Here’s the weird thing about the game of golf. As you get better and your handicap goes down, it actually becomes more difficult to cut strokes from your score. I can usually help a high-handicapper improve pretty quickly, but the better my students get, the tougher it is to whittle strokes off their scores.
I’m not saying it’s impossible, though, quite the contrary. If you want to make a dent in your scores and shoot lower numbers, it’s imperative you work on your putting abilities. In the next few pages, I’ve outlined five different ways you can drop strokes by improving your performance on the putting green. Just remember, these tips aren’t designed to produce easy, immediate results. And no matter what, you’re probably going to miss more putts than you make. But with diligence, patience and determination, these tips will help you drain more putts and drop strokes from your scores.
1 GET BEHIND THE BALL
When you’re assessing your putts, always do so from behind the ball and track where you think the ball will roll with your eyes. Don’t just stare at the cup; look at the entire length the ball will roll. Do this for long and short putts alike.
If you practice from the side like this, you won’t see all the break and your distance perception will suffer. I see this error a lot, and often my students are looking at the cup and nothing else as they make practice strokes.
If you have a breaking putt (I placed a tee for you to see the apex of this short putt), consider evaluating the putt from behind the apex, not the hole. The apex is your aim point anyway, so you may as well get the true picture of the break.
If I look at this breaking putt from behind the hole, my mind’s eye won’t know where to aim when I set up over the ball. It’s always better to get behind the point where you’re aiming (the tee) and align to it rather than get crisscrossed.
Finally, whether you’re facing straight or breaking putts, always look up as you make your practice strokes. Get your eyes off your putter, and start sensing the motion, length and tempo of your putting stroke.
Don’t develop the habit of watching your putter move back and forth! You’ll do the same when you actually putt a ball, and rarely will you produce good results. Get your eyes on the line as you get ready, then on the ball when you execute the putt.
2 SQUARE THE PUTTERFACE
If you’re struggling with accuracy, you’re probably not hitting your putts with a square putterface. To narrow your focus and start squaring up that face, consider what I’m doing here. Using an ordinary yardstick, align the putterface on one side of the yardstick, which should be pointed at a hole. From here, hit the end of the stick with your putter as you would with a golf ball. If you do it correctly with the putterface, making square contact with the end of the yardstick, the yardstick will scoot straight toward the hole. This is a great drill when you want to hone in on your accuracy, and also on maintaining the ideal loft of the putterface and contact with the ball at impact. More on that at the bottom of this page.
If you hit the yardstick with an open face, the yardstick will veer out and away from you. If you hit it with a closed face, it will veer to the left. Now, don’t interpret this tip the wrong way. The putterface will and should open and close relative to the targetline (as simulated by the yardstick), but it should stay square relative to the path the putterhead travels on, which is actually a slight arc. Only at impact with the ball will the putterface, putter path and target line line up. So don’t try and hold the putterface square as you take the putter back. Allow it to arc naturally. As for the forwardstroke, some golfers like to hold the face square through impact, others allow the putterface to close relative to the target line after impact. Do whatever you prefer in that regard.
In addition to helping you square the putterface at impact, this drill helps you maintain a good position of the hands and shaft at impact. You want to have a slight forward shaft lean to maintain a consistent loft at impact. This is crucial if you want to have speed control.
3 DIAL IN YOUR AIM
Once you determine the line of your putt, it’s time to take dead-aim. I like to pick a target on my line 6 to 8 inches ahead of the ball, and I use a line on my golf ball to get dialed into that target. (To illustrate this in the photo, I put a white ball mark on my intended target.) As a drill, I then take two tees and separate them so a ball barely fits between the two tees, and I start putting. The goal is obviously to get the ball to roll through the tees and make the putt, but in my mind, I’m also training myself to pick intermediate targets for better aim. If you can do this drill successfully and repeatedly and get the ball in the hole, then you have both good aim and a good stroke. But let’s say you’re hitting the ball into either tee. What does that mean? It means you probably have some inconsistencies in your stroke, and you need to fix that first before you worry about how you aim.
