Kiss Three-Putts Goodbye

How to Learn Distance Control in Putting

October 27, 2004

“There is no point in taking a putting lesson,” I have heard people say. “It is an individual thing,” they say. While I agree that there are many different styles of putting that get results, there are also some underlying principles that help most people get better on the greens. And putting is such a crucial part of scoring in golf that it is better not left to random experimentation.

To start a putting lesson, I often give the golfer a “warm up” putt. I will set him up 25 feet from the hole and drop nine balls on the green, having him stroke each one.

It is not really a “warm up”, though, it is a test pattern. After he has putted all nine balls, we analyze the results, and usually there is a long, hourglass shape to the pattern the balls make on the green. We look at the directional control—this ball missed the furthest to the right, this one furthest to the lquote-3putts-aeft, and typically there will be about three feet of spread from side to side. Then we look at the distance control—this ball went seven feet past the hole, and this one came up five feet short, so there is a twelve-foot spread to the pattern from front to back.

What this tells us — and it is practically universal — is that the golfer is three times better at controlling the direction of the putt as he is at controlling the distance. Despite this, it is the direction that most golfers worry about, saying things like, “I’m not playing the break right”, or, “I have a hard time getting lined up.”

To make a point, I have the golfer imagine that these nine balls in the hourglass pattern represent the first putt he takes on the first nine holes. The balls that came up short, and the ones that were hammered way past the hole will likely lead to the wasteful and frustrating three-putt. With most golfers, something like four balls in the test pattern will be three-putted, the others will be dropped in two, and none of the balls go in after the first stroke.

Then I will pretend that every one of the original balls in the test had just the right amount of pace to reach the center of the hole, and move them accordingly. Even if they miss the hole side-to-side, they will all line up, like there was a finish line going across the hole. There is still a 3-foot spread sideways to the pattern (maybe one ball two feet to the right, and one ball a foot to the left, with all the others spread out between those two), but the balls with “perfect speed” are now all near the hole. And one ball that was straight but short in the test pattern now falls in.

What this means is that, having perfect pace on his putts would save the golfer 5 shots when compared to his normal pattern, and that is just on the front nine. No three-putts, and he makes a long putt; instead of having 4 three-putts and no long bombs.

I use this test pattern to make a point a point about practice habits, and about the mental approach to putting. Golfers tend to focus primarily on identifying every little bend and break in the putt, and picking a point between them and the hole to putt across—in other words, they are thinking about the direction. This is true despite the fact that this is the part of the putting game at which they already do pretty well; three times better than their distance control according to the test putt.

quote-3putts-bMost golfers would lower their scoring average if they focused more on controlling the distance of their putts. A few practice strokes trying to “feel” the putt, trying to groove the proper length and rhythm of the swing, might be in order. Instead of approaching the putt as one-dimensional, use the imagination to anticipate the line and the speed. See the shape of the putt, and the point on the hole where the ball will fall in. Golfers who putt well tend to have this multi-dimensional, sort of “holistic” way of visualizing and “feeling” each putt.

And a change in the practice habits might be good as well. Most of us walk around the practice green and stroke putts just like we do on the course, focusing mainly on the direction. I try to encourage a different approach. It’s called the “kiss drill”.

Instead of putting to the holes, putt to a line or a specific distance with multiple repetitions. For example, I might have a golfer set up 15 feet from the fringe with at least nine balls. The goal is to have each ball roll up and “kiss” the fringe; not roll too far, or come up short. After each putt, the golfer slightly adjusts the length of his putting stroke until he learns to “feel” that particular distance. We putt some uphill, some down, some long, some short. Sometimes it helps to make it a game—one point for any ball that finishes on the fringe, three points for any ball that “kisses” the fringe line, and zero points for a ball short of the fringe.

This kind of practice lets the brain accumulate data. Over time, the test pattern for someone who practices like this will lose the long, hourglass shape, and become more compact and circular around the target. This means fewer three-putts and more one-putts, which means lower golf scores.

I like to remind people that scoring is the goal of golf (at least in a strict sense); and the most important part of scoring is the short game; and the most important part of the short game is putting; and distance control is the most important part of putting; so, in a way, distance control around the greens is the most important thing for scoring in golf.

So remember to focus at least as much on the distance of the putt as the direction, and consider a little “kissing” on the practice green for lower scores.

Website Comments