If you look back to the Tiger Woods era of domination in the early 2000s, a few things stick out.
First off, he could actually put a driver in play on a regular basis. But more importantly, he just knew how to putt better than everyone else. The guy couldn’t seem to ever miss a putt.
Inside of four feet, it was basically a given he was going to make the clutch putt. And even when he needed the long ones in the biggest tournaments, he always willed them into the hole as well.
When you study Tiger Woods, it easy to see that his upbringing groomed him to become the amazing putter that he is today. In fact, his dad Earl taught him golf from the green back to the tee. He knew the importance of putting and the short game.
While you might not perform like Tiger, the same lesson goes for your game. Putting is everything. It accounts for nearly half of your shots on the course!
In this post, I want to help improve your putting skills so you can have more one than three putts and shoot your lowest scores yet.
Read this guide about putting so you can roll it like Tiger in his heyday.
How to Putt
To be a great putter, you really have to be good at several different skills. While this article will focus on the putting stroke itself, the other different skills you must master is:
- Reading Greens
- Aiming the Putter
- Lag Putts
- Controlling your Putting Speed
- The Putting Grip Encyclopedia
- Tips for Putting on Slow Greens
- How to Putt Better on Fast Greens
- The Plumb Bob Method of Reading Greens
- When should you Putt from Off the Green?
- Aimpoint Putting: What is it and Does it Work? (read this if you struggle with Green reading)
- To Forward Press or Not: Is a Forward Press right for your Putting Stroke
- Average Putts Per Round: Reality vs Myth
You can read all about those skills by following the links, but for now here is how to improve your putting stroke.
One last thing before we dive in, make sure you choose the correct putter. I can’t emphasize this enough. Different styles of putters are designed for different strokes. If you don’t match this up correctly, you are not going to make very many putts. In that same spirit, don’t overlook the putter length either. The correct style putter and the correct length putter gives you a good foundation to become a great putter.
With putting, the little things can make the biggest differences. If the putter isn’t perfectly square at impact, it can make the difference between holding it and missing it. To get the putter in the right spot at impact, it starts with your setup position.
Here are some of the basics to build a steady foundation and set yourself up for long term success.
A great putting setup starts from the ground up. Because there is so little movement in your legs and torso during the stroke, the width of your stance is more of a matter of comfort than anything else.
In general, you want your feet shoulder width apart with your feet square.
The ideal ball position should be in the front center of your stance. Go here to read our full article on ball position when putting.
The only caveat to playing a wider stance is when you have longer putts or if you’re playing in windy conditions. If that’s the case, I recommend a wider stance to get more stability and stop from swaying or moving too much.
Next up is your hands and wrists. Your hands are a huge part of the short game, especially putting. But it’s important not to over do it. One of the biggest mistakes so many amateur golfers make is getting too handsy during the stroke.
The goal is to keep your hands and wrist quiet during the stroke. It’s okay to have a tiny amount of hinge in your wrists but not too much.
The proper setup of your wrists at address is also important. If your hands are too low, you will have the toe of the putter off the ground. If your hands are too high, the heel of your putter will be off the ground. Both of these make it really hard to consistently hit solid putts.
In a perfect scenario, you want the toe of the putter slightly off the ground. This will make it easy to take the putter back straight and slightly inside on longer putts. More on the putting swing path coming up.
One of the fundamentals of putting is a good posture. If you watch a majority of the PGA guys, they putt rather upright and stand tall unlike Jack Nicklaus did in the past.
This allows your arms to hang from the shoulder sockets and look comfortable doing it. It also reduces tension as well. Not to mention, it’s easier on your lower back than being crouched over.
While you want to be slightly upright, it’s important to keep a slight flex in your knees. You should avoid putting with stiff legs, at this isn’t a normal way of standing. By locking your knees, it contracts the muscles in that area and creates unnecessary tension in the stroke. Start your putting loose and stand in an athletic position.
Ideally, you want the club shaft and your left forearm to form a straight, continuous line at address position. To do that, you want to arch your wrists downward a little at address.
This will help you eliminate an angle and help keep your arms flowing as one piece through the stroke. Also, keep your right elbow tucked into your side which can help to keep your putter steady. You can also turn your left elbow in a little to avoid rotating your forearms open on your backstroke.
If you have the right foot position at setup and posture, this makes it much easier to align your head and eyes in the right position as well. Your eyes play a crucial role in creating a consistent and reliable putting stroke. (Make sure to read our article about eye dominance in golf.)
Ideally, you want your eyes directly over the ball at address or slightly inside. This ensures you are standing the proper distance from the ball and have enough room for a free-flowing stroke.
