Master the Greens: The Necessary Skills for Better Putting

Dan Gold
Written by
Last update:

How to Putt

A putting stroke that works well on the practice green may not deliver the desired results when put into use on the putting green. A practicing green is a flat surface and is a good place to perfect your putting skills.

However, the putting green is not a flat surface and this makes it necessary to adjust your putting stroke in order to putt well on the green.

Imagine for example, you are practicing on the flat green and you notice the ball releasing quickly with a good amount of backspin and the amount is adequate to sit the ball close to the hole.

You then go to the practice green and place the ball on the same spot. Everything looks pretty much the same apart from the fact that the ball does not seem to be sitting as close to the hole as it did on the practice green.

You then conclude that the green is rather fast and decide to roll with it. However, when you try to putt, the stroke you used when you practiced, simply does not work.

How did you arrive at this conclusion?

That is because putting on a green is completely different from practicing putting on a flat practice green.

A green is not a flat surface and so your putting stroke needs to adjust to the undulation on the green.

So what should you do?

Adjust your putting stroke.

Putting 101: The Setup

You can probably tell at this point that my goal is to get you to be a confident, independent golfer who doesn’t need a golf pro around at all times.

Hence for this part of putting, I’m going to talk about my own personal opinions and techniques. If you don’t want to use them, or if you are already happy with your current putting style, feel free to ignore them. They’re simply something to consider.

Before we get into the details of grip and alignment, I need to give a little explanation of the aim of putting.

The aim of putting is to strike the ball such that the ball rolls as close to the hole as possible. In golf, that is called holing out.

Hence, the first thing you need to do is adjust your setup to make your line up with the target.

When lining up your put, you want to be facing the target and square with it.

This position is called the address position. It’s different from the set up position used to take your shot off the tee and out of the fairway.

However, even though you are square with the target, it doesn’t mean you have to be square with your shoulders.

Focus on Your Head and Eye Position

One of the most overlooked aspects of putting is your head position. People get so fixated on the ball and its path to the hole that they tend to forget to focus on other key parts of the body, like the head.

This is the biggest mistake golfers make, and it often leads to their downfall if they fail to correct it.

The head directs the eyes, so aim to get in contact with the ball a few inches ahead of your eyes. Don’t make any contact with the ball with your entire face. When you do this, you can concentrate on the distance to the hole and break down the actions that take place after you hit the ball.

The eyes are also key to putting. They will guide you in the roll of the putt, and their position can have a significant effect on where the ball rolls to.

You can achieve a better roll by focusing on the target before you start the putting motion. This helps you keep the eyes in the same position, making your putting more accurate.

Good putting form starts with the right focus, and you’ll need to visualize the feel you want to have as you roll the ball. Also, you want to make sure that there’s no tension in your neck, shoulders, and arms so that you can relax in your stance.

Lastly, learn to focus on your target.

Which Putting Grip Should I Use?

For most people, the first piece of putting practice they do is to line up the putter face with the golf ball and execute the backstroke.

By practicing in this way, they are able to strike the ball at least 10 feet towards its target at a wide variety of distances. They have successfully built a solid stroke foundation that can be easily transferred to the course.

Still, most golfers never go beyond the introductory level by simply repeating the backstroke over and over. Their putting success at this level is limited due to the large limitations of the backstroke.

For successful performance, putting is all about pace control. It is easy to tell when a putt goes off target because the distance is shorter or longer than intended.

When pace is exaggerated and becomes too short or too long, the putting stroke loses its effectiveness. The most frequent reason is the putting stroke path which has a tendency to vary significantly along the path.

So how does one solve such a problem? One solution is to learn the pendulum putting stroke.

The pendulum putting stroke is one of the most effective solutions you can find. Its single-most advantage is its ability to create a straighter putting stroke path and putt closer to the intended target.

The pendulum stroke is a core concept of putting. But first, you need to know the different putting grips.

Standard Grip

The standard grip refers to a very familiar grip used by most golfers.

Even though it is the standard, and it’s the one most golfers are using, you should still make sure you can putt with this grip.

In this, your dominant hand should be holding the putter just below the end of the grip, with the thumb pointed towards your head.

All the fingers on your dominant hand should be wrapped around the club.

