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Putting's Most Essential Skill

Updated: May 6, 2021

In last week's post, I introduced the three essential skills to being a great putter. These skills are:

  1. Speed control (hitting the putt with the desired force)

  2. Green reading (correctly assessing the slope and speed of the green, and to a lesser extent wind and grain direction)

  3. Directional control (hitting the desired start line)

All three skills are needed, but speed control is without a doubt the most important of the three. Here's why.


Speed Control: Putting’s most important skill

Great speed control can hide a lot of flaws. Two-putting frequently isn’t a skill which gets a lot of attention on social media (I've yet to see the YouTube compilation of "Brian Gay's 10 SICKEST two-putts!!"), but you should learn to love two-putting.


Two-putting is underrated! From 35 feet, PGA Tour players are more likely to 3-putt than 1-putt. This means that every time you 2-putt from 35 feet or longer you are picking up strokes on the world’s best players. As players' handicaps go up, the distance where the player is more likely to 3-putt than 1-putt gets shorter and shorter. For example, mid-handicap golfers (15-19 handicap) are more likely to 3-putt than 1-putt from just 16 feet! (From Peter Saunders of Shot-by-Shot)


Another bonus to having great speed control is that if your putts are going at the appropriate speed around the hole, some of them are bound to drop in! A putt that has good direction but is going too fast will either lip out, go straight over the hole, or bang off the flagstick. Like a hockey team trying to “get pucks on net” in the hopes that eventually a shot will go in, if you hit enough putts at an appropriate speed, some will fall into the cup.

The takeaway is clear: no matter what your handicap is, you should strive to rack up two-putts proudly and shamelessly and then celebrate your one-putts as a happy bonus.


Assessing speed control:

To assess if speed control is an important priority for you, try these two tests from Dave Pelz. You will need to hit 20 putts total (10 for each test). Average the result of your "In-Between Putts" handicap and your "Lag Putts" handicap. If this average is above your actual handicap, you should prioritize improving this skill.






Practicing:

Whether your speed control is poor and in need of improvement or this skill is sharp and you want to maintain it, it is essential to work on speed control in your practice. There are numerous drills to work on speed control, but my favourite is Leapfrog.


To play, set up a tee at both 10' from your starting point as well as 20' from starting point. The first putt must go past the 10' marker, then each putt must go progressively further. The game ends when you either leave a putt short of your previous putt, or hit past the 20' mark. Click here for a video (albeit at a shorter distance).

(screenshot from Golf Digest)


A bonus to performing a drill like Leapfrog is that during this focused practice the golfer will be engaged and watching closely how the ball rolls on the green. This will help with the second essential skill of putting, green reading, which will be the subject of next week's post.

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