Trajectory is an important element of full shots. How well your ball rolls on the green is equally crucial in putting.
It's a scientific fact that every putt skids some distance after contact. (This is often impossible to see in real time.) The more your ball skids, the more speed it loses and the more likely it is to veer off line. Even worse are putts that actually bounce. We often attribute this to a bumpy surface or blemishes in the green, but more often it's a stroke issue.
There are two primary – and opposite – causes of bouncing putts: hitting the ball with a descending blow, or striking it with too much loft. The first motion pushes the ball into the turf, making it rebound upward. The second lifts the ball off the green by a tiny, but meaningful, amount.
Studies show that approximately 4° is the ideal impact loft for a putt; since most putters are built with 3° - 4° of loft, that means the shaft should be vertical when you contact the ball. To maximize roll, of course, you also need to hit the ball on the sweet spot with an accelerating stroke.
Before making any stroke adjustments, determine how much your putts tend to bounce on contact. While a visit to a putter fitting lab is the best way to do this, a morning trip to a dew-covered practice green will suffice. Hit several putts of varying length and look at the ball's trail in the dew. If it bounces or skips for a good distance before starting to roll, it's time to work on your stroke. Keep in mind that longer putts will skid/bounce farther than shorter ones.
If you find that your putts are skidding or bouncing too much, check these two factors:
Ball position: If you set up with the ball too far back in your stance, you'll make a markedly descending blow. Too far forward, or toward the left foot (for righties), and you may strike it on the upswing. Many teachers advocate placing the ball just forward of the middle of your stance, or toward the left foot. Experiment to find the spot the delivers your best roll.
Hand position: If your hands are too far forward and the shaft tilted toward the target, you'll make descending contact. If your hands are behind the ball and the shaft leaning right, your impact position will be too lofted.
Make Your Putts Roll Not Bounce
You probably don't think much about how you hit your putts. Most golfers simply walk up to the ball, rock the putter back and through, and hope for the best. After all, it's not like you have a ball flight with your putter like you do with the rest of your clubs. Since the ball is just rolling along the ground, it is far more important to worry about the slope of the green than it is to be concerned with your impact conditions. Right? Well, maybe not. It actually does matter how you impact the ball in your putting stroke, as making perfect contact will give you a much better chance of rolling the ball on line toward the hole.
It comes as a surprise to many golfers to learn that the ball doesn't actually roll on the ground all the way to the hole. Sure, it rolls most of the way, but your ball actually spends quite a bit of time off of the ground early in its journey. This is especially true on long putts – when you have to hit a putt hard in order to get it to the target, you will find that it usually bounces several times before settling down onto the green and rolling the rest of the way. This bouncing is almost impossible to see with the naked eye, but it would become readily apparent if you were to record a putt on video and watch it back in slow motion.
So why does it matter if the ball is bouncing early in its trip to the hole? Because, when the ball bounces, it can easily lose track of your intended target line. A ball rolling along the ground is far more likely to stay on line than one that bounces several times first. While it is impossible to take all of the bouncing out of your putts, you can improve the way your ball rolls by making better contact. Once you master the art of hitting your putts just perfectly, you will be amazed to see how much more often your ball remains on the target line. As long as you are reading the greens correctly, your improved ability to hit the target line should translate directly into more made putts.
Making putts is the key to shooting good scores. There is nothing quite as frustrating in golf as hitting two great shots to position your ball perfectly on the green – only to three putt and walk away with a bogey. The ability to roll the ball consistently on line will help you immediately lower your scores. Unlike a full swing change, where you would often have to wait for months or even years to see the fruits of your labor show up on the scorecard, better putting pays off right away. Work on your putting today, and you could play better golf tomorrow.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Hitting Up on the Ball
Most of your time spent practicing golf should be focused on hitting down on the golf ball. When playing an iron shot from the fairway, for example, you want to hit down aggressively so you can use backspin to push the ball high into the air. Hitting down is crucial to good ball striking, and you should work on that fundamental as often as possible. However, on the putting green, you need to throw that line of thinking out the window.
To get your putts to roll instead of bounce, you need to hit up on the golf ball with your putter. That might sound impossible since the ball is resting on the ground and not on a tee, but you can actually make it happen with the right mechanics. As your putter head swings toward the ball, it should be low to the ground – just above the top of the grass. As impact approaches, the putter head will very slightly start to swing back up into the air, contacting the ball along the way. By catching the ball on the upswing, you will be able to keep the ball closer to the turf so that it can roll nicely on the grass as early as possible. If you were to hit down, the ball would be pushed down into the turf before popping back up, setting in motion a series of bounces that could take several feet to settle down.
