man using golf putting drills

The school teacher was taking her first golf lesson.“Is the word spelled p-u-t or p-u-t-t? she asked the instructor.  “P-u-t-t is the correct spelling,” he replied. “Put means to place something where you want it.  Putt means merely a vain attempt to do the same thing.”

It’s easy to laugh at that now.  It’s not quite so easy after you’ve just had the fourth 3-putt in your round.  We’ve all had those magical days on the course where we seem to make everything.  Unfortunately, for most of us, those days are few and far between. If you could make a few more of the short putts that you often miss, or if you could reliably lag your long putts to within 3 feet of the hole, you would be surprised at how many strokes that would take off of your score.

Technique and feel

Putting skill is a combination of both proper technique and “feel.”  Feel is the intangible ability to intuitively know what the right amount of pace and break is to make a given putt, and then to be able to “translate” that into your swing motion.  You must have both technique and feel to be a good putter.  Focusing on just one, at the expense of the other, won’t provide consistent results.

A player that has a technically proficient stroke may return a perfectly square club face to the ball.  However, unless that stoke is combined with a corresponding amount of feel, the result could be putts left well short of the hole (or well past), or a putt that is significantly off line. Conversely, a player may have excellent feel and may judge the speed and break perfectly, but a flawed technique could produce a stroke that, for example, leaves the clubface open at impact.  Proper technique can be taught.  Feel is a bit more elusive and usually needs to be refined through practice.

PGA pro’s miss a lot of putts, too

PGA pro’s obviously make a lot more putts than amateurs, but perhaps not quite as many as you might think.  From 3 feet away, they are rock solid, making almost 99% of their putts. That isn’t too surprising, but what may be is the decline in that percentage as they move farther away from the hole. At 6 feet, they drop down to 69%. And at 8 feet, their percentage dwindles all the way to about 53%.

Were you aware that the best players in the world only make about half of their putts from 8 feet?   So what message can we take away from this data? The key and obvious point revealed here is the importance of getting the ball to within 3 feet of the hole, where making the next one is a sure thing.

This is called “3-putt avoidance,” something that tour players view as critical to their rounds. How are they able to get so many long putts to within that 3-foot circle around the hole? Through distance control, something that they focus on diligently in practice….and so should you.

Improving your distance control on longer putts will land you in that 3-foot comfort zone more often and will allow you, too, to eliminate those 3-putts from your repertoire.  In a minute, we’ll give you a drill that you can work on to improve your distance control.

Drills for practicing putting

Sadly, very few amateur golfers really work on improving their putting.  The only time they see a practice green is during those few minutes before they tee off for their round.

Clearly that’s not exactly an ideal formula for improvement.  Putting is a skill, just like hitting a driver or an iron, and requires an investment of time. Look at it this way:  at most, you will hit just 14 drivers in a given round of golf.  But most amateur golfers will take upwards of 36 strokes, or more, with their putter in that same round.

It may not be as fun to practice putting, but it would likely benefit you more on your scorecard. So how can we practice putting, in a way that will address each area that needs to be worked on, and which incorporates a little fun to keep it interesting?

Categories of Putting Drills

These putting drills can each be included in one of four categories, chosen to simulate the types of scenarios that golfers will face on the greens:

  • Improving the quality of your stroke
  • Short putt drills
  • Long putt drills
  • Drill to make putts under pressure

1. Improving the quality of your stroke

This category applies to drills that help you make a better putting motion and to make better contact with the ball.  As with full swing shots, putts roll better and straighter when hit on the sweet spot of the putter face, with a club head that is delivered on an ideal path, and with a clubface that is square to your target line.

The Gate Drill

The Gate Drill is a very simple drill to practice, but it is a critical one to make sure you can deliver your club head square to your line and to consistently strike the ball on the center of the clubface.

To perform the Gate Drill, set your putter head down on the green. Just outside the putter head, both at the toe and the heel, put a tee in the ground.  They should be wide enough apart to allow the putter head to swing through this “gate,” but close enough that a faulty swing will be detected if the head hits either of the tees.  Make putts using this gate until you comfortably pass through it every time.

The Coin Putting Drill

This drill is aimed at helping you make center-face contact with the ball.  Apply a piece of two-sided tape to the center of your putter face, and then attach a quarter to the tape, making sure it is positioned on the sweet spot.  Hit putts attempting to make ball contact squarely on the quarter.  Balls struck on either edge of the quarter will roll off line immediately.  Keep practicing until you are consistently hitting the quarter head on.

2. Short Putt Drills

As mentioned in the article, consistently making short putts (3-5 feet) can have a dramatic effect on your score.   Here are some drills that will improve your short putting, and reduce the number of 3-putts that you have.

The Tee Drill  (v1)

Place a tee in the ground exactly one foot in front of your ball.  Push the tee all the way into the ground so that only the top of the tee is visible.  Proceed to hit 20 putts, focusing only on the tee, rolling your ball so that goes directly over the tee.  It sounds simple, but this is an extremely effective way to build confidence in making short putts.  You will become aware of your target line very quickly, and will begin hitting these short putts with conviction, which will translate to your short putts on the golf course.

The Tee Drill (v2)

Take a tee and partially press it into the back of the golf hole near the top of the cup. Proceed to hit 2-3 foot putts, making sure that the ball is hitting the tee prior to dropping into the hole.  After a short while you will develop the confidence to make putts firm enough to hit the back of the cup, rather than making a defensive stroke where the ball barely falls over the front edge.  Then when out on the course facing a 3-footer, imagine that tee sticking out the back of the cup, and go ahead and confidently hit your putt into the back of the hole.

3. Long Putt Drill

This long putt drill is designed to help you improve your distance control.  You need to get better at judging your speed to produce putts that get to within 3 feet of the hole.  As we’ve discussed, this is vital to 3-putt avoidance.

The Leap Frog Drill

Put a tee in the ground about 10 feet away. Make your first putt, attempting to roll the ball just past the tee. Then make a second putt, the aim of which is to go just past where your first putt ended up. Continue doing this, with each successive putt “leap frogging” the previous one. And you can add a little pressure to the drill. If any putt doesn’t leap-frog the previous one, start all over from the beginning and see how far you can go. This drill helps you get a feel for distance, by judging how much force you need to exert in your putting motion to produce a desired distance.

4. Drill to make putts under pressure

It’s extremely beneficial, whenever possible, to introduce some level of pressure to your practice routine.  This more closely simulates what you will be feeling on the golf course, when you will have to confront a little tension and anxiety that you don’t feel during your practice session.  This drill is designed to mimic a little of that tension.  This drill also falls into the “Short Putt Drills” category, as all of the putts are 3-footers.

The Clock Drill

This is a favorite drill of both Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth. Place eight golf balls in a circle around the hole, equidistant from each other, at 3 feet from the hole. Putt each ball in succession, moving around the circle, until you’ve made 24 in a row. That is three full rotations around the hole.  If, at any point, you miss any one of these 3-footers, stop and start over from the beginning. If you are already a good putter and want to up the ante a bit, you can continue this drill by moving your circle out to 4, 5, or 6 feet from the hole. This is a great drill, forcing you to have total concentration on every putt, and by incorporating pressure as you work to avoid having to re-start the entire drill.

Conclusion

Improving your putting is arguably the fastest and easiest way to lower your scores.  As we’ve mentioned, simply by avoiding 3-putts alone, the higher handicap golfer can save 3 to 4 strokes per round. Work on the drills we’ve listed here. Your ball contact and your distance control will improve, along with your overall confidence.

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