Bad putting can kill your golfing scores, likewise, great putting can save you. In this article we’re going to break down the putting stoke into simple components. We’ll then look at how you can build your own great putting technique and improve your scores.
There is a lot of info here, so feel free to use the menu below to jump between sections:
- A great putting stroke explained
- Putting technique basics: Grip and posture
- Putting stroke mechanics
- Advanced putting technique
A great putting stroke explained
A great putting stroke achieves the following outcomes:
- Starts the ball on your intended target line
- Controls and can vary pace as required
- Consistently minimises error around start line and pace control
To accomplish the above, your putting technique has to achieve the following attributes at impact:
- Centred strike on the putter face
- Square path and club face at impact
- Control club head velocity through impact
- Control ball launch height
That is it – it doesn’t matter what your putting technique looks like, if it fulfils the list above, you will be a great putter. Most golfers get close to two or three of these objectives but rarely do they get all four spot on.
Sadly, few golfers have a blueprint to resort to with their putting technique. They tend to begin with a few errors with their strike and club face at impact, then compound these errors with poor aim. They end up with a putting stroke that works some days but relies heavily on timing.
What follows is a breakdown of putting technique and a blueprint to help you achieve the aims above. If you get these components in place, your putting will rely less on timing, making you more effective and more consistent on the green.
Putting technique – set-up and grip
As you will see through this article, most of your putting technique is actually pre-determined with your set-up. Your putting grip heavily dictates your club face angle through impact. It links your body movements (your putting stroke) to the club face. Unsurprisingly, your putting grip is a critical factor in ensuring you create a square putter face at impact, and can start the ball on line.
Below is a visual ‘how to’ guide for a great putting grip. However, this is a big topic, I would suggest you read this full article on how to hold a putter if you feel this needs some work.
As an alternative putting grip you can also try out left-hand low putting.
Up next we have your putting posture. Both your putting posture and how your arms hang pre-set the swing path for your putting stroke. Ideally, we’re looking for your putter to swing on a slight arc, where the putter comes slightly round your body, returns back to the golf ball, then moves back around your body.
There are two key aspects to achieve this. Firstly, tilt forward from your waist (hip flexion), whilst maintaining good posture (spine angle). Then let your hands and arms hang down under your shoulders, or just outside. From this position your hands, and as a result, the putter, will naturally swing on a slight arc as you move back and through.
The video below shows the effect your hand position has on swing path. If your hands are a long way outside your shoulders, you’ll generate a more rounded arc, if your hands start too close to your body, your putter will be forced to travel out on the backswing and through-swing.
This isn’t to say they are wrong, just be aware of how you can alter your set-up to improve your putting swing path.
Your arms naturally want to hang and swing under your shoulders, so you tend to find that your hands may not be in a great position, i.e. starting too close or too far away from you, which is a common cause of poorly struck putts. If you set up with your hands a long way away, you’ll find you tend to strike the ball out of the toe of the putter, as your hands return to their natural path. Heel strikes are commonly associated with set-up positions where the hands are too close to the body at set-up.
These two factors (putting grip and set-up) make up 80-90% of changes we make with club players, but also elite professionals when it comes to putting technique. Take some time to look at your own set-up in a mirror or window. Consider how this links to your club face, swing path and your putting errors.
Putting your basic stroke together
If you now combine your putting grip with your set-up above, you can just let your arms and hands rock like a pendulum and you’ll have a great putting stroke. Practice just with just your hands, like in the video above, then place a putter in your hands and repeat the same technique.
Fine tuning the start direction of your putts
Once your strike is centred, you’ll find your swing path and putter face at impact dictate ~98% of the start direction for your putts. If a putt misses left, it will be due to your club face pointing in that direction at impact, and/or the club path being in that direction through impact. Similarly, misses right are caused by an open club face at impact, and/or an in-to-out swing path through impact.
As you’ll see in the next section, one of these factors is far more important to holing putts than the other.
