The one golf shot everyone can make, and make successfully, is, of course, the putt. As the putter never rises very far from the ground, all a golfer needs to do is make a small movement back and a small movement through, and plonk, the ball is in the hole!
Perhaps that is why golfers, from rank beginners to the best of the professionals, feel and look very, very disappointed when they miss the hole by a thread. One case in point is Jordan Spieth, who looks disappointed whenever he misses any putt at all, even a long, sidehill, downhill putt.
While putts-missed frustration is based on golfers’ expectations, the reality of what they should expect is quite different. What, really, are the odds of making a putt?
According to research by Mark Broadie, a professor at Columbia University who is responsible for the ‘strokes gained” concept, on average PGA TOUR pros make 99% of 2-foot putts, 96% of 3-foot putts, 88% of 4-foot putts and 77% of 5-foot putts.
From 10 feet, the pros’ one-putt percentage is 40%, 23% from 15 feet, 15% from 20 feet, 7% from 30 feet, 4% from 40 feet, 3% from 50 feet and 2% from 60 feet. Also, according to Broadie, putting from inside 10 feet is very different than putting from 10 feet. The PGA TOUR average is 88% inside 10 feet, and just 40% from 10 feet. Only in one of 10 rounds do tour pros hole 100 percent of their putts from inside 10 feet.
And most recently, in 2021/22, Tour pros made an average 99% of putts that were 3ft or less. The number dropped slightly for 4ft putts, to 92%, while 81% of 5ft putts were successful, and 70% of 6ft putts were holed. That falls to around 61% of 7ft putts, 54% of 8ft putts and 45% from 9 feet.
So what should an average golfer do to improve their odds of holing more putts? The main difference comes from more practice. Good practice, naturally. Golfers should not just practice short putts but long putts, too – those that are often referred to as “lag” putts. In general, to improve putting, it is easier and makes more sense to reduce the number of three putts than to increase the number of single putts.
The three aspects to good putting are – a good and repeating stroke, good distance control and good direction judgment or green-reading skills.
Information abounds about how to read greens, from plumb-bobbing (which Dave Pelz of Putting Bible says does not work) to using AimPoint concepts to understand slope on a putt.
With respect to the stroke itself, the main requirements are for putter-ball contact to be centered, with a square face, no deceleration through impact and a slight rise angle (club face moving upwards by about 2° or so). This is something that a golfer must work to improve, and there are two camps with regard to the best stroke to deliver consistent results – an in-to-out-to-in stroke or a straight back and through one. Ideally, golfers should experiment with a couple of styles (as recommended by famous putting gurus like Dave Pelz, Geoff Magnum and Craig Farnsworth).
The concept of speed or distance control is perhaps the most important and yet one that can only be learned from practice, which would improve hand-eye coordination. There are many phrases that tell golfers to never leave a putt short, such as “never over never in,” but how to know how hard and how fast to hit a putt?
Literally, the only thing that can improve this most important aspect of putting is putting in the reps. And making sure the stroke is a repeating one.
One very comforting point that Dave Pelz makes is that great putters are made, not born. Of the 15 aspects or building blocks that he believes matter for the execution of good putts, he says that most golfers are usually good at many of them. The 15 aspects (building blocks) that together result in good putting, are aim, path, touch, rhythm, ritual, feel, face angle, stability, attitude, routine, putter fitting, power source, impact pattern, flow lines and green-reading.
Pelz also says that putting is both an art and a science. So, golfers, the best way to improve your putting – the one part of everyone’s game that can be on par with everyone else’s – is by … putting!