It is important to not get too carried away with this technique. While it is true that you want to hit up on the ball, you don't want to hit up so aggressively that you miss the sweet spot and contact the ball low on the face of the putter. In reality, the putter should barely be moving up through impact – in fact, a flat stroke that is moving parallel to the ground will work just fine. The biggest key is that you avoid hitting down on the ball. As long as you avoid making downward contact, which is a common mistake while putting, you should be able to put a nice roll on the golf ball.
This fundamental is more important on short and medium length putts than it is from long range. It would be great to be able to hit up on your long putts as well, but that can be difficult to execute when you are having to swing so hard. On putts of 50 feet or more, just focus on getting the speed of the putt right and don't worry too much about the trajectory of your putter through impact. However, when you are putting from shorter distances, executing the motion properly will help you hold the line and find the bottom of the cup.
Focus on Your Left Shoulder
There are a variety of ways in which you can swing the golf club and get good results, but there are a limited number of ways in which you can putt successfully. Sure, you might see many different stances out there on the course, but most good putting strokes involve moving the putter back and through with your big muscles. Specifically, the shoulders should be largely in charge of hitting your putts. If you can rock the putter back and through with your shoulders while keeping your hands and wrists quiet, you should be able to roll the ball nicely.
When it comes to getting the ball to roll instead of bounce, your left shoulder plays a particularly important role. As the putter starts to move forward, your left shoulder should lift up off the ground while the rest of your body remains still. As this lifting is taking place, the level of the putter head will rise slightly as well. It is important to remember that your head and the rest of your body need to be perfectly still if you are going to execute this technique properly. When done correctly, this kind of putting feels incredibly simple – you rock the putter back and through, with your left shoulder taking the lead on the way toward the target. That move, combined with quiet hands, may be all you need to hit up on the ball.
Unfortunately, many golfers let their heads get in the way of this simple technique. Feeling nervous standing over a short putt, it is common for the average golfer to add hand motion into the stroke – ruining the rest of the mechanics and usually sending the ball off line. Your hands don't need to be involved in your putting stroke, as they will only serve to cause trouble and open or close the blade of the putter. Not only that, but adding hand action could lead to hitting down on the ball, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid.
To practice using your left shoulder to control the putting stroke, work on hitting some putts with only your left hand on the putter. By putting one handed, you will not be able to manipulate the club as easily with your grip – meaning you will have to put the control of the stroke into your shoulders. Hit some five-foot practice putts with just your left hand on the grip and do your best to roll the ball nicely. After you have rolled several putts, use both hands again and see how much your stroke mechanics have changed. It might take several rotations of going back and forth between one handed and two handed putting until you are able to get the right feel for using your left shoulder in the forward stroke.
A word of caution – it is easy to allow your head to come up early when your left shoulder is given the job of controlling the putter. As that left shoulder starts to lift, your eyes and head may want to go with it. You need to resist that temptation. Keep your eyes focused down on the ball so you can make solid contact each and every time. The combination of a steady head position and an active left shoulder can add up to excellent mechanics and a great roll of the ball.
Deciding on a Grip
One of the biggest decisions you will make when it comes to putting is how to position your hands on the club. Unlike in the full swing, where you really only have one option (right hand under left), you can position your hands in a number of different ways while putting and still enjoy good results. If you watch any golf on TV, you have surely seen a variety of different putting grips among the best golfers in the world. That should give you all the indication you need that there are many different ways to get the job done – if the top players on the planet experiment with different putting grips, you should feel free to do the same.
If your goal is to learn how to make your putts roll quicker off of the putter face, using a left hand low (aka cross-hand) grip is the best option. When you place your left hand below your right on the putter grip, you help your shoulders get level at address – setting them up to be able to take over the stroke properly. As an added bonus, most players will find it easier to move the left shoulder up and away from the ball during the forward swing when using a left hand low grip. The left hand feels powerful and in control when you use this grip, which will make it much easier to allow your left shoulder to do its job.
With that said, you have to watch carefully the position of your left wrist as you move through impact. That left wrist should remain flat all the way through the ball, and it should be held flat even after the putt is rolling toward the hole. If you allow that left wrist to cup as you are hitting the putt, you will add loft to the putter and the ball will bounce instead of roll. Also, you will lose your sense of speed control when you allow that to happen. During your practice sessions, pay close attention to the left wrist to ensure it is not getting in the way of an otherwise good stroke.
