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Almost Everything I Know About Making Putts

Jul. 31, 2007     By     Comments (17)

I also know that 90% of putts left short don't go in, but you probably already heard that one from Yogi Berra.

PuttingA member of our forum, after noticing that my putting stats are pretty good, asked me what tips I could offer to help others become a better putter. After thinking about it, I realized that being a "good putter" is more about the sum of the parts than any individual part. So, I wrote back to the forum member and said "I'll write something up in the future and post it for all to see."

This is the answer to that question. I can't promise that this will help everyone become a great putter - though I believe great putters are made, not born - because this process is mine. Still, a piece or two can likely be adapted to fit anyone, and I encourage comments from others about the different things they do to make themselves good putters.

Setup and Fundamentals

Putting strokes and stances are as unique as the individuals who use them. Though I believe beginners should get an idea of what a proper putting grip is, I also believe that experimentation can lead to better putting once a player is capable of making a repeating stroke.

In truth, I believe in only a few putting fundamentals. One is that you must hit the ball squarely, with the putter traveling in the instant of contact perpendicular to the putter's face. Slicing across the ball from the inside or outside is a no-no.

I believe that you must be balanced, and that you should use whatever stance you like so long as it puts your body in a balanced position capable of repeating a stroke. If your arms are too far from your body or your weight is back over your heels, you won't stroke the putter consistently.

I believe that a putting stroke without any wrist hinging is more repeatable than one that involves flipping or cupping of the wrist, but that's just me: I've seen plenty of successful putters who incorporate a little bit of wrist hinge almost as if they're using the fine-adjustment dial on a microscope.

The many number of grips seen in use on the PGA Tour tell me that you can putt well with any grip. Heck, I use an interlocking grip - the same grip I use with my woods and irons. It's the grip I've always used to putt and it's comfortable to me. I keep the putter grip very much in my fingers to maximize my sense of feel and touch.

My own personal fundamentals are:

  • Grip in the fingers and pointed directly up the line of my forearms.
  • Eyes over the inside third of the ball.
  • Ball just forward of center, shaft leaning ever so slightly forward.
  • Back relatively straight.
  • Shoulders square to my target line, but feet slightly open.

Your fundamentals may differ, but knowing what they are - and how to check to make sure you're still doing them - is important.

Stroke

There are generally considered to be two kinds of putting stroke: the "Pelz" way and the "Cameron" way. The Pelz, named after short game instructor Dave Pelz, method is also known as "straight back, straight through." In this stroke, the putter face remains perpendicular to the target line throughout the entire stroke. The "Cameron" method espoused by short game instructor Stan Utley and putter maker Scotty Cameron is also called the "inside-square-inside" method. In this stroke, the putter opens and comes inside the target line on the backswing, squares up at impact, and comes back inside again and closes on the follow-through:

Arc Putter Path
The inside-square-inside stroke espoused by Scotty Cameron is the stroke I use. I believe the physics of having a non-perpendicular shaft dictate such a stroke.

Virtually all the good putters I've ever seen use the inside-square-inside stroke, and even Dave Pelz's star student Phil Mickelson putts this way. Scotty Cameron argues that the physics of having a putter shaft set at an angle dictate such a stroke, and I've always felt that the Pelz method requires more wrist manipulation than the arc stroke.

Regardless of the method you use - you can make a putt with either - practice the stroke until it repeats. If your square-to-square stroke is more of an "outside to inside" stroke, you're going to be inconsistent. If your inside-square-inside stroke is forced, you'll push and pull putts all day.

While we obsess about improving our ballstriking on the golf course and with our irons, rarely does a golfer practice striking putts crisply. Though today's high-MOI putters help to correct mis-hit putts, putts struck off-center still come up short and offline. A consistent putting stroke should lead to consistent contact on the sweet spot of the putter.

Equipment

Once you've determined which stroke you like, it's important to choose a putter that suits the stroke. Golfers with square strokes tend to prefer face-balanced putters while arc-strokers prefer putters with toe hang. Pelz-style putters also typically like putters with a more centered shaft than the Camerons, which tend towards heel-shafted models.

