smaller chance for error in each stroke and this will eventually lead to more consistent putting. So to sum up all the formal jumble of the last few paragraphs, putt like the guy on the right, not like the guy on the left.
Putting all of this together can take a while to master but it is an important part of being a successful putter. For easy ideas about how to practice this go to Putting Practice Ideas.
One easy idea which doesn’t involve practice however, is to to draw a line on your ball that matches up with the line on your putter. (See below)
Notice how the line in the center of the putter and the hand drawn line on the golf ball line up. This ensures that the club head is square (like your stance) when you make contact and is a simple 30 second chore you can do while you wait to get on the first tee that will absolutely help your putting.
Finally we’ve reached the last bullet and perhaps the trickiest one to master. Reading the conditions of the green can make all the difference when you’re trying to drain a putt because even if you have the perfect stroke if you have the speed of the green or it’s slope wrong you don’t have a chance of making your putt. The slope of the green is one of the easiest to notice because it is one of the most prone to chance on each green but it isn’t the only important condition. Along with it are things like:
- the length of the grass on the green
- the amount of moisture on the grass
- where the wind is coming from and how hard
- possible dead spots on the green
- leaves or sticks (clear those away!)
- and even the way the grain of the grass is facing
A lot of these things can be determined if you go out on a putting green 15-20 minutes before you tee off but some of them can be quickly evaluated before each putt. Don’t underestimate these factors especially on longer putts. What might seem like a straight putt can miss off the lip if you have enough wind. Even if your putts were staying short during the morning, if some dew burns off, by the back nine your putts will be blowing past the hole. Unfortunately the easiest way to get better at reading the different conditions of a green is to just practice and play and eventually it will become second nature but until then, making a conscious effort to think about all of the conditions as well as read the slope should help improve your putting accuracy.
Put all of these tips together and I guarantee you’ll start shaving strokes immediately. Between trusting your new consistent mechanics and having a mental edge on the green, improvement is only one short (or long) drive to the course (or maybe out back, if so I really envy you). As always I appreciate any comments or feedback I’ll try to assist you with any questions you might have. Also make sure to check out our tips on Chipping, Hitting Irons, and Using Woods! And if you don’t take anything else with you, just remember, “you drive for show but you putt for dough”.