Golf putting practice: How to lower your scores

If you practice your golf, but find you’re not improving, this is probably the article for you. Today’s focus is on golf putting practice, but the same principles can be applied to any area of your game.

Unfortunately there are no magic cures to improving your golf. We can buy fancy golf training aids, look at some complex stats, but as Ben Hogan famously said the secret lies in the dirt.

This being said, there are many ways we can super-charge the rate of our learning. The reason most golfer’s don’t improve their golf is not because they don’t practice. It is because they practice badly or inefficiently.

The secret in the dirt is not just about hacking divots out of the ground until your hands bleed, but rather to truly understanding how to make every repetition during golf practice count. Each swing should be a step towards improving your golfing skill.

In this post we talk about the details that make your golf putting practice count. I’ll give you a golf putting game that you can take away and start applying these principles straight away. You will see your golf scores improve as a result.

golf putting practice hole out

Three types of golf putting practice

In a previous post we covered three ways all golfers should practice: technique focus, skill development and pressure practice. I tend to find that this way of thinking is quite novel even to some golf professionals, others stumble across this by accident in their practice schedule. Golfers don’t consciously invest much time into skill development and pressure practice, but they love to pick apart their technique.

The result – many golfers (pros and amateurs) who are excellent on the putting green and golf range, but who suck at taking this golfing skill onto the golf course.

Without anymore justification, let us dig down and look at how golf putting practice and skill development can be used to help lower your scores.

Golf putting practice: Skill development

If you haven’t already, have a quick skim over the three ways to practice article. You’ll notice that there are subtle differences between technique and skill development practice. You should have both these practice types in your routine, but when we are focused on skill development we need to ensure the following:

  • Our focus is on optimising shot outcome, not technique.
  • Practice sessions challenge at particular attribute, or set of attributes.
  • Practice performance is measurable.
  • Practice can continually be made more difficult as we improve.

So what does this skill development practice look like? Pretty simple, watch the video below.

Golf putting practice: Round the Clock

Here is a younger me, filming a putting skills game for an app that never really took off (Golf 1-2-1). However, these skills games received great feedback from coaches and players. Round the clock is a simple, but great putting practice game.

Golf putting practice: Where to start

You’re going to hate me for this, but I don’t care if you’re a beginner or off +2. Start this game from one putter length away (3ft). Your aim – go round and hole all six putts, if you miss, start again. I’m smiling as I write this, as I know how many of you won’t be able to do this 1st, 2nd or even on a 3rd attempt.

Take your time on each putt. Stand behind, figure out the line, take a practice swing, then execute. It is less about how many putts you hit and much more about the effort you invest into planning and attempting to execute each putt. Your golfing skill is much more complex than just a putting stroke or golf swing.

Golf putting practice: How to think

As we discussed, your focus should not be on you golf putting mechanics, it should be on holing each putt right in the centre of the hole. If it doesn’t roll perfectly into the centre, then reflect and learn.

Did the ball start too far right or left? Was this because of a poor stroke or aim? Did you pick the incorrect line, or was the pace not ideal for the line you chose?

These are the questions I expect you to ask yourself when you sink each putt, let alone when you miss one. It is this granular level of self-reflection that is so rich in learning. This is the learning that most golfers leave on the table during their practice sessions.

Golf putting practice: Difficulty

Developing skill doesn’t occur by accident. Your body makes specific adaptations when it is continually stressed in a particular way. As such, your golf practice needs to be made incrementally more difficult as you progress. Otherwise, you will stop learning – this concept is simple to grasp, and yet many golfers neglect this fundamental rule of learning.

Once you can complete 3ft of round the clock, move all your tee pegs back one grip length. Once you can complete this, move them back another grip length. I have professionals who consistently play this game and get back to 9 feet. Guess how good they are at holing out from inside 10 feet…

Golf putting practice: Other routes to progression

If you: 1) play this putting skills game 2) continually adjust the difficulty and 3) self-reflect on your performance of every putt. You will rapidly improve your putting skill level, but what if you want more?

If you keep moving the tee pegs back, you will find it more difficult, but this is just the start. Many other adaptations can be made to develop your golfing skill based on your weaknesses. Another adaptation is to complete three rounds at each distance.

  • 1st ball – your normal pace
  • 2nd ball – firmer than your normal pace
  • 3rd ball – softer than your normal pace

When you miss any putt, you start from the beginning. Warning – this is tough,

Playing round the clock this way really dials in your ability to understand different pace and lines for holing putts. Research also suggests this practice variability will help your skill transfer to the course, and improve your performance under pressure.

There is also another great benefit of playing the game this way. You realise there is actually a infinite range of options for holing any putt, not just one perfect line. I find this mindset is a powerful way to approach putting.

Golf putting practice: Feedback loops

If this is your first time reading about developing you golfing skill with practice, then I hope it has made you think about how you currently practice. Golf technique is still important, but by playing these skills games you actually make the micro, subconscious changes in your technique that take you from good to great. These skills games also make your technique more adaptable and help your transfer your practice performance to the golf course.

Once you’ve finished playing this golf putting skills game, you learning isn’t quite finished. To squeeze the last bit of progression out of your practice time I’d like you to do this.

Think about where you struggled, did you mainly miss left to right putts? Did you hit putts too soft, so they broke off early? Take this data and feed it back into your technical practice. You should now be looking for technical improvements you can make to boost these chinks in your putting performance.

Secondly, note this data down and feed it in to your play. This should aid your decision making on the course. I accumulated hundreds of hours of practice with this one putting game. I never pushed putts, but 1 in 20 were a very slight pull. If I had a putt on the golf course from 8 feet that was dead straight, I would often aim an inch right of centre. I can’t tell you how many of these putts went in the hole just left of centre.

Again, great golf practice is about much more than perfecting your technique.

Golf putting practice: Summary

Each week invest time into technical practice, skills games and playing golf. There should be a clear link between these areas. If you would like help keeping of the stats that truly matter for improving your golf, you can check out the Golf Insider Performance Diary.

Golf insider performance diary. Helps you keep track of the stats that matter.
The Golf Insider Performance Diary. Helps you keep track of the stats that matter.

This book ensures each week you invest time into the areas that really will improve your golfing skill. Or if you would like more articles like this one. Sign up to the golf insider weekly post it is sent straight to your inbox each week.

Happy golfing.

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A PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. I currently spend my time lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and working with elite athletes. In my spare time I build Golf Insider UK.

6 thoughts on “Golf putting practice: How to lower your scores”

  1. Would love the same thing for short pitches. I need practice drills which recreate pressure – very good in practice but very bad in play

    • Sure, I have a couple of games that may help. I’m yet to film one of them so it may take me a week or two. If you’re signed up to the weekly email you’ll get them when they’re hot off the press.

      In the mean time check out this piece I put together for NCG magazine. I doubt you have the yips, but if you need to improve under pressure I’m sure you will find it interesting.

      i hope that helps, Will

    • Thanks for the kind feedback Alexa. I hope you enjoy using the skills games, feel free to get in touch if I can be of more help.



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