Golf Putting Tips & Putting Drills: A Practice Guide

All amateur golfers know that putting is a vital part of the game, but not all of them may appreciate just how vital it is. Would you be surprised to learn that the number of putts that are taken amounts to more than 40% of all shots taken in any round of golf? That’s right, at least four out of every ten shots you take are putts!  And that statistic happens to be true whether the golfer is a PGA Tour pro or a high handicap amateur.

No other shot type even comes close to this. For instance, driving is obviously a key part of the game, too, but, at most, you’ll only take about 14 drives in a round.  For someone who shoots a 90, that represents only about 15% of your total strokes.   

These numbers really tell the story. If you want to lower your scores, there are several areas of your game that you can work on, but none of them can impact your scorecard to the extent that improving your putting can.   

So the question then becomes, “What aspects of the putting game cost you the most strokes?” And “How do you practice your putting so you can improve?” 

That’s the purpose of this article. I want to highlight some key facts about where amateurs are losing strokes on the greens, and then we’ll give you some putting tips and putting drills that you can work on to get better.

By implementing putting drills into your practice routine, you will absolutely see a reduction in 3-putts and improve your golf game.

A Key Tip For High Handicappers: Reduce 3-Putts

If you look at key putting statistics, particularly the ones that highlight what differentiates low handicappers from high handicappers, one in particular jumps right out at you. High handicappers have many more 3-putts during an average round than their low handicap counterparts.

Not only do these 3-putts take a toll on your disposition and your confidence — getting on the green in regulation only to walk away frustrated after making a bogey — but they obviously take a toll on your scorecard as well.  

If we take a look at the data on this, you can see how the number of 3-putts per round steadily increases as the golfer’s handicap index increases:

3 putts per round by handicap
Source: ShotScope

As you can see, scratch golfers 3-putt only about 7.8% of the time or about 1.4 times per round on average. But at the other end of the spectrum, 20-handicappers 3-putt almost 20% of the time, and 25+ handicappers 24.5% of the time!

So it’s pretty clear that 3-putts are a significant source of wasted strokes for high handicappers and that improvement in this area is needed to reduce your scores and lower your index.

The Anatomy of a 3-Putt

The cause of a 3-putt can be traced to either of two separate areas, and many times to both on the same green: first, an inability to get close enough to the hole on long-distance lag putting and, second, an inability to convert the ensuing short putt consistently.  

If you often leave your 30+ foot putts 6-10 feet from the hole, it’s clear that you’ll struggle to routinely sink the next one. Result: a 3-putt. Or, if you can successfully lag a long putt to within a few feet of the hole but then miss the remaining one, you’ll again register another 3-putt.  Either way, it’s a wasted stroke added to your score.

So, the solution to reducing the number of 3-putts is a two-part equation –- better long distance putting complemented by better short distance putting.  

Let’s take a closer look at each of these two areas and discuss how you can improve on each one.

1. Long Distance (or Lag) Putting

Why is Long Distance Lag Putting So Important?

Long-distance putting is so important because of the rapidly decreasing odds of high handicappers making putts the farther they are from the hole. For example, from 3 feet away, even high handicappers make a high percentage of their putts (over 80%). Moving just two feet farther away, the probability of a make from 5 feet drops all the way down to 50%. And after that, the likelihood of making putts declines precipitously. 

Here’s an illustration that shows the “make” probabilities from various distances by a player who shoots around 90, and for comparison purposes, how those percentages compare to PGA Tour pros: 

Make Probabilities From Varying Distances

putting make probabilities
Data Source:

That, in a nutshell, answers the question as to why long-distance putting is so important. If you’re able to lag long putts to within 3-5 feet of the hole, you have at least a 50% chance of making the next putt, but leaving long putts beyond that range makes a miss, and therefore a 3-putt, far more likely.

To avoid making a lot of 3-putts, you must get better at your long-distance lag putting so that your probability of making the following short putt goes way up. 

Lag Putting is All About Distance Control

On short putts, you should be hyper-focused on the line and having a square putter face at impact. But on long-distance putting, the focus needs to shift to the pace of the putt. In other words, lag putting is all about distance control.

