A putt has two concerns:
If you can get the ball rolling in the right direction with the right speed, it will go in. Just that simple!
Speed and direction are interrelated. The slower a ball rolls the more it will break and vice versa.
Therefore, there are many combinations that can get the ball into the hole. Fortunately, there is an
optimal speed for every putt. According to Dave Pelz, the ball has the best chance of falling into
the hole if it’s putt at the speed that will roll pass the hole by 17 inches (when missed). With that,
every putt has an optimal direction too. It is what will enable the ball to cross the center of the cup
with the optimal speed.
Simplified Putting: Separation of Concerns
Since the optimal direction can be determined prior to hitting the ball, if we get it out of the way, we
will eliminate that concern during the execution phase of the stroke. (Remember UST 3:
Spreading the concerns of the swing elements across time makes the swing simpler to execute.)
Putting Made Simple
To do that, get a ball with a line on it (see picture). Point the line
to where you want the ball to start rolling. I.e. the optimal
direction. After that, simply square your putter to the line and
focus only on speed when you swing. You don’t have to look at
the hole once you address the ball. There are some good
reasons that would suggest that you don’t even want to look at
Practice for Direction
There is no shortcut here. The more you practice and play, the better your green reading ability.
One trick that can increase your efficiency of learning is to get into the habit of observing other
people’s putts during play. Instead of reading just your putts, you get to read many more putts.
Master the Speed
To roll the ball with the right speed, you need to:
Here, again, we take advantage of UST 3 and separate the two concerns.
- Calculate the correct speed
- Putt with the force needed to create that speed
Calculating the required speed
There are a lot of factors to be considered. Some (e.g. grain, surface conditions like wet or dry)
can only be honed by spending enough time on the course. Others, like distance and slope, can
be more systematically tackled. It just so happens that they also have the greatest impact on
determining the speed so we will focus on them here.
First we need to know the raw distance between the ball and the hole. I recommend pacing it.
Some people eyeball it and come up with a number in feet or yards. It’s more accurate to walk
from the ball to the hole and record the exact number of steps you take. There are some
additional benefits of pacing. Your feet will be feeling and reading the slope and conditions of the
green along the way. You will also get to observe the path of the putt carefully so any
abnormalities can be fixed or adjusted for. There is no need to convert the number of steps to feet
or yards. You will see why.
Once we have the number of steps, we apply a slope factor to it. The number is increased for
uphill and decreased for downhill putts. How much depends on the severity of the slope. Spend
some time on the practice green and putt uphill, downhill and flat with the same force. By
comparing the results, you can develop a good sense for the slope factor. Note that elements like
the grain most likely do not change the slope factor. E.g. if a 10 feet uphill putt against the grain
requires the force to be increased by 10%, you will still need to increase the force by 10% even it’s
now with the grain.
For side hill putts, especially on a severe slope, care needs to be taken to calculate the speed
right. For example, the picture below shows a right to left breaking putt.
direction (blue arrow). More force is needed for the ball to go the length of the yellow arrow. The
total force combined is illustrated by the red line. The speed needed for the putt, then, is the
speed that would roll a ball the length of the red line on a flat green.
Practice Alignment and Speed
Once you know how to read the direction and speed, the rest is practice so you can execute the
putt accordingly every time.
For alignment, it’s actually better to practice indoors on a short and even carpet. This takes the
slope and surface irregularities of a natural green out of the picture. Pick a small target 3-5 paces
away from you. Take a ball and point its line directly at the target and putt away. You will find that
your ability to aim the line and align your stroke to hit the target improve quickly with just a few
practice sessions. One helpful tip is that when you line up the ball, it might be easier to use one
eye and close the other (similar to aiming a rifle).
