To me putting is the most difficult part of golf. In order to make a putt you need to do three things properly:
1) Make the correct read
2) Choose the right speed
3) Put a good stroke on the ball (not push or pull it)
Even if you still do those correctly the ball might not go in due to green imperfections, wind, grain growth, etc.
Bonus Content: Check out our putting drills guide
Sorry if I have discouraged you already, but here is some more bad news. These are some statistics that show what percentage of putts PGA Tour players make from various distances:
3-5 feet - 88%
5-10 feet - 57%
10-15 feet - 33%
15-20 feet - 19%
These stats might shock some of you. Since the pros are infinitely better than all of us, you can assume your chances of making putts from these distances are worse. I think this is one of the greatest downfalls of the average golfer. For some reason we all think we should be making more putts. It not only affects our mental approach, but also our reactions to missed putts. I see so many people getting angry at missing 12 footers, and it negatively impacts their rounds when it really shouldn't.
There are two takeaways that I think are important. The first is that your chances of making putts over 10 feet are REALLY bad. The pros probability for making putts drops off a cliff after 10 feet.
The second takeaway is that your chances of making closer putts of 5-10 feet aren’t as good as we probably thought.
Armed with this information I think we should not only adjust what we expect of our putting, but we should also change how we practice putting. Let’s talk about practice first...
I’m all about focusing on parts of your game that will yield the highest return in lowering your scores. That is what Practical Golf is all about. If your chances of making a 15 footer aren’t all that good, then why would you try to practice those putts with your precious time? You should be spending your time on the putts where you actually have a decent chance of making them. Based on this data, that would be putts inside of 10 feet.
My advice to you would be to focus a chunk of your practice sessions on 10 feet and in. Seeing the ball go in the hole more will give you tons of positive mental feedback, and you can bring that out on the golf course. It’s certainly worked for me.
The next is lag putting. Since your chances of making longer putts are very low you should not really be practicing with the goal of making these putts often. You should be working on your feel, and being able to get the ball within 3 feet of the hole consistently so you are eliminating 3 putts. Getting rid of three putts is one of the absolute quickest ways to lowering your scores.
Expectations & Strategy
Managing expectations on all parts of your game is also key to becoming a better golfer, and this is no different with putting. We’ve looked at the data, and we now know that we should not be expecting to make putts over 10 feet. They will drop every once in a while, but unfortunately the odds are stacked against you.
This should affect our strategy also. If you are approaching that 20 footer for par with expectations of making it, you are probably going to play that putt more aggressively. This is how three putts happen.
Here is an infographic that shows you the make percentages for an average golfer:
So let's be real about putting. It's one of the harder parts of the game. We don't have to torture ourselves for missing so many putts, the pros are missing plenty themselves!
Focus on those putts inside 10 feet, and get your lag putting in order.
Bonus Content:Be sure to check out my complete guide to putting.
Photo by Proctor Archives/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0