We have all been there. You make a conscious decision to improve your golf. “This summer” or “this year, I am going to get my handicap down.”
Full of motivation, we head to our local golf club, purchase 100 range balls and pound away. What you don’t see often on a Saturday morning, is a golfer rushing to the putting green.
We all want to improve, and I am sure you know that putting and the short – game is the most important element of our games. Yet, why is it often neglected from the same practice and attention than the full swing? Particularly, the Driver swing?
Looking at the evidence statistically, a 6-10 handicapper will take 3 putts 11.71% of the time and a 15 + handicap golfer will take 3 putts, 19.58% of the time. That is approximately 3.6 holes per round.
If you are looking for a place to lower your handicap, then often the quickest place to find the most “bang for your buck,” is on the putting green.
In this article, we are going to analyze the fundamentals of putting. Starting with the grip and stance, then look at the technical aspects of reading the green and judging the pace of your putt. I will then leave you with some practice drills & games, to keep your practice fun and relatable to real golf situations.
Holding the putter: The Grip
If you look at The PGA Tour, you will find that many of the professionals playing week in and week out do have different grips, ball positions, and techniques on the putting green.
However, what they all have are an exceptionally repeatable action and exemplary clubface control.
In the grip, there are several ways to hold the putter, the traditional “right-hand low” (for right-handed golfers), the “left-handed low.” We will look at these 2 options.
Right-Hand Low (Overlap Grip)
- The most traditional way to hold the golf club, gently place the club into the palm of your hands with your right hand below your left.
- Wrap your left forefinger over & between your right little and ring finger
- Once the club is comfortable, complete a few final checks. The club should run through the palm of the hands and your pressure on the club should be light.
Throughout the putting stroke and particularly at address, we don’t want to gip the club tightly or increase tension & pressure in our hands, arms, and shoulders.
A good self-check is to complete your grip and then imagine you are holding a large tube of toothpaste. If you are gripping the club hard enough for the imaginary toothpaste to come out of the tube, then this is too tight.
- The most used grip in golf, this grip is the closest mirror to the usual golf grip used for full golf shots. Therefore, it is often the most comfortable and natural.
- It’s easy to feel feedback after you have made a stroke
Left – Hand Low (Cross – Handed Grip)
This is the opposite of the traditional overlap grip where the player will move the left hand to operate below the right.
It’s important to keep connectivity between the hands, so interlocking or overlapping your right forefinger with the ring or small finger on the left hand is important.
It doesn’t matter how this is achieved, whatever is comfortable for the golfer. Again, we do need to keep the tension and pressure on the grip of the putter low.
- By moving the left-hand low, the golfer levels his/her shoulders which can assist in stroke repeatability.
- Many golfers struggle with an active right hand through the putter stroke. Which leads to pushing putts to the right or pulling to the left. This grip counteracts this by placing stroke emphasis on the left hand because it is closer to the clubface by being further down the grip.
- The left hand becomes more active, which can make clubface control easier. The back of the left hand and the clubface copy each other throughout the stroke, which many prefer.
Ball Position Stance
Ball position is something that is debated by PGA Professional golfers. Some prefer to see the ball between the middle of the legs, others more towards the front foot.
From my experience, I prefer to see the golf ball more towards the front foot (left foot, for the right-handed golfers).
Specifically, 1 or 2 inches away from the middle of the stance. The reason for this is by placing the ball closer to the front foot, you are encouraging an upward motion in the putting stroke. This upward motion encourages the ball to roll sooner on the putting green. When the ball is in the middle, or sometimes towards the back foot, the stroke can hit down on the ball. When this happens, the ball will bounce several times, before rolling on the green.
The faster we can get the ball rolling on the green, the more repeatable we can be with our stroke and the easier it will be to read the green. Because we won’t have to consider bounce and then roll. So, I would encourage you to make a slightly forward ball position the most natural.
However, something we can all agree on is how far away from you the ball should be.
The most logical position for the ball, in terms of distance from the body, is right underneath our eyes. This is because we are then over the ball the same distance every time and looking along the line of the ball to the hole.
To check this position, you can take a 2nd golf ball and place it between your eyes. Drop the ball from here and see where it lands. If it lands closer to your body than the ball you are about to putt with, take a step closer to the ball.
If it lands further away, then take a step back.
Reading the Green
Once we have sound fundamentals then the fun starts. It’s very rare to find a putt that will roll in a straight line, directly to the hole, although it happens!
