Putting is arguably the most important shot for any golfers. After all, the ultimate objective of the game of golf is to put that ball in the hole, and we can’t do that without putting the ball on the greens.
So, by improving your putts, you can improve your overall game and lower your scores and handicap.
There are, however, two secrets to successful putting: accuracy and distance. Most people tend to give more focus to accuracy (and control) when practicing putts, but arguably accuracy is slightly easier to improve with your putts, especially if you are using modern putters.
We can quite easily point the putter’s face to the direction we desire, and we can simply rotate our body to change the direction of the ball.
Practicing putting distance, however, is a different story, and no matter how accurate your putts are, if you don’t have a good judgment of distance, you won’t get much value out of your putts.
Most amateur golfers with medium to high-handicap can have a decent line with their putts, but it’s quite often the ball stops short of the cup or goes way past the cup.
This is why improving your ability to judge putting distance is actually the most critical aspect of improving your putting game. By correctly judging distance every time you make your putts, you can give the ball more of a change to naturally roll along the green.
Practicing distance control is, admittedly, difficult, especially if we can’t beat our habit of focusing more on accuracy. This is why in this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to judge putting distance, and how to improve your overall putting game.
Let us begin with the basics: how to judge putting distance.
How To Judge Putting Distance
There are a lot of different factors that will affect how far your ball will travel after a putt, some of these factors are uncontrollable, while some others you can control.
Controllable Factors Affecting Putting Distance
We can actually further differentiate these controllable factors into two: static and dynamic factors.
Controllable Static Factors
1. Your Putter
Obviously, your putter’s model will determine the distance of your ball. To be more exact, the putter’s mass is the main factor determining how far your ball will travel.
The heavier your putter is, the further the ball will travel, and vice versa.
This controllable factor is fairly easy to control, you simply need to get used to the weight/feel of your putter, and you should be able to familiarize yourself with how far a well-struck stroke will send your ball, and vice versa with mishits.
The putter’s loft angle will also dictate the distance of the ball. The standard putter has around 3 or 4 degrees of loft, which will slightly lift the ball off the ground to the top of the grass to get it rolling.
Your stroke’s posture might also decrease or increase the loft, which will cause your ball to bounce on contact, altering the distance, and might lead to failure in distance control.
2. Golf Ball
The general rule of thumb is the harder the ball, the faster it will travel, and thus it should travel further. So, a two-piece golf ball will have a different distance performance to a three- or four-piece golf ball.
To help practice judging putting distance, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the same model and type of ball throughout your practice and/or your round. If you use too many different balls, it can ruin your distance-judging feel, so it might be counterproductive.
Controllable Dynamic Factors
1. Accuracy of putting stroke
This one is fairly self-explanatory. The putter’s clubface (and any other golf club’s face, in that regard) is designed so that the best performance—both in distance and accuracy— is produced when you contact the equator of your ball with the sweet spot of your face.
While the exact position of the sweet spot might vary, typically it’s associated with the center of the clubface. So:
- A perfectly centered putt will produce the most distance
- A putt off the two will produce less distance than a well-struck putt but will go further than a putt off the hell
While this is a controllable factor, most golfers can’t perform well-struck hits 100% of the time, so we consider this a dynamic factor. One way to improve your consistency is to carefully watch your clubhead as it makes contact with the ball while maintaining the correct stance.
A great way to do this is to stand straighter/taller with a more open stance as you make your long putts, this will help you get a better feel for distance and a clearer aim.
2. Swing tempo
Swing tempo refers to the time it takes to complete a stroke. If you can putt with a consistent tempo, then you’ll automatically improve your distance control.
If you can make your strokes with a consistent tempo, then controlling distance would just be a matter of adjusting the length of your backstroke and you don’t have to change the tempo or how hard you’ll hit the ball.
However, most golfers struggle with consistent tempo, as most of us tend to swing a tad bit quicker on shorter putts and vice versa, we tend to slow down on long putts.
A good drill to improve this is to familiarize yourself with gravity: raise your arms to your side, around shoulder length, and let them fall freely.
At the end of their fall, let your hands clap together as they meet halfway. Familiarize yourself with this ‘gravity tempo’.
Once you can consistently base your swing tempo to match the gravity, the only variable in your stroke is the length of your backstroke and how far you take your putter through impact.
Uncontrollable Factors Affecting Putting Distance
There are also certain factors that will affect your putting distance over which you have no control. This mainly involves how the course is set up (especially the greens) and also factors like weather.
The weather would obviously affect the condition of the greens.
After the rain, the soggy greens will slow down the ball significantly and so you’ll naturally produce less distance than you usually would. In snowy conditions, frosty greens will also run faster than usual while might also slightly affect accuracy due to skidding.
2. Speed of the green
The green’s ‘speed’ can vary day to day and even throughout the day, and in certain courses (typically those poorly managed), the speed can vary from green to green. Speed differences will obviously add further difficulty to distance control.
It’s very rare to find putting greens that are perfectly level. This is actually intended so that water (i.e. after the rain) can run off the surface rather than creating water puddles, which will affect gameplay.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the course’s slope variations if you really want to perfect your distance control on the said course.
Greens with bent grass typically run faster than greens with Bermuda grass. If the green is constructed from Bermuda grass, you might want to check the direction of the grass grain’s growth.
This is useful so you can determine which way the grass blades are overlapping the edge: a dull green means the grain is positioned against you, while a shiny green means the grain is with you.
When the grain is with your (shiner surface), you will produce more distance than if it’s a dull green.
How Do You Calculate Putt Distance?
Calculating your actual putting distance might be too technical for most amateur golfers. However, it actually offers a significant benefit in improving your distance control.