Okay, so let’s say you’re able to putt the ball through the tees consistently, but the ball isn’t going in the hole. In this case, you probably don’t have a stroke or an aim problem. You have a green-reading problem! I’ve seen this dilemma from some of my better students. Some of them come to me and ask what’s wrong with their stroke; they want me to look and see if they’re doing anything that causes them to miss putts. In fact, they have very good mechanics, and the simple truth is that they’re misreading their putts. Don’t always assume your putting stroke is at fault when putts aren’t dropping in the cup. How you read the green is equally important. If you can’t read the greens well, no matter how good your mechanics are, you’ll miss a lot of putts.
4 TRIANGULATE + FEEL
To get better at reading greens, always look at your putts from more than one angle. I tell my students to look at the putt from behind the hole/apex of the break and again from the actual apex. This will help you get a better sense of the elevation change of your putt, if any, and also help you see the length of the putt more clearly. For instance, from behind the ball on an uphill putt, it may look shorter than it really is. Just don’t overdo it. Two vantage points ought to do it.
When was the last time you really took a moment to feel the break of your putts? Usually, we use our eyes, and with long putts, I suggest you do that. But, sometimes, with putts that are around 7 feet and in, we focus more on the way a putt looks than how it feels. What does that mean? Simple. Next time you have a putt inside 7 to 8 feet or so, stand behind the golf ball and get a sense of whether you’re standing level, to the left or to the right. Close your eyes and sense which way your body wants to lean. Is it to the left or right? If so, your putt likely will break in the direction you feel your body lean.
It doesn’t stop there. In the two pictures on the left, I’m still behind my intended target line, only I’m sensing whether I’m leaning uphill or downhill. The point is, especially with short putts, you need to be aware of any subtle breaks in the green that the eyes sometimes can’t see. Feeling the ground with your feet and using your balance point are a great way to “see” the slight breaks and curves on the green with your feet. When you rehearse behind the ball, be aware of your balance in every direction.
5 REHEARSE A CONFIDENT STROKE
Often, a hesitant, yippy stroke is the cause of missed putts inside 5 feet. One of my favorite drills to encourage a confident and accelerating stroke is outlined here. First, line up five balls–the first about 6 inches from the cup, the next ball about 2 feet, the next 3 feet, then 4 feet and finally 5 feet from the hole. The first step in the drill is a simple one. Knock in the short putt and finish with the putterhead directly above the hole to indicate a square face at impact.
With the 2-foot putt, push the ball into the hole with no backswing. This will help you maintain a slight forward shaft lean and consistent loft through the stroke. It’s also a great drill to wipe out the yips and promote an accelerating stroke and finish through the ball, not at it.
On the 3-foot and 4-foot putts, I want you to putt as usual, only now concentrate on not making too long a backstroke. When the backstroke gets too long, not only do you run the risk of swinging the putter on a faulty path with a putterface that isn’t square at impact, you lose your ability to feel the length of the putt. With both putts in this drill, there’s a ball about a foot or so behind the one you’re hitting, meaning you’ll be forced to make a shorter backstroke and stroke your putterhead through the ball.
If you miss any putt up to this point in the drill, replace all the balls and start again!
The last ball in this drill is your gamer. The drill is over and you need to make this putt as you would out on the golf course. You should feel some of that pressure you’ve applied on yourself by making the preceding four balls, and you don’t want to repeat this drill again. This is a must-make putt, so putt confidently with proper aim and a solid stroke.
Try this drill, and with all these tips, I hope you find better success on the greens and save more strokes!
Glenn Deck, PGA, is the Director of Golf Instruction at Pelican Hill Golf Resort in Newport Beach, Calif., and Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine, Calif. Visit pelicanhill.com for more information.