Putting stroke mechanics
Once you have a great putting grip and set-up in place, you can begin to refine what happens during your putting stroke to optimise your consistency.
Putter face at impact
The key in-swing factor to great putting mechanics is managing your putter face through impact. Your face angle at impact has 5 times more influence on ball start direction (left-right) than your swing path (actually more depending on your dynamic loft). Changes to your putter face angle also vary the loft you hit the golf ball with and subsequently affect your pace control.
Your aim is to keep your putter face square to your swing path and of consistent loft long after impact. The key in achieving this is to keep your lead wrist in a consistent position – phrased another way – keeping your lead arm and the putter shaft as a constant unit as you move through into your follow-through (pictured below).
The top image is impact, below are four subsequent points post-impact. Notice how little change there is between the lead arm and putter throughout this sequence. This is critical for controlling your putter face through impact.
I can’t emphasise enough how important this mechanism is in becoming a consistent putter. A slight breakdown in this arm-putter relationship quickly varies the putter face angle at impact and loft on the putter. By keeping your form constant long after the ball has left the putter face you’ll ensure there is little variation through impact.
Putting technique practice ideas
If this is something you wish to work on I have a great way to start:
Set-up over a 2-foot putt, with your putter directly behind the golf ball. Next, without making a backswing, push the ball forward into the hole with your putter. As you push through keep the putter head low to the ground and focus on minimal changes to your arms, wrist and putter angles (copy the sequence picture above).
Once you feel competent, embed this feeling into your putting stroke. The feeling of keeping the putter head low to the ground in your follow-through tends to work well for maintaining your wrist angle.
That wraps up the basics of swing path and club face angle, so let’s move onto the next stage of becoming a great putter – pace control.
The ideal launch angle for putts
Ball launch angle is a common factor overlooked in putting technique. The ball sits down slightly in the grass and therefore needs a little positive launch to get it up and rolling well. I wasn’t quite sure about the latest research, so I asked one of the best putting coaches around just for you:
As Phil’s reply implies, the ideal launch varies, based on the putting green surface and slope, but ideally, we are looking to launch the golf ball at around +2 degrees. There are a few factors we need to get right to achieve the ideal impact and launch. We’ll look at these below, and you’ll recognise a similar pattern – they are mostly pre-determined at set-up.
Most putters have ~4 degrees of loft, however, we want our hands to be a little ahead of the putter at impact to add a little stability. Lastly, we want to hit the golf ball on a slight upward arc to help get the ball rolling as quickly as we can. Let’s look at how we can achieve this in our set-up:
Below your sternum (roughly the middle of your stance) represents the low point in your swing arc. Just place the golf ball 1-2 inches ahead of centre and you will naturally create an upward strike. Also, place your hands slightly forward of the putter head, level with the golf ball.
These two points will magically fulfil the criteria we described above – your putts will feel and roll great.
How do I control the pace of my putts?
I’m not going to spend too long on pace control, because I feel once someone has a sound set of mechanics this really does take care of itself. Poor putting stroke mechanics (varied start direction and loft at impact) make your ability to learn pace from previous putts and execute your next putt hard to judge. But great putting technique allows your true talent to shine through. Get your mechanics in order, and play a few of these putting drills and all will improve your pace control.
The video below gives you all of the technical foundations you’ll need for pace control. For shorter putts, make a short swing back and through. For longer putts, make a longer swing back and through. You never need to hit the putts ‘harder’ (accelerate any quicker), just use the same putting tempo and vary your swing length – practice until pace control feels natural.
Advanced putting technique
We have now covered what is defined as ‘putting basics’, but despite their name, they cover 95% of the work we do with club players and professionals. In this section, we’ll discuss some more advanced topics. If you’ve already filled up your notepad, feel free to skip to the summary.
Is my issue swing path or club face?