This will give you stability as you putt, and the clubface should be pointing ahead.

Keep your grip consistent. You do not need to change it much based on the location of your ball.

This makes it easier for you to make your putts consistently.

Left Hand Low (Cross-Handed)

For a lot of people, setting up for a putt seems to be the hardest part of the game.

But this is mainly due to the fact that they never really learned how to do it correctly.

A flawless set-up for a putt does not only make you feel more confident while on the green, but it can also help you improve your creative distance control.

This set-up requires you to shift your weight to one side, lock your wrists, and use a left-hand low grip.

More importantly, you will have to keep the left arm low and relaxed, and to bring the right arm very high up.

This will allow you to keep the shaft more vertical and to make sure your wrists are straight up and down. This is the basic setup for hitting a putt with maximum power.

For more details on this setup, take a look at this article.

Other Putting Grips

In addition to the popular cross-handed and one-handed grips, there are 3 other putting grips that you should be aware of:

  • The Vardon-style grip
  • The modified Vardon grip
  • The overlap grip

The Vardon-style grip is named for famed golf instructor and author of the book “The Theory of the Modern Golf Swing,” Harry Vardon. In this putting grip, the middle, ring, and little fingers on the left hand overlap the forefinger and thumb on the right hand.

Vardon, along with fellow golf instructor and author Si Hawkins, invented and promoted the overlapping grip for putting. Though this grip is still widely advocated, Vardon himself fancied the modified Vardon grip in his later years. In it, the middle and ring fingers of the left hand intercept the forefinger and thumb of the right hand immediately before the Vardon overlap. This allows for a more open and relaxed grip.

A third putting grip that is commonly taught to beginning golfers is the overlap grip. It’s just like the modified Vardon grip, only the middle and ring fingers of the left hand intercept the forefinger and thumb of the right hand immediately after the Vardon overlap.

Grip Pressure 101

Phil Mickelson is known for his freakish, one-of-a-kind putting style on the green.

Early in his career, he won several putting tournaments simply by relying on his feel and his uncanny ability to cultivate it.

Although it’s virtually impossible for a golfer to replicate Phil’s putting stroke when it came to the finer details, there’s one thing almost every golfing professional, whether they’re a Tour winner or a scratch player, can agree on: excessive grip pressure is the worst thing you can do when you’re putting.

Phil correctly identified that the most important thing in golf is the feel. Feel is what separates great players from good players, and good players from average ones. When a professional golfer hits a golf ball, he doesn’t look at the results of the contact, but rather the feel of it.

The feel of a golf swing can be expressed as a number of variations of timing, force, tempo, and accuracy. Feel is basically how the golf ball comes off the club face, and taking an accurate reading of that is what separates the good players from the best ones. This is why keeping a consistent grip pressure throughout your putting stroke is very important.

Best Putting Stroke: What’s the Correct Method?

The putting stroke is a key part for every golfer to learn. That’s because putting is the most crucial part of your game, which can make or break you.

What is the best putting stroke?

When you will talk to some golfers, they will tell you that they have the best putting stroke. Others will say it’s the one that produces the most putts …

When it comes to putting strokes, there is no one perfect way. The most important thing is to discuss with your golfing instructor to find the right stroke for you.

The short video below from Ninja golf, one of the top golf instruction courses online, gives you a good view of the putting stroke explained by a real pro golfer.

You can also download the video, and it includes a written break-down of the putting stroke as well.

Inside to Outside Putting Stroke

For a standard putt, your club face should be square to the target line.

Start with the club face towards the hole.

As you swing the club, the club face will rotate open, which will decrease the effective loft of the putter and decrease the amount the head will roll back.

You will roll the putter head back towards the target.

The putter head and the ball will arrive at the same time.

Release the ball while the putter head is still rolling back.

Continue to the inside out view with the club face open.

The club face is open to account for the rollback of the putter head.

Into the outside view with the putter head open, and the ball just being released.

Straight Back, Straight Through Putting Stroke

When you look at the ball and address it, your dominant hand (the right for right handed golfers) should be positioned on top of the handle and your belly button facing the target.