Outside of the general construction, other choices abound. Heel, mallet, or something else? Alignment dot, line, or plain? Insert or not, and if so, what kind? Bent shaft, straight shaft, and what length? What grip size?

I do most of my putting with a 33", 350-gram Scotty Cameron Red X. I prefer the mallet shape, the soft German stainless steel (GSS) insert, and the alignment aids parallel to my target line. Other people prefer the two-ball alignment method, or aligning the putter face perpendicular to the target line just as we do with our other clubs.

Oftentimes changing your putter will result in a short boost in confidence and thus a temporary increase in holed putts. I prefer to stick with a familiar putter because I realize the putter is just an inanimate instrument: I'm the fool who has to use it properly.

It's important not to overlook the golf ball in this. I use Titleist's cheesily named "Alignment Integrated Marking" (A.I.M.) technology. Lots of golfers prefer to draw a line on their ball with a Sharpie and and a Line-M-Up (or a Gatorade ring). Others still just use the logo.

Additionally, putting with the same ball - like putting with the same putter - breeds comfort and continually reinforces the feedback you receive each time you putt. Comfort breeds trust. If I had to putt with a different ball and a different putter every time I played, I wouldn't be nearly as consistent as I am now. I know how my equipment - putter and ball - behave, feel, and look, and I'm comfortable with them.

Warmup

I don't spend a long time putting before playing a round. If I spend too long warming up, I tend to either get bored (and thus sloppy) or I begin practicing instead, which is a very different thing altogether.

If I have only a minute, I putt a few 15-foot downhill putts. It's the fastest way of gauging speed I know of. I generally prefer to take five to ten minutes, however.

I generally warm up with two balls at first. On a course with smaller greens, I'll hit a lot of 15-20 foot putts of all types: uphill, downhill, breaking, straight, etc. On a course with large greens, I'll mix in some long putts as well. The second ball lets me make an immediate adjustment. With more than two balls, I tend to get carefree with the first ball.

During this part of warmup, I'm not overly concerned about where the ball is going. I'm simply quickly reading the green speed and break and stroking the putt. I'm trying to link what my eyes see and how hard I hit the putt with how far the ball actually rolls. I'm not trying to make any putts. In fact, I don't like making putts in warmup because it deprives me of information: how far past the hole would the ball have rolled?

After about five minutes, I've usually got the speed down pretty well and I'll put one ball in my pocket. With the one remaining ball I'll read the break of a few 10-15 foot putts and check the results. This tells me whether I'm over- or under-reading the break on that particular green.

Green Reading

On the course, my putting routine begins as I walk up to the green. I get a general feel for the land and the mounds, bunkers, water hazards, and other things around the green that can affect my read.

I mark my ball, repair any ball marks I see, and step back on a line straight away from the hole, sometimes crouching to get a better look. At this point, I'm looking for a general line, and I'm looking at the entire length of the putt. When it's my turn to putt, I move up to my ball mark, crouch down again, and read the last ¾ of the putt where the slopes will have the most impact on the path.

I set the ball down and line up the A.I.M. line precisely on the line of my putt. I'm pretty quick about this, so it's not as though I'm crouching down for ten minutes getting the line just right. On large breaking putts, I also pick a substitute target - a patch of discolored grass, an old hole location, or something - for gauging the speed later on.

I never read a putt from behind the hole. I believe it's better to strike a putt confidently on a slightly incorrect line than to strike a putt without confidence on a better line, and I've always found that reading a putt from behind the hole - varying from my normal routine - simply introduces doubt.

I'm not saying you should not read a green from behind the hole - just that I don't. Stick to a routine, because a routine is consistent. My eyes have learned to read a green from behind the ball, so changing it up "for a tricky putt" or for any other reason simply introduces inconsistency and confusion.

Pre-Putt Routine

I believe that the golfer can only really focus on one thing at a time, regardless of whether that one thing is a swing thought like "release the hands" or "low and slow" or whether it's a "fuzzy focus" item like target awareness. I also believe that there's an inverse proportion between the complexity of a golfer's thought and the quality of his play.

