The hope with putting is that more practice putts will means less actual putts on the course. There’s no easier way to make this happen than reducing the number of three-putts.
Putt number one is where the three-putt issue needs to be addressed. Everyone is going to miss their share of knee knocking six-footers. The goal is to get that first putt close enough to make the second one stress free. While choosing a proper line is important, the more successful solution is hitting that first putt the correct distance.
Oak Hill Country Club assistant pro Tyler Smith sees too many players trying to control speed with a burst forward to hit the ball. The idea is that more or less force on the follow through will lead to more or less distance on a putt.
“That sometimes leads to inconsistencies with speed,” Smith says. “Rather than the force that you’re putting into the golf ball or putting into the putter, the length of stroke on the way back and the way through should be the biggest contributor to your speed.”
Smith’s first lesson to most students: make that backswing longer. The backswing and follow through should also always be the same length.
“We want both sides (of the swing) to be the same,” Smith says. “That way, (players) don’t have to hit the gas on the way through.”
The speed of the swing should remain constant. Instead of a short backswing and an aggressive follow through, Smith wants a little longer backswing. From there, a player can almost let the putter fall back to and through the ball.
A good way to test your stroke is to put a tee in the ground equal distances in front of and behind the ball. If your putter reaches both tees, you are doing it right.
On the course, longer putts require a longer backswing. It’ll take some time to properly gauge how far back to take the putter on a 20-footer versus a 40-footer. Everyone is a bit different there.
Smith’s favorite method for honing speed control is the box drill (also called the leapfrog drill).
Place four tees on a practice green in a large box. The front two tees can be approximately 15-20 feet from the ball with the back two tees about 10 feet further. You can vary how far away the box is, but it should always be about the same size.
The goal is to hit as many putts as possible inside the box, but each putt has to be a bit longer than the last. Ideally, the first putt just barely crosses the threshold into the box and each successive putt stops inches past the previous one.
“It really helps with your ability to control speed and what stroke length produces what distance of putt,” Smith says.
While advances in technology might be the answer to driver, wedge or iron issues, Smith doesn’t advise spending a boatload of money on the newest putter to shave strokes. Instead, the right putter must pass the eye test. Not as it sits on a shelf, but as it sits next to your ball.
“A lot of it is personal preference. When you’re setting up for a putt, you want to make sure you are looking down at a putter that you like the design, the look. It makes you feel good over the ball,” Smith says. “I think that is the biggest contributor to success.”
That doesn’t mean putter tech is worthless. Some will offer a more stable face which can especially help players with longer putts.
The better plan to decrease your putts is to increase your backswing. And then keep swinging.
“Being able to practice your speed control is going to be your fastest way of turning 3-putts into two.”