Your putting speed and distance control are vital to being a great putter.
As the short game guru, Dave Pelz said, “The best putters have three things in common: good green reading, starting lines and speed control.”
If you can control your speed more effectively on the greens, you will get the ball closer to the hole. This means less three putts and much better scores.
While we already covered green reading in a separate article, this is all about getting the right speed for your putts. Because even if you read the green correctly, without the right speed, your chances of making it goes down significantly.
Keep reading to learn how to pick your speed strategy and some of the most effective drills to help you become a master at speed on the greens.
When it comes to the right putting speed, you have two basic approaches. You can die it in or choose the Tiger Woods method and hit it firm. There are pros and cons to both depending on the speed of the greens (see our article on the Stimpmeter), types of putt you have, and the slope of the greens.
How beautiful is it when you see a putting roll into the front edge of the cup on a left to right swinger or a downhill sidewinder? It looks great and usually makes you feel like a PGA Tour pro when you pull it off. I like to think of this as the trickle approach.
The trickle in approach not only looks great but it makes the hole a lot bigger. Why? Because as a putt is dying in it can enter the hole from all sides. You might get a putt to fall in the front, sides, and usually have fewer lip-outs.
The opposite is when you hit a putt firm you’re going to get a lot more burnt edges, lip-outs, and long come back putts. Seeing that on a consistent basis can be frustrating and hard to score low on a regular basis.
The trickle approach is basically pairing the perfect speed with the perfect read. Each read of the greens is dependent on speed. With the trickle approach, you need to add a little bit more break to your read because the putt is coming in slow. As the putt slows down as it gets closer the hole, it’s going to break more than one that has some steam behind it.
If you’re using this approach, it’s great for downhill putts, left to right putts (as a right-handed player). While this approach makes the hole bigger, it also means you’re going to leave some short. And as you know, a putt left short of the cup has a 0% chance of going in!
That’s why I recommend a combination of this approach with the next one to have the least amount of putts per round.
One last thing on the trickle approach, if you decide to use this method make sure you check out our article on putting topspin on your putts.
If you watch Tiger in his heyday, he was jarring putts from 3-6 feet with his eyes closed. He rarely missed and if he did, they were never short. Instead of dying them in, he tried to eliminate the break and make most of his short putts as straight as possible.
Hitting it firm is a great approach if you’re confident on the greens because when you do miss, you’re going to have a lot of three and four footers on the way back. Because as I mentioned in the previous section, hitting it firm makes the hole smaller.
Playing a firm putting speed is good for slow greens and uphill putts. This way you’re always getting it to the hole and giving it a chance to go in.
As you can tell, there are pros and cons to both. To keep it simple, in general, I always recommend incorporating your speed into your green reading routine.
As you stand behind your ball reading the break, ask yourself, “What is the best speed for this putt?” If it’s uphill, breaking left to right or slow greens, go on the former side. If it’s downhill, breaking left to right, and slow greens, go for the trickle approach.
Remember, the harder you hit the putt, the less break you need to play!
While I gave you some general rules for the perfect putting speed, the length of your putt also can determine the right speed needed. Don’t forget, putting is all about proximity to the hole.
Statistically, when you get outside of 10 feet, your chances of making putts dramatically falls, even if you are a PGA Tour pro. This is exactly why focusing on your speed from these distances is crucial. Most golfers simply don’t pay attention to this needed skill, and it can cost you multiple shots per round.
Putts under 10 feet you’re trying to make. But if you leave it short, you’re never going to give it a chance. With these shorter putts, I recommend giving them a chance. Especially if you’re putting for birdie or eagle!
Unless it’s extremely fast or has a steep decline, always make sure you’re getting it to the hole. The ideal miss is 18” by the hole. This means you give it a proper roll and don’t have to worry about the tap in coming back.
Check out some of the best putting drills to learn more.
The mid-length putts get a little trickier and will depend more on the specific situation. In general, the goal for these putts is to get it down in two. While you’re more likely to make the 10-15 footers, much longer and your odds decrease significantly.
To help you find the perfect speed on mid-length putts, give this drill a shot. It’s used by a lot of Web.com and PGA Tour players to help them dial in speed on the new greens they play each week.
- Lay an alignment rod down 18” behind the hole.
- Using 10 balls, find a putt of 25-30 feet. Repeat this three times for a total of 30 putts using the scoring system below.
- Try to putt each ball at least enough to the hole but short enough to stay short of the alignment rod.
Here’s how scoring works:
- Hole the putt = 2 points
- Past the hole but short of the alignment rod = 1 point
- Past the alignment rod = -1 points
- Less than two feet short = 0 points
- More than two feet short = -1 point
- Try to score 20 points or more per 30 putts. As you get better, adjust the score or change the difficulty of the putt.
The long putts of over 30 feet you have one goal and one goal only, get it down in two putts! Distance control more important than reading the green correctly on long putts.
If you judge the speed right, you will almost always have an easier second putt. A slight miss on speed and you have 10-12 feet coming back. Having these length putts lead to a lot of three putts and much higher score.
With long-range putts, you want the putter head to accelerate through the ball, so think long and smooth. While the goal is to two-putt, never try to “lag it up.”
Instead, pick a line, target, and commit to the putt. Sure, you want to make every putt but don’t think about getting inside a three-foot circle. That leads to sloppy contact and not committing to a target which leaves you more 4-6 footers.
Instead, try to pick the smallest target and commit to the saying, “Aim small, miss small.” Ultimately you will give yourself more chances for one to drop and an easier second putt.
Here’s my favorite drill to help you nail the speed on long putts:
- On a large putting green, stick three tees into the ground, at 30, 40 and 50 feet out from the hole. Pick a putt with a small amount of break in the beginning.
- Using 10 balls, try to roll three putts in a row from each tee into an imaginary three-foot circle around the hole. If you want, you can also make a three foot circle around the cup with tees to make it easier on your eyes.
- Start by putting three balls at 40 feet, then three balls at 30 feet, then the final three balls at 50 feet. Putt the last ball at 40 feet. If you get 8/10 in the circle, try to find a putt with more break or repeat. Less than eight, restart the drill!
Improving your speed control on the greens is crucial if you want to make more putts and reduce the amount of three jacks. The only way to do it is to practice the long putts with the Phil drill and commit to adding your speed into your green reading.
To help you with your speed in competitive situations or friendly wagers with friends, make sure to spend more time challenging yourself on the practice greens. Don’t putt without a purpose. Practice to make you better so you can make it on the course when it really matters. If you are using an indoor putting mat, make sure to mix up your target and distance.
Also, sometimes you just need to change the feel of your putter. Maybe experiment with a jumbo putter grip.
Finally, keep in mind that speed control is only part of being a good putter. You must also learn the putting stroke, how to read greens, and how to aim the putter before you start dropping birdie putts against your buddies!