It’s quite simple to coach a player to get really close to perfecting the start line of their putts, but ironing out that last 3-5% of error takes some work. If you putt well, but now and again feel like you hit a push or pulled putt, you most likely fall into this category.
The challenge is knowing what to work on – swing path or club face? This is where a scientific approach comes in handy. We call this single variable testing, hold everything constant, tweak one factor and measure the effect (where the ball goes).
To test this you need a way of keeping your swing path and strike consistent for every putt. That way any misses must be down to club face error. Below is a video of a quick hack with some tees to create a system at no cost.
However, if you’re serious, this is the one place where I would invest in a putting trainer to help you improve your putting. A putting arc, like the one pictured below, allows you to run your putter along it to ensure your swing path stays constant. Practicing a straight uphill putt with this tool will allow you to quickly determine what your missed putts are caused by – your swing path or club face.
Once you find the culprit, revisit the putting grip and posture sections above and check your in-swing mechanics.
Square to square versus in-to-square-to-in putting styles
So any golf nerd reading this knows I’ve been avoiding something. The whole way through I’ve been describing one way of putting and yet there are two schools of thought when it comes to putting.
The first is as we have described, on a slight arc. Tiger woods, Ricky Fowler and many other great putters putt this way. However, other players and coaches have favoured putting strokes that have a much straighter path – Luke Donald became exceptionally good at this method when he dominated golf a few years ago.
So which is right? I have two pieces of information for you that I feel bring this article to a nice conclusion. I should also note, I coach both methods, depending on the player, as both can achieve the key aspects we outlined at the start of this article.
At first glance, the square-to-square method sounds far simpler – this is how we would build a putting robot. However, we are humans, and to create a putting path that is straight back and straight through requires far more complex joint rotations than putting on a slight arc. In this sense, straight back and through is actually more complicated to repeat.
Secondly, we don’t have two styles of putting at all. Instead, we have a whole continuum that ranges from very square to square, to a very arced putting arc. If you find a way to consistently get the putter back with a square club face and centred strike you will be a great putter.
Putting technique – do you even need a square face and path?
We’re going to end with something that I would like to share but, unless you are coaching golf, you don’t need to think too much about it. If our aim is the start the ball perfectly on-line for every putt, we don’t actually need a square club face and swing path, we just need a combination of these that works.
Taking data from this article we can see that 92-95% of start direction is down to face angle at impact, and most of the rest is dependent on swing path at impact (we’ll disregard the effect of loft for now). This means that we have a near-infinite amount of face-path solutions that could start the ball on line.
Below is a picture that explains this. It is 2,000 simulated putts with club face – swing path combinations and their start direction. The colour tells you how far off line the ball would start (left or right) with the red dotted line representing perfectly on-line putts. Along the bottom axis we have the swing path at impact, along the left axis we have the face angle at impact.
For this entire article we’ve talked about coaching a player’s putting stroke to the star below (0 deg path, 0 deg face). However, if your putting stroke consistently returns to the golf ball any place along this red dotted line you will start the ball on-line.
We call this concept ‘motor equivalence’. There are actually many great solutions to becoming a great putter. What you should take away from this picture is this – look how quickly the colour (error) increases as you go up or down the picture. This shows you how a tiny change in your club face affects the start direction – a lot!
Now look left to right and how much the colour (error) changes – barely at all. This shows you how much your swing path affects start direction. The take-home message is that club face at impact is really important, so take time to master a great putting grip and control your putter face through impact.
So there we have it – putting technique explained. To become a great putter, focus on the outcomes of controlling start direction and pace. To achieve this, you need to build a putting stroke with a good swing path – clubface relationship and a solid strike. These three points can be achieved with a great putting grip and set-up.
Once you have your putting technique in order, feel free to check out this article on the best putting drills, here for more putting tips, and this article on some wider aspects of how to putt better.
I hope this has been of use, feel free to sign up to the Golf Insider weekly post if you would like to receive an article every Monday.
Happy golfing – Will @ Golf Insider UK
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