You’ve heard the saying “Drive for show and putt for dough.” Putting is the most important part of golf, or is it?
Putting accounts for anywhere from 30% to almost 50% of a golfers score so it must be important. According to Mark Broadie in his book Every Shot Counts, PGA Tour players average 29 putts per round with an average score of 71 so putts represent 40% of a tour player’s score. On average 9 of the 29 putts occur within 2 ½ feet (where they rarely miss), so putts outside of 2 ½ feet represent 30% of their strokes. Putts make up 30% of a high-handicap golfer’s shots and only about 20% if you exclude putts inside 2 ½ feet.
So yes, putting is important but it is just part of the picture. According to Mark Broadie, “85% of the difference in scores between 80- and 100-golfers comes from skill differences in off-green shots.” Working to improve your full swing will help you to eliminate penalty strokes, keep the ball in play more often and hit more greens which will ultimately lower your score but putting is still a piece of the puzzle and for the higher handicap golfer, can be a quicker way to reduce scores.
In 2014, on the PGA Tour, Freddie Jacobson played 1,638 holes and only had 27 3-putts. This is less than two percent of the time or one 3-putt every 60 holes. Meanwhile, many average golfers average three, four or even more 3-putts per round. Dave Pelz, in an article on Golf.com said that high handicapped golfers 3-putt 20% of the holes that they play. This is a lot of wasted strokes.
There are two parts to every putt, distance and direction, and of those two, distance is much more important. But golfers often get too focused on the line and forget about the speed.
The 50-50 distance for tour players is somewhere around 8 feet. Unless you are 8 feet or closer to the hole, your focus should be on hitting the ball the right distance.
Another reason that distance is important is that the speed that your ball is traveling will have an effect on the line. The faster the ball is traveling, the less it will break. If you read a putt correctly but hit it too hard, it won’t break as much and you may put yourself in danger of 3-putting.
Every time that you go to the course, spend at least five minutes on the putting greens hitting distance putts. Hit putts from 20, 30, 40 and 50 feet. Hit uphill, downhill and sidehill putts. Additionally, use two golf balls. Hit the first putt and watch the ball until it stops, then hit the second putt and again watch until it stops. Watching the ball provides you with valuable feedback. If you leave the first one short, don’t think about hitting the next putt harder. Simply focus on the target and hit the putt again. Thinking about how hard to hit a putt is a recipe for 3-putting.
Let it become instinctual, just as if you were playing catch with a baseball. Use your eyes to judge the distance, then hit the putt and trust yourself.
If you average more than one 3-putt per round, spend time working on your distance control to eliminate 3-putts from your game.