That in mind, the only thing I focus on during my pre-putt routine is speed. I've already decided upon the line - and set the A.I.M. line on that target line - so I forget about it completely.

With my putter, I stand facing the hole (or my substitute target) and gently swing the putter back and forth, gauging the speed of the putt I'm facing. I'm trying to move the putter the speed I feel is necessary to get the putt just beyond the hole. I use a constant pendulum motion, not discreet swings, because I feel it reinforces fluid putting mechanics. When I feel I've gotten a good feel, I step beside the ball. I again look at the hole (or substitute target) and repeat the pendulum movements until I feel the speed again.

I then set the putter behind the ball, take my stance, and take great care in lining up the putter with the A.I.M. line. It's incredibly important at this point that I not adjust the line I chose based on what my feet feel or anything else. I don't believe I've ever made a putt when I've adjusted my line this late in the game. If I have doubt, I start over again from the very beginning.

After lining the putter up, I take one final glance at the hole or substitute target. I look back down at my putter, check again that it's lined up properly, and stroke the putt. If the putter is not lined up, I line it up and again look at the hole or target, look back down, and putt. I've never had to re-align myself the putter more than once.

During the putt itself, I'm not actually thinking of anything. I'm not even specifically looking at the ball, the green, my putterhead. Tiger Woods talks about how his father Earl always told him to "putt to the picture." During his pre-putt routine, Tiger takes a mental picture of the hole and, when he looks down at his ball, putts the ball to the target in that picture. Brad Faxon feels that putting speed should be reactionary - a basketball player doesn't estimate the distance to the hoop before shooting, he just lets it go.

I suppose my method is a combination of both. I don't have a specific mental picture of the hole, but I putt very quickly after doing my pendulum stroke routines and simply try to recreate the last, best stroke. The final look I take at the hole or target is similar to a basketball player looking up at the hoop at the peak of his jump and letting the ball go.

Like driving a golf ball, where the best advice I've ever heard is "just let it go," the same applies to putting.

Mental Aspect

I'm confident that I'll make every putt. I don't aim for a circle six feet in diameter because I believe the human body responds better the more precise the target. I read a long time ago that Dave Pelz says the ideal speed is that which rolls the ball 17" beyond the hole if it misses, and though I don't like the putting stroke he preaches, I took that to heart.

That knowledge combined with my "reactionary" approach to a putt's speed and my pre-round warmup that focuses primarily on gauging the speed has led me to become a putter who nearly always gets the speed just about right. True, I'll occasionally leave a 20-foot putt a little short of the hole, but I rarely shove one six feet past. Whether the putt is five feet or fifty-five feet, "trying to make the putt" never leads to hitting the putt harder than is necessary.

A lot of golfers attach a lot of significance to their putts, particularly the short ones. While I admit that it stinks that a missed three-foot putt counts the same as a 280-yard drive down the heart of the fairway, I realize that your control of the situation stops the instant the ball leaves the putter face. If I do everything conceivably possible to hit the putt on the line and with the speed that I believe will result in the ball falling in the cup, what happens after that is out of my control.

In other words, I consider any putt I have a success if I start the ball on the line I chose and with the speed I chose. If I make an error in reading the break or speed, I learn from it. If I make an error in execution, I forgive myself (and practice until that fault is cured if it occurs too frequently).

I believe that application of the "every shot counts the same" mentality is crucial to good putting. Lots of people are better par putters than they are birdie putters, and are even better bogey putters than par putters. Even Tiger Woods is a better par than birdie putter.

But birdie putts and bogey putts still count for one stroke apiece. Many people get tentative with birdie putts because they think "par is still a good score - I don't want to three-putt." Such thinking introduces a negative - three-putting - and tentativeness. Last time I checked, negativity and tentativeness aren't conducive to good putting!

Someone asked in the forum what length putt they were 90% confident they could two-putt. This thinking is flawed in two ways. First of all, 90% confident implies 10% unconfident. Also, two-putting is a negative in my opinion: I am trying to make every putt I look at.

Drills

Outside of checking on my own personal set of "fundamentals," I have only a few drills that I like to use.