Often, we will need to stroke the ball to the right or the left and allow the natural contours of the green to roll and move the ball back towards the hole.
This is a skill set in itself and one you can practice or develop. A good place to start when reading the green is to ask 2 key questions.
- Is this putt uphill or downhill? Effectively how hard do I need to hit it?
- How much will the ball move from the right or left? How much “break” must I allow for?
Sadly, this skill will only come from repetition, practice, and experience. However, I can give some guidance that will assist you in making these decisions.
Selecting the right pace (How hard do I need to hit it)
Pace control refers to hitting or stroking a putt so that it finishes level with the hole. By selecting the correct pace your putt will often end up within a tap-in or close enough distance to make your 2nd putt.
As I said at the top of the article, avoiding situations where you take 3 putts, will have a big impact on your scores and your handicap.
By choosing the right pace, you will mitigate these situations where you will take 3 putts.
To select the right pace, you will need to walk halfway between the ball and the hole. Look at your putt by scanning with your eyes the slopes. Looking up towards the hole and back towards your ball. I see players trying to read the pace of a putt from behind the ball only. Although to understand how much slope there is, it’s much easier to see this from halfway between the ball and the hole.
After you have analyzed the speed of the putt, I like to select a spot either beyond or short of the hole to putt to.
For example, say you have a straight putt but you are putting up a steep hill. I will select a spot 3 feet behind the hole and putt it directly to that spot. If it’s a downhill putt, I will stroke the ball to a spot considerably short of the hole, allowing the natural contours and slope on the green to continue the ball down to the hole.
Choosing the correct line
The premise of selecting the right line is the same as pace. We need to understand how far we need to stroke the ball to the right or the left. As stated, putts are rarely straight, so being able to understand how much a putt will “break,” will help you make far more putts on the green.
Let’s use an example of a “right–to–left” putt. A putt where we must hit the ball to the right because the slope of the green will push the ball to the left.
For this piece of the puzzle, I will squat down behind my ball and look at the slope on the green.
Visually, I like to pretend the green is purely made of water. I think where the water would be running to and from on the green. If there is a slope to my right, I imagine the water running past me and to the left. If the slope is larger, I picture the water gushing to the left and I know I will need to start my putt even further right.
I then ask myself “how many balls” or “inches” will my putt move from the right? In essence, how far do I need to aim to the right and stroke my putt, to allow the slope of the green to bring the ball back to the hole?
I will picture an imaginary line that my ball must follow to go in or next to the hole. I will then take my grip, my stance, and stroke the ball on my intended, imaginary line.
Practise & Drills
As I am such a big advocate of practice, I thought it would be best to leave you with a couple of drills you can use on your local putting green. We will look at;
- The Dustbin Lid Drill/ Game
- The Clock Drill/ Game
The Dustbin Lid Game is straightforward. Take a handful of tees and outline a “dustbin lid” size circle around the hole you are aiming at. Approximately 1 – 1.5ft away from the hole. This circle around the hole is the “Dustbin Lid”
Take 10 balls and stand over a putt of 30 feet and over.
See how many out of 10 you can get to stop inside the circle of tees. The idea is that this game will help you develop your ability to judge pace and speed control. Over the course of the season/ year keep a track of your average and see how it improves.
For The Clock Drill, take one tee peg and place it into the putting green.
Then take 4 or 5 balls and place them around 6 feet away from the tee peg in a clock shape. The idea of the game is to see how many of the 5 you can hit the tee with. By going in a circle (or clock shape) you will face 5 putts that will “break” differently.
Why a tee peg?
The idea of the clock game is to aim small and miss small. If you can putt and strike the tee peg in practice from 6 feet, you will make far more putts when aiming at a hole!
To develop this game, increase to 7 feet, 8 feet, and so on….
Again, keep working on this over the summer, and keep track of your progress! It will get easier!
- A putt won’t always have one break, often it can roll to the left and then back to the right.
- Developing a routine is the easiest way to build consistency in your putting. By routine, I mean reading putts from the same angles, taking the same amount of time on each putt, and completing a practice stroke.
- With the practice stroke, try to feel how hard you must stroke your ball to get the correct pace. I like to do this while looking at my imaginary line and pretending to see the ball rolling on that line.
- There isn’t any substitute for practice, practice, practice. But I promise by committing to practice on the putting green you will see a significant step-change in your scores and handicap over the season.
I hope you have enjoyed this article about the fundamentals of putting. We always welcome a further conversation about your game, please contact us anytime, here!