Putting is one of my favorite parts of the game to teach. While it may not be the most important aspect of the game, it does have one aspect of it that I love: there is nothing preventing anyone from being an exceptional putter. There are physical requirements to hit the ball long, and while they can always be improved, everyone will have a ceiling. Putting however, does not require strength or athleticism to be great.
To be an exceptional putter you must be good at the 3 skills of putting. The 3 skills are speed control, the ability to start the ball on your intended target line, and green reading. In my opinion there is a hierarchy to these skills and speed control is at the top of the pyramid. Green reading is the second most important skill and then start direction control is third.
To make a putt you must read the green and pick a target that aligns with your intended speed. Then you must start the ball on that line with that speed. If you get the read, speed and start direction right the ball should go in the hole. The other way to make a putt is to get 2 or 3 of those things wrong and get lucky…this will happen, but it is not a good long-term plan for success, just enjoy the result.
Speed control is so important because it is the foundation for the other two skills, and without it the other two skills become irrelevant. As you can see in the video below, I have picked a viable target for this putt with the perfect putter which makes sure I start the ball on the same line each time. With the correct speed, the ball goes in the hole. When the speed is too much, there isn’t enough time for the ball to break and it misses high. When the speed is too low, the ball breaks more and misses low. If you haven’t picked a speed for the putt you are hitting, the misses could also be miss-accessed as pushed or pulled because of the side of the hole that they missed on.
Very simply put, speed control is your ability to make the ball stop the distance you want it to. So how do we control speed and how do we practice it? There are two parts to this for me. First, how consistent is your stroke and putter delivery to the ball? Second, can you control the speed the putter is traveling. Much like the wedge work in the previous article, if you can control the contact and the speed the club is traveling, you can control how far the ball will go.
The first part of speed control I look at is consistency. Do you have the ability to repeat a speed and make the ball go the same distance time after time? This is shown very well in the SAM Puttlab measurement I took of my stroke. When you look at the speed graph you can see speed the putter was traveling for all 5 putts. It is fairly consistent, but the better you get at this, the more it looks like one line.
The best way to practice this is to practice putting to a line. This works both as an assessment with students and a practice drill. I will put down a piece of electrical tape 15 feet away, running perpendicular to the student putting. As the test I will have them hit 5 balls trying to get them to stop the ball on the line. I measure each ball in relation to the line and see how many total inches for all 5 balls. My goal in practice is each ball within one inch of the line. I also look at the dispersion of the putts. If all 5 balls are 5 inches past the line, that is great consistency and needs to be fine-tuned. If the 5 balls total 25 inches but they are short and long, it is not as good a result. In a practice setting I will use 10 balls and measure them all. The total number of inches off the line is your baseline to try and improve on.
After working on consistency with the line drill, the next step is to see if you can control subtle changes in the distance the ball goes. To practice this, I use coins. I put the first coin 6 feet away from the student and put a coin every foot up to 20 feet. The exercise is to go up the ladder, hitting each window in order. To measure progress in this I see how many total putts it takes to knock out each window in order. There are 15 windows, so 15 balls would be a perfect score. Again, however many putts it takes to complete the exercise gives you a baseline. The goal in each practice session would be to improve upon previous scores.
The best part for both of the tests/games is that they can be done in a competitive format while practicing with a friend. The results can be measured which also allows you to track your progress. I have never seen anyone who was “too good” at speed control. And while great speed control doesn’t guarantee you make everything, it should make sure that you are always around the cup with a chance for the ball to go in and eliminate 3 putts. In later articles I will talk about how to read greens and control start direction. But if you get good at speed control you should see a marked improvement in your putting in your rounds.
As always, I hope you have enjoyed the article and you find the practice drills helpful. If you have any feedback or would like to set up a time to measure your putting stroke, please let me know. Keep up the great work on your game.