Putting Straight

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Putting

Putting straight is the first requirement for good putting. It’s easy to verify that you can do that. Once you know you can do it — reliably and repeatedly — good putting boils down to just two things: read and speed.

Every putt you make, you need to distinguish between how well you read the green, and how well you stroked the putt — or more accurately, how good your distance was. Comprehensive Keys to the Green showed you precisely how to make that determination, and used vector analysis to explain how everything works.

Everything Starts with Putting Straight

But everything depends on the ability to putt the ball straight.  If you can consistently stroke the ball down the line you intend, then there are only two variables left in the equation: read and speed. As long as you can putt straight, you can drop stroke-direction out of the equation — it becomes a constant you can ignore, for all practical purposes.

Everything starts with the ability to putt the ball straight. Share on X

If you’re not 100% sure of your ability to putt straight then, every time your read is off, you have to wonder whether your stroke was at fault! But that’s no fun. Putting is much more fun (and easier to manage) when questions about your stroke never even come up.

Putting straight isn’t hard, either. There are thousands of ways to putt the ball. You can use any technique you like. It makes no difference to the end result — as long as when you’re using it, you can putt the ball straight! So it’s worth spending a little time to make sure — if only to instill the inner confidence you need to be sure of your stroke.

Many a professional winds up tinkering with their putting stroke — but since virtually any technique works just fine, that is undoubtedly the least important part of the equation. In fact, it’s so easy to putt straight that virtually everyone can do it! But because they’re not sure what happened when a putt missed, they wind up questioning everything. If I could, I’d get a copy of the book to each of them. Then they wouldn’t have to guess. They would know!

The Basic Experiment

To make sure you can putt straight, you’ll putt the ball over a dime-sized target from six inches away (no more!). If you can do it six times in a row — and know without a doubt that you can do as many times in a row as you need to, then you know you’re putting straight.

To set up the experiment:

  1. Find a flat spot on the green, or putt on a short carpet indoors.
    The goal is to make sure you’re putting on a flat surface. In a pinch, you can put a bubble level on the green or use a bubble-level app on your cell phone. The line between the center of the level and the bubble is straight uphill. Putt on that line.)
  2. Pick your target.
    Put down a dime, or pick a small spot on the green that’s visible, about the same size.
  3. Put down a marker six inches away from itand no more than that.
    Use a tape measure if you have to. This experiment is all about directional precision!
  4. Place a ball next to the marker and putt over the dime.
    Do it as many times as you need to, until you’re sure you can’t miss a six-inch putt.

Advanced Version

If you want to ensure maximum precision, this is the version to use. To do it, use a ball as your target. When you putt the first ball into it, the target ball should travel straight down the line.

This is the billiards version of the experiment. As anyone who has played pool knows, it’s much more difficult than it looks. Since the balls are round, there is precisely one spot on the object ball that has to be hit. If the cue ball hits that spot, the ball goes down the intended line. If it hits anywhere else, the object ball deviates from that line.

The nice thing about this version of the drill is that after the target ball leaves, the ball you struck stops right there on the spot, and becomes the target for the next putt!

Once is All it Takes

That experiment is an important thing to do, but it’s not like you have to keep doing it! Once is plenty, for most of us. If you’re a pro, maybe do it once at the beginning of the season, as part of your tune up. If you’re planning to be in contention for a major, maybe do it once at the beginning of the week — just to be absolutely, totally, 100% sure that your stroke is not an issue!

If you do have problems with that experiment, it’s time to see a coach — not because you need to “learn how to putt”, but because something in your body mechanics is throwing you off. An experienced pair of external eyes will be able to spot the issue and suggest a correction. (You could also practice until you figure it out, but it’s lot easier and faster to see a coach!)

But I’m betting that you won’t have any problems with it. Few do. Like the pros, when you don’t know what happened to your putt, you question everything. But it should go without saying that you can stroke the ball down the line you intend!

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  1. Mike Pavese Author July 18, 2017 (10:41 am)

    A great drill that is almost worthless, unless your talking about PEEWEE golf! 99.999% of real golf course greens never have flat surfaces larger than 6” do to many things, like the rate of grass growth weight of players walking on the greens when the ground is soft from watering. Also there is the placement of the hole that change every few days, and plugs used to fill old holes are never flat. Then there is the grading of the green to allow for water drainage. And that really nasty thing called Mother Nature and her hand in ground settling caused buy the wind & rain, let alone the manmade aeration of the greens 3 or 4 time a year. Then there is the mower to cut the grass. Sand from the bunker shots left on the greens no mater how well you sweep them away. There are thousands of things that can effect the rolling golf ball on the green on any given day, and no drills that will ever cover them all sorry nice try though.

    Reply to Mike Pavese Report comment
    • Eric Armstrong Author July 18, 2017 (12:00 pm)

      Interesting. Apparently something that I made clear in the book wasn’t as clear here.
      The first requirement for putting is the ability to putt down the line you intend,
      and what that means, in practice, is the ability to make a straight putt for six inches!

      As you say, you can find a surface that is reasonably flat for 6 inches. Or,
      as mentioned in the article, do it on a flat carpet at home! If you can do the drill,
      you can putt down the line you intend. And that’s all you really need to know,
      before you start tinkering with your putting stroke.

      Reply to Eric Armstrong Report comment

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