More often than not, amateurs’ mistake in their long-distance putting is one of distance (i.e., leaving the putt either too short or too long) and not one of direction. Practicing so that you can dial in the feel for how much pace is needed for a particular length of putt is essential if you want to reduce the number of 3-putts you’re having.

Lag Putting Tips

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you face putts of 30+ feet:

  • Relax your grip – Keep your grip pressure light and eliminate any tension in your arms. Poor distance control can be caused by gripping the putter too tightly. Too much pressure in your hands and arms reduces your feel, and that is what is most needed to gauge the proper pace needed. 
  • Practice with your eyes on the hole – It’s important to look at the hole when you take your practice strokes rather than looking down at the ball. By looking at the hole, you are subconsciously pre-programming your brain to “get the measure” of the upcoming putt and translating that into how much pace needs to be produced. 
  • Hinge your wrists – For very long putts, it’s a good idea to have a slight hinge of the wrists on the backswing. This is obviously the opposite of what you want to do on short putts, but on very long ones, making a looser, longer, and slower swing, with a slight wrist hinge, will make it easier to judge the distance and the amount of pace needed. According to famed instructor Butch Harmon, “This gives the head of the putter time to gain momentum from the longer backswing. Allow your wrists to react to the weight of the club by hinging them a bit. This prevents you from rushing the backswing and making a short, stabby motion. The result is poor contact and a putt left short.”
  • Aim for a circle around the hole – Once you find yourself 30 or more feet from the hole, you should change your “intention” from making the putting to lagging it so that it ends up no more than 3-5 feet from the hole. It takes a lot of stress off the putt when you’re aiming at that larger 3-5 foot circle than when you’re aiming at the much smaller one that’s only 4 ¼”.

Lag Putting Drills (to Practice Distance Control)

The Leap Frog Drill 

  1. Step 1: Put a tee in the ground about 10 feet away.
  2. Step 2: Make your first putt, attempting to roll the ball just past that tee.
  3. Step 3: Then make a second putt, the aim of which is to go just past where your first putt ended up. 
  4. Step 4: Continue doing this, with each successive putt “leap frogging” the previous one. See how many you can do before the final ball reaches the far edge of the putting green. 

And you can add a little pressure to the drill if you want to make it a bit more realistic. If any putt doesn’t leap-frog the previous one, start all over from the beginning. This drill helps you get a feel for distance, by judging how much force you need to exert in your putting motion to produce a desired distance.

The 2-Putt Distance Drill 

We’ve talked a lot about the importance of reducing the number of 3-putts that you have each round, stressing that the key to doing this is to improve your lag putting so that you end up within 3-5 feet of the hole and consistently 2-putt. 

The 2-Putt Distance Drill makes you focus on speed control so that you can successfully execute a 2-putt. Here’s the drill: 

  1. Step 1:  Set up 30 feet from the hole (about 10 paces).
  2. Step 2:  Putt five balls in succession. Then proceed to where each ball ended up and attempt to putt it into the hole.
  3. Step 3:  Repeat this process 3 more times, so that you will end up making 15 consecutive 2-putts. If you 3-putt any of them, start over from the beginning. 

You will not only get better at lag putting by working on this drill, but you will also get used to experiencing some pressure as you try to avoid starting over by getting to 15 in a row. 

Once you get consistent at 2-putting from 30 feet, move back to 40 feet. 

2. Short Putting Consistency

Increase Your Conversion Rate on Short Putts

As we said, the other half of the 3-putt equation is how well you do in converting the remaining putt after your initial lag putt. We know from the statistics above that, to have any real hope of consistently converting these 2nd putts, amateurs need to lag the ball to within 3-5 feet of the hole. Once there, though, you then have to improve your ability to hole out.

The two primary issues in how well you do at making these short ones are: 1) aiming the putter face properly, and then 2) delivering the putter to the ball so that the face is square to the line you’ve aimed at.  Let’s talk about these two issues.