At the position where the club contacts the grass, your left forearm should be flat and facing down toward the ground, your left hand and wrist pulled firmly against your chest, and your right hand cupping the club in the center.

As an extension of this motion, the club should be behind the ball slightly at address, pushed and pulled further back along the target line into impact.

In the forward swing, the clubhead and hands should continue back and down along the target line. This should be done by setting the clubhead behind the ball while keeping your hands to one side of the body.

The head of the club should be facing the target line, the left elbow should be somewhat back, and the right forearm should be by the chin.

Throughout the back swing, the right elbow should be extended and pulled down toward the back hip.

Then, during the forward swing, the right elbow should be drawn down and back. At the same time, the right forearm should be cocked to the left, and the body rotated across the ball until your back is turned.

Nothing related to the body should turn during this process, and your weight should remain on your left instep.

Outside to Inside Putting Stroke

Identifying one common weakness in most golfers’ putting stroke is perhaps not easy, if not impossible. However, one of the easiest ways to check if your form is correct is to see if you are keeping your wrists and arms straight and still throughout the putting stroke.

This is necessary to ensure that both arms move together and in the same direction. If one arm tends to move ahead of the other, it will create too much bias depending if you are a righty or lefty, and hence, shifting the putter, the putterface, and the ball in an unintended direction.

Arms too close or too far from the body also lead to incorrect form because it is difficult to hit the ball with consistency and direction.

To get around and correct this problem, golfers should make sure to extend the arms out to the ball before the putting stroke. This allows you to reach the ball easier with your arms extended straight, letting the direction and ball head inside-to-outside of the target line.

Flex your wrists towards the ball during the putting stroke. Doing so encourages the putterface to remain square to the ball and on the target line.

It is also wise to use the wrists to help add a little momentum to the putter and to ensure the putterface remains square in relation to the ball.

Creating Your Perfect Stroke

Putting after a full iron swing is a whole new game. So there are a couple of changes you need to make to your putting style to improve your results and lower your score.

You need to keep your eyes on the ball as long as possible. Aim to be looking at the ball two to three seconds before you start to make the stroke.

You also need to make sure that you get low with your shoulders.

Lean over the ball. It’s critical that you get really low.

Look at the hole and take a deep breath, step back a couple of steps to gain some leverage and begin your backswing.

Keeping your backswing short is also important.

As you make your stroke, try to start the downward motion with the putter head, not with your arms.

To do that, keep your hands still. Keep them steady on the handle.

Don’t try to force the putter head down. Let it sink by its own weight.

Your putter head should ride on a nice, slow, downward-moving arc. Don’t rush.

Your wrists should keep going down to the hole and then pronate (roll) through the ball.

Don’t Forget Your Putting Tempo

A common mistake a lot of golfers make is that they consciously try to control their putter. If you have a habit of unconsciously gripping the putter when you putt, it’s likely that you’re gripping harder on vital putting strokes. This is also known as the death grip.

Reason being, the harder you grip the putter, the more tension you create. And the more tension you create, the more your body tightens up. You’re then very likely to make a technical or execution mistake because you’re anticipating something to go wrong and thereby, you start fighting your putting stroke, instead of just enjoying it.

The sooner you figure out the right tempo for your putting, the sooner you’re going to consistently roll smoother strokes from inside the hole.

Before you can nail your tempo, you’ll also need to work on improving it. What this involves is checking your putting technique, specifically the grip pressure you bring into play.

Before you can look at the tempo of your putting stroke, you first need to choose the right style that will work best for your body and your putting.

Final Thoughts on Putting

I have to confess that I didn’t really putt that great the other day. It was a bit embarrassing, you see, I was playing my custom Oakley Scotty Cameron putter for a new brand of balls. I stood off the ball and hit the putt, and sure enough, it went right.

Before you start putting like a master though, you need to learn to grip, align, aim, and strike the putt so that your putt goes directly at the hole.

Aiming directly at the hole and putting is enough to help us be quality putters. So if you are out to learn about greens, you can add in the other parts of getting ready to putt, but they will not be as impactful. If you are a pro already, you might want to start learning the best putting grip.

Putting is a skill all golfers need to master. And there are some things you can do to help yourself master it. I recommend you to check out my special report on 4 Steps to Better Putting.