Yardstick Drill
It took me awhile, but I finally found a thin metal yardstick at Lowe's. This yardstick is plain silver, about an inch wide, and quite flexible. If my arc stroke feels off, I use the yardstick to get the proper feeling back.

For this drill, you'll need three tees, a few balls, and the yardstick. First, find flat ground. Sometimes I putt to a hole (a straight putt, preferably uphill), but sometimes I just putt to a dime or some other small mark.

Next, put two tees in the ground at about 30 inches apart. Set the yardstick on its edge to one side of these tees (the left side, relative to the direction in which you'll be putting). Push on the middle of the yardstick to bow it out to the right about two inches and push a tee in the ground behind the 18" mark. In other words, bend the yardstick around the middle tee and hold back each edge with the other two tees.

Now you've got an arc. Put the heel of the putter against the yardstick and make a few strokes. After you've ingrained the feeling, do so with a ball. The putter face should always be perpendicular to the arc of the ruler and the heel should always touch. It may take a few tries to get the right arc - you don't too wide or too shallow an arc.

In other words, you can create one of these for a lot less money.

Teegate
This drill is similar to one Tiger Woods uses and is good for correcting mis-hits.

First, find a straight, uphill six-foot putt. Put two tees down just outside of your putter's toe and heel to create a "gate" through which you'll swing your putter. Be precise - the tees are there to reinforce square impact, so they should be perpendicular to your line. Put a ball down just ahead of the tees, swing back and through, miss both tees, and make the putt.

If you clip the outside tee, impact would have been towards the heel. If you clip the inside tee, contact would have been towards the toe. Check your fundamentals and keep working. For example, I have the tendency to lean a bit too far forward when I putt. This leads to pushing the putter out and making contact towards the heel. This drill helps solve that.

To add a little complexity to the drill, I sometimes put a tee off the toe both in front of and behind the location of impact. This simultaneously reinforces the proper arc stroke because if I take the putter straight back or straight through I'll hit that tee as well.

Tiger hits putts with the gate using only his right hand - I prefer to use both (perhaps because my interlocking grip isn't as dominated by the right hand as Tiger's is).

Look at the Target
When my sense of speed is off, I use this final drill to re-link what my eyes see with what my body feels.

It's a simple drill, and one I sometimes use during play on really long putts. With putts of 15 feet or longer on the practice green, line up the ball and your putter, then look at the hole. Make a stroke, and watch the ball go to the hole. You'll regain the link between your eyes and your hands within about ten or twelve strokes.

That's All, Folks

What else can I say?

Discussion

  1. JP Bouffard says:

    That's a great article.

    For years people have told me to always read the putt from below the hole, but, like you, I've always thought I end up messing myself up if I do anything other than scope it out from behind the ball.

    One thing I found interesting in my putting odyssey is that I found that practice swings do not help me one whit with guaging the weight of the stroke. I line it up, put the putter behind the ball, and pull the trigger. I tried this on a practice green about 5 years ago and found there was no affect whatsoever on my distance control.

    Not saying this would work for everyone, but it fits a general idea I hear from many pros that the more natural and instinctive you can make your putting, the better it will be.

    Finally, as an end note, I hope you have not jinxed your excellent putting by daring the golf Gods with an article like this.

    ;-)

  2. For years people have told me to always read the putt from below the hole, but, like you, I've always thought I end up messing myself up if I do anything other than scope it out from behind the ball.

    I think it's very much about the way you learned to read putts. I could probably re-learn to read greens from behind the hole, but I do just fine reading them the way I always have.

    Not saying this would work for everyone, but it fits a general idea I hear from many pros that the more natural and instinctive you can make your putting, the better it will be.

    I view what I'm doing as instinctive as well. I don't believe instinctive or natural means "without trying to gauge the feel." For some golfers, "see and go" works. I know of at least one myself. For me, what's "natural" to me is to gauge the feel while looking at my target.

    As I said, I hope that people can take something away from my putting routine and apply it to their own games, even if it's just to reinforce something they're already doing. It would be incredibly foolish, of course, for anyone to try to apply my routine to themselves.