Aiming For Success

You’d be surprised how common it is for an amateur to struggle with getting their putter face aimed properly. And the results of aiming incorrectly are fairly predictable. In fact, Dr. Jim Suttie, co-author of The LAWs of the Golf Swing maintains that nine out of ten putting errors are the result of aiming the putter face incorrectly.

How important is it to accurately and precisely aim the putter? Well, consider this: from 5 feet away, a face angle that is open or closed to the target line a mere 2° will cause you to miss the hole! Obviously, the importance of aiming correctly can’t be overstated. 

So how can golfers make sure they are aimed correctly? A common way is to put a line on your golf ball and to then, while crouching behind the ball and looking directly down the target line, align the ball to the target making sure that this line is pointed directly where you want the ball to start.  

Square Putter Face at Impact

All the hard work you did in reading the putt for break and getting your putter face aimed correctly, will be lost if your putter face is not square to your line at the moment of truth.  

There are a multitude of possible causes of this problem and an entire article could be devoted to discussing them. But for now, you should first identify whether this is a consistent problem for you and, if it is, work on the drills we recommend below.

How can you determine if this is a problem for you? You can use the line that we had you draw on the ball to get aimed properly. With that line aimed down your target line, stroke some 5-foot putts and watch how the line you drew on the ball rotates as the putt rolls. If the line has a pure, end-over-end rotation, that is a pretty good indication that face angle is not a major issue. But if the line appears to wobble during the ball’s route to the hole, you can assume that face angle is a possible problem for you. 

Putting Drills to Practice Square Face at Impact

The Yardstick Drill 

  1. Step 1: Place a yardstick with one end at or near the edge of the cup. Place your ball at the opposite end of the yardstick. 
  2. Step 2: Stroke putts while attempting to keep the ball rolling on the yardstick the entire time. The key to this drill is to return the putter face back to square. If your putter face is slightly open when you make contact, the ball will roll off the ruler to the right. If your putter face is closed to the line at impact, the ball will roll off to the left. 
  3. Step 3: Keep practicing this drill, focusing on returning the face square to the line. When you can consistently roll the putt the entire way down the yardstick and into the hole, you will know that your club face is square at impact.

By the way, this is a drill that can be done just as effectively on the carpet at home as on the practice green at the golf course. 

Roll the Battery

Another way to determine if your putter face is square at impact is to putt using a D-sized battery instead of a golf ball. Place the battery horizontally on your floor or carpet and strike it as you would a ball. The object is to have the battery roll smoothly straight toward your target.

If both the heel and toe of your putter strike the battery simultaneously, it will roll straight and true, indicating that your putter face was square.  

If, however, the toe end of the putter hits the battery first, it will roll offline in a counterclockwise direction. This will reveal that your putter face was slightly closed, which usually causes putts to be missed to the left. Conversely, if the heel end strikes the battery first, it will roll offline in a clockwise direction. Heel-first contact would indicate a face angle that was slightly open, which usually results in missing putts to the right.

This is a very simple but effective way to develop the right feel for bringing the putter face back to the ball perfectly square. Get good at the battery drill and you’ll make a lot more putts on the course.

Wrapping it Up & Heading to the Clubhouse

It’s been shown that one of the single biggest causes of wasted strokes by high handicap amateurs is an excessive number of 3-putt greens. And to reiterate:  3-putt greens are the result of a deficiency in either the quality of your long distance lag putting or in the effectiveness of your short putting.  

To eliminate the 3-putt from your repertoire, you need to first get better at managing your distance control so that you can put your first putt within the imaginary 3-5 foot circle around the hole. This will give you a much higher probability of converting. And once you get your lag putts to consistently end up in that 3-5 foot circle, you then need to sink those short putts more often by regularly aiming your putter face properly and by having a club face that has a 0° (square) face angle at impact, or as close to that as possible.

Work on the drills I recommended and you’ll soon see a big reduction in 3-putt greens, along with a big reduction in your scores. 

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Joe Morelli

Joe's been playing golf for 25 years, starting as a junior golfer in his early teens. He loves getting out on the links with his dad and friends -- whether an early weekend foursome or his weekday, afternoon league.