For speed, pick a flat area of the green and a spot (e.g. a leaf, a dark patch) on it. Lay a ball 2
paces away from the line, another one 4 paces away, the third one 6 paces away, and so on up
to whatever distance you would like to practice. Then putt the balls so that they all go pass the
spot by 17 inches. The reason we wanted a spot instead of a practice hole is so that we can
observe how far each ball roll pass the spot even if they go through the center.
I recommend using the length of your backswing to control the speed. When you work on speed,
take notice of how far you take the putter head back for each distance. After some practice, you
will be able to reliably roll the ball to the distance you want.
Don’t forget to practice long putts. For each practice session, you’d want to roll some balls that
are 15, 20, and 25 paces away.
Feel the weight of the club head for accuracy and consistency
There are many helpful advices on putting. E.g. relax, don’t grip the club too tight, and swing the
putting in a good and consistent rhythm. Feeling the weight of the putter head throughout the
swing appears to help all of the above happen, which improves accuracy and consistency. It also
qualifies as a mega swing thought since it reduces the number of concerns from 3 to 1. And it’s
great per UST 2 (The fewer the concerns of a swing, the simpler it gets.)
Calibrate Speed for different Greens
If you play on different courses (e.g. on a golfing trip), the above speed system also can help you
adapt to a new course quickly. All you need is a ‘reference putt’ that consistently goes the same
distance on your home course. E.g. I know my ball will roll 8 paces on my home course
(measured 8 on the Stimpmeter) if I pull the putter head back exactly to my right toe. That’s my
‘reference putt’. When I go to a new course, I make a few reference putts and measure the
average distance. The ratio between that and 8 paces will be what I use to adjust for that course
on all putts. E.g. if my reference putts only goes 4 paces, I know the green is twice as slow as my
home course. Instead of adjusting my putting mechanics, I do the math after I paced the distance
and just putt it as though I am going for the adjusted distance. E.g. If I paced 6 steps on the
above mentioned slow green, I’d putt it with my 12-pace stroke.
We, again, take advantage of UST 3 (Spreading the concerns of the swing elements across time
makes the swing simpler to execute.) All the math and adjustments are done prior to the stroke.
By the time you step up to the ball, you are making the same stroke that you’ve done many many
times before. The course may be brand new, but the stroke is very familiar. Also note that it might
be best not to use a routine that looks at the hole one or more times after you address the ball. It
only serves to confuse you since your eyes will be telling you a different speed than you really
Some argues that pros on TV don’t play this way. It’s absolutely true. However, the touring pros
are not on a golfing trip that requires adjusting to a different green speed every day. The tours
have also kept their greens relatively consistent (i.e. fast). On top of that, the pros have plenty of
time to calibrate their feel for the new green during the practice rounds (that last for multiple
days). So unless you are super adaptive with your feel, you might still want to give this method a
Simplified is actually better
According to Pelz’s study, most golfers under-read the amount of break and then subconsciously
compensate each putt by a different amount. This explains why they have a hard time developing
consistency since every stroke they hit is different.
The simplified method described above forces you to read the true break since you will be rolling
the ball where the line points to. If you misread, you will miss. It also enables/requires you to use
a consistent stroke with NO compensation. The more you putt, the more you are burning in the
Not glancing at the hole after addressing the ball can help suppress the common urge to peek
right after impact (which can cause all kinds of trouble). It also reduces distractions that can bring
your subconscious to insert doubts in your mind and compensations into your swing. For many
right-handed golfers, the left to right breaking putt is the most difficult ones. Many teachers
advocate various compensations like adding side spin, moving the ball forward in your stance, or
hitting it more toward the heel of the clubface. They introduce a new and unfamiliar stroke every
time. Not only do they make things complicated and hard, they also make your subconscious
nervous. With the simplified method, it doesn’t matter whether it’s left to right or right to left since
we are not looking at the hole. Every putt is a straight putt and we use the same familiar stroke.
There are no compensations, no anxiety, only more made putts.
All in all, the simplified putting method should help the average amateurs make more putts. Try it
for a couple of weeks and see it for yourself.