I came across a forum post on The Sand Trap titled, “Want to improve my putting.” The original poster said he had tried many putters and, lo and behold, none of them improved his putting.
He said he figured the problem was him and then asked for putting drills and advice. Several people replied but I think the forum owner posted the best response – here is what he said.
- Hit the ball on the line they want
- Hit the ball the distance they want
- Read greens well
These are the three things you want to get better at if you want to improve your putting and lower your scores.
What I want to do now is show you why each area is important to your putting and the drills and training aids you can use to get better at aiming your putts, lag putting, and reading greens.
Hit the Line You Want
Hitting the line you want means that your ball is rolling the direction you wanted it to go. You might be aiming directly at the cup or in a different direction to account for breaks on the green.
There are many variables that impact whether your putt goes where you want it to. Many of them you don’t control either, such as wind, divots, spike marks, twigs, and so on.
But the one variable you do control is whether your putter is square to your starting line at impact.
This is important. If your putter face is two degrees to the left or right, you’ll miss about 60% of your 5-foot putts, 66% of your 6-foot putts, and 80% of your 7-foot putts.
Two degrees is forgivable when you’re putting inside of two or three feet, especially if your putt has good speed on it.
But the further you’re away from the cup, the more you’ll miss the cup by. If your putter face is off by 2.20 degrees at impact, your ball will miss the cup by 4” on an 8’ putt.
Your putter can’t be opened or closed by more than one degree to sink an 8-foot putt. This isn’t much room for error, which is why the average pro only sinks about 50% of them and amateurs only 27%.
The bottom line – if you want to better aim your putts, you need to work on having a square putting face at impact.
Putting Aim and Alignment Drills
Here are a couple of drills you can perform to help start your putts on your intended line.
Set two tees down, one on the outside of the toe and the other on the outside of the heel. This will create a gate.
Your goal is to swing your putter through this without nicking either tee. If you hit the heel-side tee, your putter was closed at impact. And if you hit the toe-side tee, your putter was open.
You can increase the difficult of the Gate Drill by placing the tees even closer to your putter. This will decrease the room for error you have.
Another thing you can do is set up a pair of tees 18” or 24” down your starting line that is slightly wider than your golf ball. Your goal is for you to putt your ball through this gate. If you can do this, then you can be confident that your putter face was square at impact.
Two Balls Drill
This drill is easy to do. You’re going to hit two golf balls simultaneously. If the heel-side ball goes further, your putter is open at impact, and if the toe-side ball goes further, the putter is closed at impact.
The goal is for both balls to go roughly the same distance at the same speed.
Place your ball on one end of a yardstick. The goal is for your ball to make it to the other end without it falling off the ruler.
Putting Alignment Training Aids
Here are a couple putting training aids you can use to improve your putting aim.
Dave Pelz Putting Tutor
The Putting Tutor has a gate for your ball to go through, a line to help you aim and read greens, and lines on both side of the ball to help you with eye alignment.
I’ve not used this training aid yet, but it looks as if many golfers (both pros and recreational golfers) like it.
Perfect Practice Putting Mat
I own a 9’ Perfect Practice mat. What I like about it is that it has a line leading to the center of both cups. This helps me with my putter alignment and starting line since if the ball starts on the line and tracks it all the way to the cup, I know my putter face was square.
Read my Perfect Practice putting mat review to learn more.
You can use alignment sticks to perform the Gate Drill.
Draw a Line on Your Ball
Draw a line around your ball. Or color one half of your ball. When you hit your ball, it’ll either wobble, which tells you the putter face wasn’t square, or end over end, which tells you the putter face was square.
I think it’s a good idea to use this ball whenever you perform the alignment drills from the last section.
Try a New Putter
This is one area where it might make sense to try a different putter. Each type of putter is best suited for a certain type of putting stroke. Your putting stroke will determine the best putter for you.
There are three generalized types of putting strokes.
- Straight back, straight through. This putting stroke has minimal if not zero arc. Putters with a straight back and through stroke might want to consider using a face-balanced putter.
- Minimal arc. This stroke has a small arc with minimal face rotation. Putters with this type of putting stroke might want to consider using a plumber’s neck-style of putter.