  3. cbe_golfer says:

    I putt straight back straight through. I tried inside square inside on carpet after reading this article. It doesn't seem to work for me. Also at set up, I like to look at the front of the ball along the target line. I find myself obsessing too much with my backswing if I look behind the ball or inside third. Again I think this is just me.

  4. I putt straight back straight through. I tried inside square inside on carpet after reading this article. It doesn't seem to work for me.

    As with any change to a golfer's routine, swing, or stroke, it takes more than a five-minute carpet session to properly weigh the merits of the change.

  5. golf snob says:

    One part of your article has reassured me of something I do but have been told is wrong. Like you I like to address the putt with a slightly open stance. I've been told that the best way is to line your feet and shoulders to the target line, but I feel an open stance with the feet frees up the shoulders and allows for a smoother stroke. Like you I line my shoulders with the target line.

    I was also surprised that your recommendations for choice of putter correlate with my choice. I have a straight back and through stroke and I always putt better with face balanced, centre shafted putters.

    I putt with a reverse grip and I find it has worked for me as it takes the wrists out of the stroke. It's not for everyone but I think it's a sounder grip that stands up to pressure better for me. It takes a little while to get used to the reverse grip but as you said you can't assess a new stroke in a five minute carpet session. Once you get used to it it feels totally natural and I could never go back.

    Finally, one thing that I always seem to do when I make a good stroke is keep my head still til well into the follow through. Any movement of the head forward leads the shoulders out of line and results in an offline putt.

  6. Stephen Johnson says:

    Nice article. Thanks for taking the time to put all that together. Have a few questions/other observations:

    I've been curious about lining up the aim line with my putt line as you mentioned. I know a lot of pros do it. Right now I turn my ball so that all I see is white (no distractions). Anyway - question is how precise are you when you line the ball up, given that you're quick about it? And is there anything you've found that makes it harder to line up correctly (i.e. straight-in putts, short vs. long)? Even in just trying this on the practice green, I seem to sit and fiddle with it forever to get it just right - the ball wants to wobble on grass blades, etc.

    Agreed, the drill where you putt while looking at the hole is wonderful for getting speed and feel down, especially for longer putts. I have a tendency to kind of short circuit between my last look at the hole and stroking the putt on longer ones. That drill helps prevents the disconnect, as you say.

    One thing I do when reading my putt is to go about halfway between the hole and the ball on the low side of the break and get a general sense of the degree of uphill/downhill in the putt. Just a quick glance, then I read the putt from behind as usual. While I'm not really thinking about it after that, I think it's useful information when choosing my line.

    On putting with the right hand only - that's something I do, though not in a drill quite like that. I'll just take two balls and putt around to different holes on the green using only the right hand. It helps my release (my stroke is "Cameron" style) mainly, but also my tempo and distace control. This along with the looking at the hole drill is a good combo for me. I don't do it a lot because you can get a bit sloppy with your path if you overdo it. Just gets me back to stroking it consistently.

    Thanks again for the insight and keep up the good work around here. Been enjoying it for a while.

  7. I'm really excited about trying this out. I've been playing 2 1/2 years and gotten down to a 4 while still averaging nearly 36 putts per round. Just shot a 77 the other day while missing 5 2 footers (starting w/ the 1st 3 holes)! I've probably only shot 1 or 2 rounds ever without a 3-putt. My distance control is good. I just can't putt the stupid ball in the hole!

  8. JP Bouffard says:

    ... it takes the wrists out of the stroke.

    You hear alot of golfers and commentators today talk about "releasing" the putter.

    They also talk about not letting the "left wrist break down."

    I've always been confused about these two, seemingly contradictory things.

    The talk of "releasing" the putter makes me wonder if a wristy putting stroke is something that we might see make a come back.

  9. golf snob says:

    You hear alot of golfers and commentators today talk about "releasing" the putter.

    They also talk about not letting the "left wrist break down."

    I've always been confused about these two, seemingly contradictory things.

    The talk of "releasing" the putter makes me wonder if a wristy putting stroke is something that we might see make a come back.

