As the saying goes, “drive for show, putt for dough.” The game of golf requires that you get the ball in the hole at some point. If you don’t, it probably won’t be that enjoyable to you.
The problem is, most people don’t spend any time learning about putting or practicing. It’s the shot that seems most rudimentary; after all, any young child can make a hole-in-one on a mini golf course…it’s the same thing, right? Wrong.
Putting can be broken down into two elements; aim (direction) and speed (distance). If you get those two things right, on any given putt, you’ll make the ball in the hole.
A putts aim, or direction, requires three things. First, that you (1) read the green correctly. Then, that you (2) align your putter face on that line. And finally, that your (3) stroke sends the ball down your intended line. Don’t worry though, those things aren’t tough to do.
(1) Even a kids book can be nearly impossible to read if you don’t know the language its written in. Similarly, in order to read a green correctly, you need to know the language of the green. In general, look for where water would drain and know that a putt will tend to break in that direction also.
(2) Then, to align your putter face on that line correctly, place a coin behind your ball and pick it up. You can do that when your ball is on the green. There should be a line on the ball, when you put it back on the ground, point that line in the direction you want to hit the ball. When you address the ball, make sure your putter sight line matches the line on your ball.
(3) Lastly, to hit the ball down that line, make sure that you keep the back of your wrists flat, or motionless. The primary movement in your putting stroke ought to be with your shoulders. Next, try to keep the putter head on the target line before and after impact. Too often, amateur golfers will push the putter head either inside or outside the target line, especially after impact.
Once you’ve nailed the aim portion of putting, you’ll have to include the speed, or distance of the roll, element. When we talk about speed, we’re referring to the speed of the ball as it travels towards the hole, which determines how far it rolls.
The factors that influence speed are the (1) length of your putting stroke, (2) speed of the green, the (3) gradient of the ground, and (4) length of the putt.
(1) The length of your putting stroke refers to how far the putter head moves in your back swing and follow-through. No matter how long your stroke, those distances ought to be fairly similar. Think of your putting stroke like a pendulum, if the head swings back a foot, it’ll also extend forward a foot. Don’t try to force the putter head through impact though. Let gravity take it through the zone, that way you can maintain overall consistency. It’ll help you judge your speed a lot better in the long run.
(2) Next, the speed of the green depends on how long the actual blades of grass are, the moisture level, and grain. You can ignore those things for now though, those ideas are for another post. Be sure to hit a few putts on the practice green before you go out to play. This will help you get a feel for how fast the greens are running. Some courses even have a stimpmeter reading, which tells you the speed of the greens. The most important thing with greens is familiarity. The more you’ve played a specific green or course, the better you’ll know the speed.
(3) Third, the gradient of the ground will determine the speed of a putt. Basically, this is the slope of the green; up, down, left-to-right, or right-to-left. If there is a dramatic change of elevation in a putt, you’ll probably notice it fairly easily, but subtle changes can also affect the speed of a putt. Take a look at the macro-topography. If there are geographical features, such as a pond or hill, those may indicate which way the putt is going too. Obviously, uphill putts will require a little more speed than flat or downhill ones.
(4) Finally, the length of the putt will determine how hard you need to hit the putt. Humans have terrible depth perception, so unless you’re a hawk. That being said, most of us think we have good depth perception, so we look at putts from behind and guess at the speed. Always look at a putt from the side view, that way you can better judge a putt’s actual distance. Take a few practice swings while looking at the putt from the side and visualize how long of a stroke you need.