- Lots of arc and face rotation. If you have a lot of arc and face rotation you might want to consider using a toe-weighted or heel-shafted putter. This will give you more control of the face angle at impact.
I wouldn’t go buy a new putter thinking that it’ll improve your putting overnight. But if you’ve been doing your drills and aren’t seeing the improvement you think you should, then consider buying one.
Hit the Distance You Want
Distance control is all about lag putting, which is putting from a distance you don’t expect to make. This means you should go into distance control mode at around 15-20 feet.
But even though you don’t expect to make many of these putts, you still want to take them seriously. Odds are you can shave several strokes off your score if you dial in this part of your putting game.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the stats.
Shot Scope – a company that makes golf GPS watches that tracks your play – put out a report with 3-putting stats (which they pulled from more than 30 million shots).
Shot Scope’s data showed that 84% of putts in which the first putt started from more than 32 feet out was 3-putted.
Here is the 3-putt frequency based on handicap.
Handicap | 3-Putt %
- 0 | 7.8%
- 5 | 9.5%
- 10 | 11.8%
- 15 | 14.2%
- 20 | 19.1%
- 25 | 24.5%
If you shoot a 92, you’re going to 3-putt once every five holes – or 3.6 times per round – on average. If you shoot a 97, you’re going to 3-putt 4.41 times per round. Even mid-handicappers 3-putt 2-3 times per round.
What does that mean for you? It means that there’s a good chance that you can shave 2-4.5 strokes off your score. All you need to do is reduce your 3-putts.
I’ll go over a couple of drills to help you work on that part of your putting game. But first, let’s look at the most common 2nd putt distances according to Shot Scope’s data.
Handicap | 2nd Putt Distance
- 0 | 4.5 feet
- 5 | 5.6 feet
- 10 | 6 feet
- 15 | 8.6 feet
- 20 | 9.2 feet
- 25 | 11.2 feet
You can clearly see why this is a problem, why so many players 3-putt, when you look at how often golfers make putts at distances between 2-10 feet (source: Mark Broadie).
Distance | Tour Pro | Scratch Golfer | 90 Shooter
- 2 feet | 99% | 99% | 95%
- 3 feet | 96% | 93% | 84%
- 4 feet | 88% | 80% | 65%
- 5 feet | 77% | 66% | 50%
- 8 feet | 50% | 41% | 27%
- 10 feet | 40% | 33% | 20%
- 20 feet | 15% | 14% | 6%
Someone who shoots a 90 is only making half of their putts at 5-feet. So, if they leave their first putts 5-feet short of the hole, or more, then the odds that they’ll have to 3-putt goes through the roof.
Anyway, I point these stats out to show you how important it is to improve your putting distance control. If you can get most, if not all your lag putts inside of 3-feet, you’ll all but eliminate your 3-putts.
And eliminating 3-putts will lower your score, guaranteed. So, let’s look at a few drills you can do to help you with your lag putting.
Lag Putting Drills
Here are some drills to help you improve your lag putting.
Phil Mickelson Drill
Phil Mickelson runs a drill in which he’ll place tees at 30, 40, and 50 feet away from the cup. He’ll start with hitting five balls from the 40-foot marker. Once he hits five putts in a row to within 3-feet, he’ll do the same at 30-feet, and then 50-feet.
Mickelson goes from 30 to 40 to 50 to prevent himself from getting into a rhythm. This challenges him to judge the distance instead of just hitting the ball a little harder or software.
You’re going to perform this drill 20-feet away from your target. What you want to do is hit the first ball too hard, the second ball too soft, and the third ball just right.
The idea is to help you find the middle ground – a putt that ends up within 3-feet of the cup.
Manilla Folder Drill
Your goal is to putt a ball and have it stop on top of a manilla folder.
A manilla folder is a much smaller target than the 6-foot radius you’d typically aim for (within 3-feet of the cup). If you can perform this drill successfully, then lag putting to within 3-feet of the cup should feel easy.
I recommend starting with putting 10 balls from 10-feet away, then move further away from the target as you get better.
Tips for Improving Distance Control
Here are a few other tips to keep in mind while practicing your distance control.