    I'm certainly no expert on putting, but from my own experience I find that when I "release" the putter I do it more with the shoulders, with the wrists and hands staying fairly quiet and keeping the putter head on line through impact. The "left wrist breakdon" is when the wrists and hands get active before impact and pull or push the putter head offline, resulting in a missed putt. A severe case of this breakdown is a 'yip', when the hands make an involuntary spasm just before impact.
    It's similar to the full swing. If hands should lea the clubhead through impact. If the wrists release too early the clubhead overtakes the hands, resulting in 'flipping' and very inconsistent contact.

  10. wachesawgolfer says:

    I have always believed if you can make putts from 5 or 6 feet out, consistently, the rest of putting takes care of itself. I also believe there are two putting strokes, that for the long putt and that for the 6 foot in putt. The long putt stroke is any motion which allows good feel, speed and execution and will probably arc somewhat. The shorter putt is much more precise. The putter must stay on line back and release on line to the hole, which is more Plez like. Letting the putter come off line at all results in pulls and pushes. Part of the problem is people look to see the putt and this moves the head off line. Tiger hears the putt go in. On long putts this is not as critical as the putter head is moving offline anyway in an arc like stroke. Finally, the short putt requires acceleration through the ball which can be mentally tough on fast greens, but, otherewise the putt will not hold the line. Great article.

  11. The shorter putt is much more precise. The putter must stay on line back and release on line to the hole, which is more Plez like. Letting the putter come off line at all results in pulls and pushes.

    You view the "line" as being straight back and straight through. I would disagree - as would Scotty Cameron. We believe the "line" is an arc.

  12. golf snob says:

    Since reading your article I have added a few things to my pre shot routine. The most important thing I do now is take much more time placing my ball on the mark, taking care to line the alignment marker on the ball on the line I of the putt I decide on. Then I can commit to that line and just concentrate on speed and hitting a straight putt. I found in the past I used to be a bit casula about placing the ball down and notice most bad putters are the same. I now realise that lining the ball up on the correctly on the line you want to hit the putt is the first step to holing it, and probably THE most crucial part of my pre shot routine. It also clears my mind of thoughts about the line when standing over the putt and lets me concentrate solely on speed and stroke, which has resulted in a much smoother stroke and better speed control. I'm now holing many more putts and more importantly getting the ball to just past the hole on most of them. I think I've picked up at least 3 or 4 shots a round on the greens.

  13. Kellfire says:

    Thanks for writing this article, it has already given me a few thoughts to go on. I will definitely be using some of your drills and will have a much better mindset when I next venture onto the course.

  14. Al Osteen says:

    Hello,

    I'm a golf course superintendent. My club president mentioned that he has seen a smaller than regulation sized cup, for practicing putting on practice greens at some clubs he has played.

    Are you familiar with this product, and if so, do you have any idea where I can find them? I've searched all over the web and have not been able to find one.

    Thanks for any help.

    Al

  15. geoffmangum says:

    Dear Erik,

    I always hear golfers say the stroke paths are EITHER straight-back-and-straight-thru OR arcing inside-square-inside. Both are flawed concepts of what constitutes great putting, and the explanations are also incorrect. For example, Scotty Cameron's notion that because the putter shaft leans off vertical, the stroke MOTION of the golfer's body must follow the same lean plane is just weird and wrong. Anyone can place their hands together, stand near a wall, touch the wall with the fingertips, and swing the hands along the wall keeping the fingertips touching the wall, even though the arms are stuck out on some weird angle and also withOUT any manipulation of the wrists or elbows. The BEST stroke path isn't necessarily the same shape back and thru, as only straight thru impact requires a straightness. A stroke that comes slightly inside on the backstroke will usually self-correct coming forward if the golfer knows how to keep the hips fairly steady at the start of the backstroke.

  16. geoffmangum says:

    Al,

    Bobby Geiger in Tangerine, FL (northeast of Orlando) made and sold the "Little Hole" practice putting cups under the name Sure Putt Cup. I think he has sold the company, and I just found this ParAide catalog that includes the Sure Putt Cup system: http://www.cte.ca/documents/ParAide2010.pdf .

  17. Geoff, the article is four years old, and my knowledge has continued to increase. Undoubtedly I feel differently about some of these things now than I did four years ago. I'll leave things at that. Cheers.

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