A putt’s success is determined by two things, having the correct line and having the correct speed. While, these two elements are dependent upon each other, a putt played with more speed will break less and vice versa, the most important is speed because you’re more apt to three putt due to running a putt way past or leaving it way short than missing to one side or another. If you think about your last few rounds, I’m sure you’ll find this to be the case.
Having a sense for speed is intuitive and based on feel. Unlike your full swing, there is no mathematical formula that a player can use to control distance. To putt well you should be relaxed and using your instincts, you can’t do that while you’re doing math in your head. A great example of this in other sports is shooting hoops in basketball. Good players trust their feel to get the ball in the hoop without thinking about how much to adjust the height of their jump or stroke for every shot.
Here is a simple drill to improve your feel. Put a tee in the largest and flattest area of the putting green that allows you to putt from all sides. Pick a distance you want to start from and set three balls down to putt to your tee. When you putt, take one practice stroke for the first ball looking at the tee, then step in and putt the first ball. After you hit your putt, do not look to see where the ball finished. Use your feel to visualize how close you got to the tee. Then, without looking at the tee or the ball you just putted, hit the second ball and again for the third putt. Once you have felt in your mind how close you got, look to see how you did on all three. Don’t be discouraged if your putts aren’t close to the tee, close to where you thought they were, or both! Just notice how close you were, and go pick a new putt and repeat the process. By only looking at the tee before your first putt, you’re forced to see your target in your mind’s eye. It also keeps you focused on your target, not your stroke, which is the best way to putt. Before long, you’ll be rolling the ball within a foot of your tee like a pro!
Change the distance and side of the tee you’re putting from to improve your feel for all types of putts. This is also a great thing to do you in your pre-round routine to get your feel honed in before you go play.
Written by Ryan Eckroat, PGA