Also, it’s a good idea to have your head and eyes slightly to the right of the ball (for a right-handed player). If your eyes are an inch or so to the right, this gives you a better look at the hole from address.
Lastly, make sure your eye line is parallel to the target line. A good way to double check this position is by using the brim of your golf hat. If the bill of your hat is parallel to the target line, your eyes are probably parallel as well.
Every good putter has one thing in common… they keep their head absolutely still from start to finish. If you move your head at all, it’s impossible to keep the putting path stable and true to your intended line. Not to mention, it’s really hard to hit the ball on a consistently solid basis.
Practice on keeping your head still until the ball is well on its way to the hole. All of these factors will help you stay level and centered on your putts. You want minimal, if any, head movement on your putting stroke.
I get it, you want to see the putt drop into the center of the cup. But if you look too soon, you’re going to miss a lot of putts to the right. The tendency to peak too soon causes your head to move and usually leads to sloppy contact.
Keep your head down until the stroke is complete and then look up. With short putts, focus on hearing the putt go in instead of seeing it.
Alternative Method: There is a unique study out there that suggests on putts shorter than 15 feet, you might actually be better off to look at the hole instead of the golf ball. To dig deeper on this idea, read our article on the heads up putting technique.
Is there a right way to grip the putter?
Honestly, I don’t think so. I think it’s about using a grip that will give you the most confidence and the best chance to make as many putts as possible. If you watch the PGA Tour today, there are more grips being used than ever before.
Here are some of the most prominent grips being used in the golfing world today.
When it comes the standard grip, Tiger is probably the best example of a player with a traditional putting grip. It helps with feel and allows the wrists to move freely throughout the stroke. Here’s how to do it:
- The back of your right hand is parallel to your left hand. You don’t want your hands fighting each other during the stroke. By placing both of them squarely to the target, it makes it easy to keep the face square during the stroke, especially at impact position.
- The right thumb extends down the shaft to a point just below the right forefinger. Any farther and the right hand and wrist might tighten too much don’t hinge as freely on the way back. Any short and you sacrifice control.
- The back of your left hand should face the target. This discourages the hand from rotating through the stroke.
- Position both thumbs directly down the top of the handle.
One twist to the traditional grip is to have your right pointer finger down the shaft. For some players, this can help keep the putter head from coming back on too inside of a line. It also can help you keep the club more square throughout the stroke.
The next most popular grip is the left hand low known as the cross handed putting grip. Left hand low or cross handed is reverse of the traditional grip. Prior to Jordan Spieth dominating with his no-look, cross-handed putting style a few years ago, this wasn’t as popular of a putting method.
According to a Golf.com article,
“Left-hand-low putters won a third of all Tour events during the 2016-2017 season. In fact, Jack Nicklaus has said that if he had to teach someone to putt, he’d start them out cross-handed.”
Cross handed putting is great because it takes away the right hand from influencing the stroke too much. Here are some other reasons you might consider switching grip styles:
- Your left wrist breaks down at impact causing the putter face to close and miss short putts regularly.
- If you have open shoulders at address. Setting up this way will cause a slight out to in path. The left hand low technique will naturally square up the shoulders and keep the putter moving straight down the target line.
Start by holding the putter in front of your and rest the middle of your gip under the left thumb pad making the shaft an extension of your left arm. This is crucial to putting well with this method.
Make sure to leave no space between the left pinky and right forefinger. In some cases, you might prefer to overlap the right forefinger over the left fingers.
If you still feel that your right hand is still too dominant, try to double overlap with your forefinger and middle finger. This will be an eight finger grip that leaves your lead hand in control.
This grip will also create a more straight back and straight through putting stroke. That being said, it makes alignment that much more crucial as you have very little way to manipulate the putterhead.
When you switch to left hand low, it’s bound to feel a bit awkward. One way to relieve this discomfort is to practice with just your left hand on the club if you’re right-handed.
Take 10-15 minutes and practice putting from different distances. Start at three feet and move back in three feet increments, taking a few minutes at each level feeling out your new stroke.
If your right hand is feeling too active in the stroke I might recommend the claw. Similar to left hand low, this method will give you more control with your left hand. It’s used by players like Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, and Sergio Garcia.
Here are some main advantages:
- Puts the power hand into a passive position.
- Changes from a hands-controlled motion to a swing-down-the-line motion.
- Can eliminate pulling putts to the left
But it can also be a little bit awkward at the beginning. The goal of the claw is to effectively neutralize the right hand by taking it almost completely off the club. If you want to give this method a try, here’s how to get started:
The left hand remains in a neutral position at the top of the club while the right hand is cocked to the side with your palm facing towards your body. Your thumb on your bottom hand is wrapped around the club. Your right hand is almost completely eliminated from the stroke!
