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After Greens in Regulation, the most telling stat on the PGA Tour might be Strokes Gained Putting. As proof, consider that the category leader for both 2010 and 2011 was Luke Donald, who just happened to climb to No. 1 in the world during that period. 

Basically, Strokes Gained Putting tells us how a particular player fares against the field in number of putts taken. Tour pros are so uniformly proficient from tee to green, he who putts best nearly always contends, and often wins. 

Putting is such a subtle art that one must pay close attention to learn what makes professionals so good at it. Once you know what to watch for, you can gain genuine stroke-saving insight. In Part I of this feature, we’ll examine how pros prepare for each putt

Why It’s Important 

putting part 1 p2It’s common knowledge that about 40 percent of a golfer’s total strokes occur on the putting green, regardless of handicap. While tap-ins account for a fair portion of that, there’s no denying the prominent role putting plays in how you score. 

The key elements of any putt are line and speed. Pros, of course, are experts at gauging how a putt will break (curve) and the pace at which it will roll. While it’s important to learn the fundamentals of green-reading, putting ultimately comes down to feel. 

That said, it’s critical to have an effective pre-shot routine on the greens. Your setup and tempo will be more consistent and you’ll be able to block out distracting thoughts. 

A quick word about pace of play: Pros spend a lot of time reading the break of their putts from several angles. For most amateurs, a look from behind the ball toward the hole is sufficient on all but the trickiest breakers. Unless you’re first to play in your group, always read your putt while others are preparing and hitting theirs. That way you’ll be ready when it’s your turn. 

Who You Should Watch 

Tiger Woods employs a model pre-shot routine on full shots, and he’s equally efficient with putter in hand. Once he’s determined the line and speed, Tiger aims his ball’s alignment aid (a line or arrow, depending on the brand) where he wants the putt to start. Next he takes a stance behind the ball and directly on his chosen, making a couple of practice strokes that mimic the stroke he wants to put on the ball. 

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Tiger then assumes his setup position over the ball, takes two glances at the hole and back to the ball, focuses and strokes it. And he does it the exact same way every single time. 

Most of Woods’ peers use a version of this process.

There’s one piece of a good pre-shot routine that can’t be seen from the outside: visualization. Woods and Co. always picture the ball going into the hole before taking the blade back. You should, too.

Apply It to Your Game 

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Like the pre-shot routine for a wood, hybrid or iron, your pre-putt sequence should include a few basic parts:

  • Read the green from behind the ball, and from the other side if time permits.
  • Pick a target. If the putt is straight, aim at the hole. On a breaking putt, choose a spot at the high point of the line (i.e. where it will begin turning toward the cup).
  • Align the ball at the target using the guide printed on the ball.
  • Once you’ve addressed the ball, take a look or two at the hole.
  • In your mind’s eye, picture the ball rolling into center of the cup.

Part II of this feature discusses how the pros proceed once they’re ready to putt.