While the left hand low putting grip is going to be most effective for the average golfer looking for a better roll, it isn't for everyone. If you just can't get comfortable putting cross-handed, try using a 'claw' or 'pencil' grip instead. In this grip, the left hand holds onto the club as normal, but the right hand is turned over so that your palm is facing in towards your body. This adjustment is helpful because it takes your right hand almost entirely out of the putting stroke. When using this grip, you will probably have the same feel as you had when you were putting with only your left hand. Your shoulders will be forced to manage the majority of the work because you wouldn't be able to hit the ball toward the hole properly otherwise. Basically, the right hand just serves as a guide when you use this grip, as your left hand and left shoulder are totally in control.
You should find that you are able to roll the ball better when you use this grip, but your distance control might suffer at the same time. Turning your right hand over on the grip means you will lose most of your feel in that hand during the stroke, and that loss of feel may give you trouble when it comes to managing the speed of your putts. The only way around this problem is to spend plenty of time on the practice green. If you are committed to using the claw grip to help improve your rolling of the ball, it would be smart to dedicate extra practice time to working on your long putts. Only if you can learn how to hit long putts accurately can you successfully stick with this putting grip in the long run.
No matter how you decide to hold the putter, make sure it is a grip that you are comfortable with even when the pressure is on. The greens are the place on the course where you will feel the most pressure, so you need to have complete confidence in your technique at that point. If you aren't sure of your grip, or any other part of your technique, you will miss more putts than you make. Pick out a specific grip that you like and stick with it so you can build up the necessary confidence to sink even the biggest putts on a regular basis.
Finding the Right Putter
The last part of the equation is getting the right putter for your stroke that will allow you to put a great roll on the ball. All putters are not created equal, and you will want to make sure you find the right flat stick to pair with your stroke. The best way to pick out a putter is through trial and error, so ask at your local golf shop if you can test out a few different models until you locate one that feels great in your hands.
One of the first things to consider when picking a putter is the material that is used on the face of the club. Some putters are just solid metal, while others have inserts that are used to alter the feel of the ball coming off the club. Many golfers find that putters with a softer insert do a better job of getting the ball to roll earlier in the putt. However, it can be difficult to feel your putts properly while using a soft insert, so make sure you test this kind of putter out for yourself before picking one up. Solid metal putters are great for transmitting feedback from the club up into your hands, but they might not be quite as adept at getting an early roll on the ball.
Another element to putter shopping is deciding what shape putter head you want. There are really two basic categories when it comes to putter head shape – mallet and blade. Mallet putters have large heads and are meant to be swung slower. Blade putters, on the other hand, have a thinner profile, and work best with an aggressive stroke. There is no right or wrong answer in this case, and both types of putter are capable of rolling the ball nicely in the right hands. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, so take some time to test putters from both categories until you decide which feels best in your stroke.
You also will need to decide what style of grip you would like on your putter, as more and more options have become available in recent months. The large majority of putter grips used to be thin and slightly tapered from top to bottom, but that is no longer the case. Thick putter grips are very popular these days, as many golfers have found they are effective at taking the hands out of the putting stroke. If you are having trouble using your hands too much in your stroke, you might want to give a fat grip a try. Even if you don't buy a new putter, you could purchase a larger grip and have it installed on your current club. The wider grip will quiet your hands, which should make your shoulders more engaged – and you should be able to roll the ball better as a result.
The last consideration to make when picking a putter is not a scientific one – rather, it is the feeling that it gives you when you look down at address. Does the putter make your feel confident? Does the design of the club make you think that the putt is going to run right into the middle of the cup? You want to be in a great frame of mind while putting, and loving the way your putter looks is part of that equation. Find a flat stick that makes you feel like a great putter, and you just might start to perform better on the greens.
Getting the ball to roll right away off your putter face is a little more difficult than it might seem at first. However, you can improve in this area by taking a look at your technique, your grip, and your equipment. Get the right combination of those three elements in place and you will be rolling the ball beautifully in the near future. Of course, nothing comes free in golf, so you will have to work at your mechanics if you want to see real improvement. Put in some time on the practice green with the specific goal of rolling the ball instead of bouncing it, and hopefully more of your putts will settle into the bottom of the cup.