For more on the claw, head over to our full article on the Claw Putting Grip. Or, you can go here to read the Putting Grip Encyclopedia. It’s basically everything you ever wanted to know about how to hold the putter.
The Armlock Putting Grip
This is a brand new method that is a little similar to the belly putting trend that was banned a few years ago. For more detail, go to our full article on Armlock Putting.
Regardless of which grip style you use, your grip pressure needs to be consistent. As Tiger Woods said,
“I’d say that on a scale of 1 to 10, my grip pressure is about a 5. That may be a bit tighter than Ben Crenshaw hold his putter. But it’s pretty light for me and I do have an increased sense of feel.”
If you have to error on one side, it’s having too light of a grip instead of too firm with the putter. A death grip is a death wish to your low scores. You want to use your hands to feel the putting stroke and not over do it. If you struggle with a death grip, opt for a bigger grip like the Fatso or other fat putter grips. Bigger grips make it hard to have the death grip and will also take the wrists out of play as well.
Now that you have the right setup and chosen a grip that works for you, it’s time to discuss the best putting stroke method. Like any other part of this game, there are more than one way to get things done. In this section, I’ll cover the three different types of putting strokes and which ones you should strive for in your game.
With the inside to outside putter stroke, you take putter head slightly inside and have to release the putter head through impact in order to the get putterhead back to square. This can cause a lot of pulls to the left and pushes to the right. Plus, it can make it hard to control your speed as well.
This assuming that you’re going way inside on the way back.
Ultimately, a little inside on the way back is okay and is a preferred method by some of the best players on tour.
This helps with longer putts especially. On longer putts, you have to turn your shoulder more to take the putter back farther and this putter head tends to naturally move to the inside a little.
In a perfect world, I’d recommend taking the putter straight back and straight through. Unfortunately, that’s about as easy as hitting a perfectly straight shot with your full swing. Nearly impossible!
The straight back to straight through is important for putts within five feet. You want to try to keep the putter square on this distance of putts. Less manipulation of the putter face is better in this situation.
The last way to putt is an outside to inside stroke. This is the one method I highly discouraged because it produces a lot of slice spin when the ball comes off the putter.
If you find yourself getting into “slicing” putts, here are some reasons why it might be happening:
- Setup: If you’re too close to the ball, your arms will move away from the body on the outside path on the way back. Remember, you want to feel as though your arms are freely hanging from your shoulders at address.
- Open Shoulders at Address: If your shoulders are open at address your putter path will tend to work along your shoulder line. This will cause you to cut across your ball similar to a slice in the full-swing.
- Wide Elbows: If your right elbow is spread too wide and not hugging your rib cage, you will have difficulty in controlling the movement of your putter going back, and then forward into the ball.
Getting your slightly inside to outside stroke (or straight back straight through) starts with a proper setup. Be confident that with good alignment, a proper ball position, and a stroke that moves your shoulders, arms, and hands together. This will help your putter path will stay on the plane, and not cut across your aimline.
In addition to creating your perfect putting stroke, don’t forget to check out how to put top spin on your putts. Top spin (or overspin) creates a nice end over end roll and helps with speed control
Depending on what type of putting stroke you end up with will dictate what the correct style of putter you should be using. Make sure to read our article on the difference between a Face Balanced vs Toe Hang Putter.
The last part of the “perfect putting” equation is dialing in your putting tempo. When discussing tempo with the full swing, I covered how tempo is one thing 99% of all pros share in the common. They have a 3:1 ratio of backswing to downswing time.
Like the full swing, putting also need a repeatable tempo. Tour players through stroke is roughly 2X the speed other takeaway. This speed ensures you’re not accelerating through your swing. This is one of the most common misses among amateur golfers.
Read our full article on putting tempo here.
Practice doesn’t make perfect in golf but it does make a more permanent and consistent putting stroke. I encourage you to check out my list of the best putting drills to make that putting stroke permanent. After that, head over to my post on the best indoor putting greens so that you can work on those drills at your home or office.
Everything starts with your setup position. If you can set up stable, square, and aligned to your intended line, you’re going to drastically lower your putts per round. A great tool to make sure you are setup correctly is a putting mirror. Make sure to read our article on how to use a putting mirror.
Aside from setup, the other main component is making sure you keep the path inside to outside (slightly) or a square to square stroke. Combined with finding your perfect grip, I’m confident you will start to improve your putting stroke.
But remember, the Putting Stroke is only part of the puzzle. In addition to a good stroke, you must be able to read greens, control your putting speed, and aim the putter to start making putts. Once you get your stroke dialed in, check out a custom putter fitting to squeeze out all the gains you can.