According to statistics gathered from TOURCaddie’s user database, the average amateur golfer (10-19 handicap range) requires 1.72 putts per hole. That’s approximately 31 strokes per round, which equates to roughly 30-40 percent of most golfers’ scores. That number jumps to approximately 1.9 putts per green in regulation (GIR), or 34 putts per round. If these stats bear anything out, it’s that the fastest means to shaving strokes off your score is to not waste so many putts on the green. In other words, you need to stop three-putting.
Through The Barclays, Matt Kuchar had three-putted only 21 times this season in 81 rounds, or once every four rounds. The chances of him three-putting a hole were a measly 1.56 percent. Imagine how good your scores would be if you managed to three-putt just once per round. Here’s how to make that wish come true.
The Rule of 33
To avoid 3-putting, you need to be very good from both long range (30 feet or more) and in close (3 feet). I call it the Rule of 33 — if you can consistently lag the ball to within 3 feet of the hole from 30 feet or longer, and sink every 3-footer, then you’ll never three-putt.
The average PGA TOUR player converts more than 99 percent of their 3-footers. Couple that with all of the work they put in on the practice green from long distance, and it’s little wonder why they so rarely three-putt. Two-time TOUR winner Jonas Blixt, who I’ve been teaching for almost two years now, has converted 622 of 624 of his putts from 3 feet or less this season. That’s 99.7 percent, good enough for 34th on TOUR. Not coincidentally, he also ranks in the top 50 in three-putt avoidance—in 68 rounds of golf this season, he’s three-putted only 34 times (2.78 percent), or once every two rounds. It’s rare that I see him practicing mid-range length putts; it’s almost always from short range or 25 feet or more.
How to be Great from 30 Feet
The farther you are from the hole, the more susceptible the putt is to breaking, and the harder it is to gauge the speed of the putt correctly. That’s why it’s very important to take time to read the green properly, because what you see will determine how hard you hit the putt and at what speed the ball travels. In other words, it directly affects your distance control, which is everything when it comes to lagging the ball close. Your aim could be off by 2 or 3 feet, but if your distance control (i.e., speed) is dead-on, you’re still going to have a relatively easy second putt.
As you walk up to the green, look to see where the water drains (the ball will break in the general direction of the drainage) and determine where the low side of the putt is. Walk along the low side until you’re halfway between the ball and the hole, and stand so that your eyes form a triangle with the ball and the hole. This will give you the very best view of the slope and whether or not the putt is moving uphill or downhill. If the putt is downhill, it’s going to break more because you have to hit the ball softer. The putt is also going to take longer to get to the hole for that very same reason (i.e., a softer hit), which is something very few amateurs realize. An uphill putt, on the other hand, is going to break less and take a shorter amount of time to reach the hole because you have to hit it harder. As soon as the ball reaches the vicinity of the hole it slams on the brakes, whereas on a downhill putt it’s as if the brakes are worn out and the ball is going to keep rolling until it finds a flat area on the green. So once you’ve made your read, visualize how long you think it’s going to take in real time for the ball to reach the hole, as that will tell you how hard to hit the putt.
It’s also very important on putts of 30 feet or more to calculate how far the putt truly is. This is standard procedure on the course—you’re always looking at the yardage markers or your TOURCaddie app (www.PGATOURcaddie.com) to tell you how far it is to the hole, which you then equate to a certain club—but on the green amateurs rarely measure the distance in feet to the cup. Since they’re only putting with one club, they fail to grasp the importance of differentiating a 30-foot putt from 35 feet. That’s why I recommend spending some time in practice stepping off the distance of each putt, so that you’re better able to recognize the distance on the course. Once you build a filing cabinet of 30-, 35-, and 40-foot putts in your brain, it will become easier to calibrate a certain length stroke to that distance.
Drill: Find the Square
To create this filing cabinet of different-length putts and also practice your distance control, construct a 3-foot diameter square around a hole using four tees (place one in each corner). Drop three balls 30 feet from the hole and see how many you can leave inside the square. Then gradually move back in 5- or 10-foot increments and repeat. Your goal should be to lag at least two balls inside each square. To make this drill more difficult, eliminate the front half of the square so that only those putts which finish beyond the hole are deemed to be in the square.
How to be Great from 3 Feet
It’s very easy to get the speed right from 3 feet, which is why on short putts the emphasis should be on aim and starting direction. If you aim where you want and start the putt in the direction you’re aiming, then you have a fairly good chance of holing any putt inside 5 feet. There may be a little break to a short putt, but in most instances you can be aggressive with the speed so long as your aim and initial starting direction are good.
According to one study, for every degree the face is open or closed on a 5-foot putt, the ball will veer 1 inch from the center of the cup. Therefore, you can have the face of the putter 1 degree open at impact and still make the putt with room to spare, provided you’re aiming at the center of the hole (4.25 inches in diameter). Anything more than 2.25 degrees and you’re likely to miss, unless you aimed incorrectly or started the ball outside the hole. Two degrees isn’t much, which is why it’s so critical to start the ball on the correct line. To train both your aim and starting direction, lay two clubs down on the ground so that they form a track slightly wider than the width of your putterhead. The heads of both clubs should form an entrance way to the hole. Lay a ball down on the ground between the two shafts, near the grip end of both clubs, and make your stroke, keeping the putterhead relatively centered between the two shafts. If the head bumps into either shaft than you know the face has veered off-line. Keep it swinging inside the track and you should hit the ball with a square face and start it on its intended line.
Drill: Stay on the Ruler
Here’s something Jonas does from time to time to improve his aim and starting direction. Lay a flat 3-foot steel ruler on the ground so that the hole sits just beyond the edge of the ruler. Place a ball on the other end of the ruler, and set the putterface down behind the ball, square to the ruler’s edge. Hit the putt. Provided you return the face back to square, the ball should roll along the top of the ruler and fall in the center of the cup. If you can consistently keep the ball tracking on the ruler, then you should have the confidence to make every 3-footer on the course.
Jorge Parada is Head Instructor at TOURAcademy TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. For more game-improvement tips, on-the-spot club recommendations and 3D previews of each hole, not to mention real-time distances to all key hazards and targets on each hole, download the TOURCaddie PRO app at www.pgatourcaddie.com.