In putting, there are two factors influenced by the player that determine whether or not a putt will go in the hole. Those two factors are distance and direction. Distance is by far the more important of the two because it can control the direction you need to hit the putt to find the optimum line. For example, if you hit a putt that is traveling toward the hole at a fast pace, you would have needed to pick a direction that takes less break into consideration. This is because a ball traveling at a fast speed will break less than one traveling slow. The opposite is also true, if you hit a putt that is approaching the hole at a slow pace, you would have needed to choose a direction that takes more break into account. With all this information in mind, it has been determined through research and experimentation that if a putt were to miss the hole, the ideal speed would leave the ball 18 inches past the hole. This amount of speed is considered the optimum speed for all putts.
Now that we know the proper distance to hit a putt, and how you need to adjust the amount of break you play depending on how fast or slow you hit a putt, we can talk about how to control distance with your putting stroke. Most amateurs control the distance that they hit a putt by how hard they hit the ball. They take a relatively similar length backstroke for all putts and control the distance by either accelerating into the ball slowly or quickly. This method of putting makes achieving the proper distance and speed on putts very difficult.
What I teach my students is to control the distance of their putts by varying the length of their stroke, but keeping the same rhythm and tempo. It is very important to find your tempo. Some people, outside of golf, are always on the run and are very active, which usually translates into their golf swing and putting stoke as a quick tempo. Some people live life a little slower, which translates into their golf game as a slow tempo and rhythm. Whatever your tempo is, you can find it rather easily by hitting a 10-foot putt. When you start your putter back count “1”, then when you reach the end of your backswing and transition forward count “2.” The length of time in between your “1” and “2” is your individual tempo. You want to remember this timing of counting “1” and “2” so that you can repeat it through all putts, whether it is a 3-footer or a 30-footer. They key is to make sure that count and tempo is comfortable to you. If it is not comfortable, try experimenting with slower or faster tempos until you find the one that is best and most comfortable for you.
After finding your tempo, practice controlling the distance of your putts with the length of your stroke, not how fast you accelerate through impact. Be sure to stay consistent with your tempo. I would recommend continuing to think or say “1”, “2” as you hit each putt. Vary the distance of the putts that you are practicing to test yourself at different distances.
Controlling the speed of your putts through varying the length of your backswing and forward swing makes controlling distance much easier and allows for more consistency. Making this little change in your putting stroke should help you turn all of those dreaded three putts into two putts or better!