The art and skill of controlling your distance when you putt will help lower your scores and avoid wasting shots. If you can successfully roll your first putt close, it takes so much pressure off of your next putt. Watch the pros putt and you’ll rarely see them leave themselves a long second putt.
When Jordan Spieth was at the height of his putting powers, his distance control was so good that the ball was almost always slowing up when it approached the hole, making it so much easier for it to tumble into the sides of the cup. Sound putting technique and truly understanding how to control distance can lead to much less stress and more two-putts or better. Here’s how to get better at both.
1. Putter face
Where your putter face aims at impact determines the starting direction of the ball, so be mindful to aim your putter face at your target as you start your setup. As you set the club behind the ball, do so with great care and intent so that your ball starts on your intended line.
2. Good alignments
Your body alignments are important when putting — and throughout your game for that matter — as they determine your stroke path. Your shoulder and forearms should be relatively parallel to your intended putting line. This begins with good posture and with a neutral putter position that is centered to slightly forward. If your ball position is too forward, your body alignments will tend to get too open, causing pulls and cuts. If your ball position is too far back, your shoulders will tend to get closed, causing pushes and hooks.
3. Steady and stable
The putting stroke should be steady and stable. You want to minimize moving parts so that there is only one variable to control distance. When you watch good putters, their bodies tend to be still throughout the motion. Golfers who struggle to control distance and direction often have too many moving parts that will show up in looking like their head or their knees are moving. There are so many recreational players who move their bodies too much when putting and don’t realize it. In my lessons, this is where a simple video tells the story. Arnold Palmer turned in his toes when he putted and this helped keep his body still.
4. Stroke then look
To help you stay steady, complete your stoke, hold your finish and then turn your head and eyes toward the hole. If your putter is moving, your head and eyes should not be — or at least not until shortly after you make contact with the ball. Remaining patient and waiting to see results will lead to better alignments at impact as well as improving direction and center putter face contact.
5. Backstroke controls distance
The length of your backstroke should control the distance your ball rolls. You can try other methods, but from what I have seen, this is the only one that works under pressure and reliably. Shorter strokes swing more slowly and deliver less power at impact; longer strokes produce more speed at impact, which is what makes your ball roll more. One of my favorite drills to help improve this skill is to set balls at three-foot increments from the hole; start with the shortest distance and work your way back. Each stroke should get slightly longer as you move farther away and need to cover more distance. Vary this with uphill, downhill and sidehill putts to help develop your feel and instinct.
6. Grip pressure and rhythm
Applying a consistent grip pressure will improve your rhythm and the consistency of your stroke length. You may be a golfer who holds your putter more firm or more relaxed. That is up to you. Whatever it is, though, it should not change.
This was GOLF.com’s most-read putting tip of 2022. It featured … a tee in a hole
7. Reading the green — the big picture
In most cases, on longer putts being able to control your distance is the priority over the perfect read. But you will need at least a reasonable read so you don’t miss the general break. You can get a good sense of how the ball will turn by going big picture and comparing the tilt of the green and each side of the line. If you identify the higher side and the predominant tilt of the area of your putt and estimate its severity, that may be all the information you need relative to the line so you can focus on the speed.
8. A putter that fits
Having a putter that fits you well and allows you to get into good posture is important when it comes to being able to control distance. When your putter is the right length — and not too long like so many golfers I see — it allows you to get your eyes over the ball and your arms to hang in a position where your natural shoulder path will help to roll the ball on target. I had the privilege to be fit for my Ping PLD putter by Alex Webb at Ping headquarters in Arizona. Having a putter that fits perfectly — and in which I have full confidence — makes getting that first putt closer so much easier.
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Ping PLD putters
9. Warm up properly
You want to prepare yourself before your round to get a feel for the speed of the greens. Start with a few mid-length putts that are relatively flat or slightly uphill. This will give you an opportunity to warm up your stroke but also get an initial feel for the speed of the greens that day. Once you have success with distance on this starting putt, start to move around the green rolling longer putts. Your only goal is to control distance and have your ball slowing down around the hole. Vary the putts both uphill and downhill. Once you are feeling confident, you are ready for the course.
10. Track your stats and practice appropriately
Tracking your putting stats will tell you what you need to practice. One of the largest differences between professional and recreational golfers is three-putt avoidance. If you can eliminate three-putts by controlling your distance, you can quickly lower your handicap and score. This is also a part of the game that does not require speed or strength — with good technique, understanding and practice techniques, you can be great at rolling your first putt close enough to comfortably just tap it in.
Controlling distance on your first putt is key to two-putting and lowering your scores. This is one of those skills that just doesn’t happen overnight because you decide you are going to be good at it. You have to put in the time to practice and do the drills that will help you to adjust your stroke length to be a great putter. Focused practice time will pay off, and once you are a great putter, this skill will also take pressure off the rest of your game.