- Don’t try to make your putt. The odds of making a 20-foot ball is slim, even for professional golfers. Your objective when lag putting is to get your ball to within 3-feet of the cup.
- Dave Pelz says to “lose the bent-over putting stance” when you lag putt because it’s much tougher to put extra oomph on the ball. Stand tall and closer to the ball instead.
- Practice hitting putts at 40, 50, 60 yards (common first-putt distances for mid-handicappers) for at least 15 minutes each week.
- Work on your putting stroke using the tips in the last section. If you hit the toe or heel of your putter, you’ll lose distance. You might also not hit it on your intended line, which can also contribute to you not getting the ball within 3-feet of the cup.
- Aim for a spot beyond the cup (but no more than 18”). If you aim for that, the ball should have the appropriate speed to fall into the cup even if it’s not at the center of the cup.
- Look at the hole when making your practice strokes. You’ll have a better idea of how hard/far you need to hit it, which should increase the speed of your putts, which is necessary to get the ball to the cup from a long distance.
Keep all this in mind, work on the drills, and you’ll get your first putt closer to the cup, which in turn will reduce or eliminate your 3-putts and shave many strokes off your score.
Reading Putting Greens
It’s tough to give advice for how to read putting greens. This isn’t just a technical skill. There is also an art or feel to reading greens.
There aren’t any stats for reading greens either. It’s not as if you can track how bad you are at gauging breaks in the green.
The only bit of info I could find on common mistakes that golfers make when reading greens is that they often miss to the low side. This makes sense since most golfers miss short and putts break more as they slow down.
That’s one tip to keep in mind. Let’s look at a few more in the next section.
More Tips for Improving Reading Putting Greens
Here are some tips to keep in mind when you go to improve your green reading skills.
- Putts are more affected by slopes when moving slow and less affected when moving fast.
- Putts break more on faster greens and when going downhill because you must hit them slower. They break less on slow greens and when going uphill because you must hit them harder.
- Putts break less at the beginning of a putt because that’s when they’re rolling the fastest. They break more near the end of the line when they’re slowing down.
- Sidehill putts tend to sling the ball left or right more than the golfer expects because the speed is much slower than they expected.
- Many golfers say you should read the putt from the low side. Think about it like holding a magazine. If you tilt it so that the bottom is the highest point, you won’t be able to read the top. However, if you tilt the magazine so that the top is the highest point (and the bottom, which is nearest your face, is at the lowest point), you can see everything on the magazine. The same applies to reading the greens.
- Imagine dumping water on the green. Where would the water run off to? That’s the way the ball will roll.
- Try to read the green as you walk to the hole. It’s much easier to see all the hills and bumps from 20 yards out.
- Start your read from behind the cup. That way you can see how the ball might break right before the cup, which is when it’ll be rolling its slowest and breaking the most.
- Remember the local rules. Many golf courses have rules about where the low side is, such as towards a landmark, away from the highest mountain peak, or towards a creek. If you don’t know, ask someone who works at the golf course.
- Dave Pelz says that most golfers underread their putts. He has suggested to students that they triple the break they see.
Those are all the tips I could dig up. They’re not guaranteed to make you an expert at reading greens, but if you keep them in mind as you practice, I do believe you’ll improve at reading breaks.
And if you still can’t figure it out, this might be one of those situations where it makes more sense to hire a coach for a session or two.
There you have it. Those are some drills, tips, and stats you can use to improve your putting in the areas that matter the most – aiming your putts, distance control, and reading the breaks on the putting greens.
But that’s not all. Here are two more tips to keep in mind.
- Have a goal when you practice your putting. Don’t just mindlessly hit balls into a cup. Make sure you have an objective. Ask yourself, what am I trying to improve?
- Keep track of your practices. For example, do the Gate Drill and keep track of how many putts you make in a row. Try to do better the next time you practice. This will add a little stress, mimicking what you’ll feel on the course. It’ll feel more like a game too, which will make practice more fun. And the more fun your practice is, the more you’ll do it.
The bottom line – if you have a plan, practice the drills above deliberately, and track your progress, I think it’ll be tough for you to not improve your putting and shave strokes off your game.
Give it a shot, and let me know how it’s going in the comment section.