This calculation will be a three-step process, but the basic formula is:
Distance= (distance to cup+2 feet ) X (100%+green speed modifier) + (elevation x 1 foot)
Green speed is determined by the type of greens you’re playing on and is determined by looking at the best player you’re playing with. For example, if there’s a Tour master in your group, the greens will be “Tournament”.
If the best player is a master, then the greens will be “Very Fast”, and if there’s a legend in your group, it is a “Legend Tournament” greens.
The modifier is as follows:
- Legend Tournament Speed = -40%
- Tournament Speed = -30%
- Very Fast = -20%
- Fast =-10%
- Standard =+0%
- Slow =+10%
Let’s use an example to better explain this formula.
Let’s say that you are positioned 20 feet from the cup on a Tournament green, and the blue panel shows an up arrow with 4 inches. Meaning, the cup is 4 inches above the ball.
With this example, we can use the formula as follows:
Distance= (20 feet+2 feet) x (100%-30%)+(4 x 1 ft)
So, we get 22x 0.7 + 4 which results in 19.4 feet
Let’s use another example with a different green type and a drop in elevation.
For example, let’s say in this second example you are 16 feet from the cup on a Very Fast green, while the blue panel now shows a down arrow with 3”.
So, let’s again use the formula:
Distance= (16 feet+2 feet) x (100%-20%)+(-3 x 1 ft)
So we get 18 x 0.8 + (-3)= 11.4 feet
As you can see, the formula is actually pretty simple once you’ve got the hang of it: just add two feet to your actual distance, then calculate the percentage of your greens (Very Fast=-20%, Tournament= -30%, and so on), then add or subtract a foot for every inch of elevation or drop (simply convert the elevation to foot/feet instead of inch).
- For very long putts over 30 feet, you also need to add friction to the calculation. As the ball travels over this relatively long-range, friction will slow the ball down, so you’d need to adjust the formula. Typically you can subtract a foot for a 30ft-45ft putt, and two feet for putts longer than that.
- For putts with a lot of break in them, you should add the extra distance traveled into your calculation.
- For very short putts 5 feet and under, you don’t really need to use this formula and just use the listed value for distance estimation. Except, if the slope is quite significant, where you should add/subtract the slope as needed.
How Do You Judge Putting Speed?
Distance control without proper putting speed control won’t provide too much value to your overall game.
The basic idea is to properly judge distance, then use the right putting speed to get this distance. This is how you can consistently get the ball closer to the hole.
In judging the right putting speed for your distance, we have two basic approaches: the first is to stroke the ball gently so that it ‘dies’ in the hole, and the other is to hit the ball firmly and hard, more directly at the hole.
There are benefits and disadvantages to both, so generally, you should master both approaches and use them according to the factors we’ve discussed above, especially the type of putter you have (the head mass), the speed of the greens, and the slope.
Let’s discuss them one by one:
1. Die It In
You might be familiar with this putting approach since a lot of Tour players often use this type of putt. The “die it in” technique certainly looks great, and other players in your group or onlookers might appreciate it as a ‘pro putt’.
A great benefit of this technique is that as the ball is ‘dying’ in, it can enter the hole from all sides. You might get a putt approaching the hole from the front or sides and it still goes in, essentially making the target bigger than it should be if you hit the putt firm.
When you hit the putt firm and hard, if you incorrectly judge the distance and hit too long, you will miss the hole.
The secret to the die it in technique is combining the right distance judgment with the right ‘trickling’ speed. With this technique, since you are going to hit the putt slowly and gently, you need to add a little bit more to your distance estimation. This is because the putt is expected to slow down as it gets closer to the hole, so it’s going to break more.
The major downside to this approach is that you’ll have the tendency to hit your putts short, so distance control is very important with this technique.
This technique is great especially for downhill putts and putts that break left-to-right (assuming you are a right-handed golfer).
2. Hit It Firm
This technique is especially popularized by Tiger Woods in his prime, and opposed to the die it in technique, you’ll rarely hit it short with this technique. The key to this approach is to try to eliminate the break and aim to hit your putts as straight as possible.
The main benefit of this approach is that, again, you’ll rarely make it short. However, the main downside is that you’re going to have a lot of three and four-footers when you do misjudge your distance.
You can use this approach in slower greens and uphill putts.
Choosing Between The Two Techniques
In general, these three factors would determine how aggressively you should putt:
- Slope: since downhill slopes tend to break more, a lighter stroke is better. For uphill putts, you should be more aggressive to counter the naturally slower speed and less break.
- Green speed: it’s best to die your putts on faster greens and play more break. On slower greens, be more aggressive and play less break by hitting firmly.
- Length: on very short putts under five feet, die it in and play as little break as possible. We will discuss more on how to control putting speed based on length below.
Controlling Speed Based on Different Putting Lengths
As discussed, the length of your putts should determine the right speed to approach your putts.
Remember that the objective of your putt is to put your ball as close as possible to the hole, and understand the statistical probability that when you are outside 10 feet of the hole, the chance of getting the ball to the hole dramatically falls.
So, don’t overestimate your ability, and focus on speed from further distances rather than trying to hit the hole every time. This is how you minimize the number of shots per round.
Shorter Putts Under 10 Feet
Unless the green is very fast or the slope is very steep, you should always aim for the hole when you are under 10 feet from the hole. Give it a proper roll and don’t trickle too much, but judge your distance correctly.
Aim for the ideal miss of 18 inches from the hole, so you don’t have to worry too much about too many shots on the way back.
15-30 Feet Putts
For these medium-length putts, you should judge various different factors in judging your distance and controlling speed.
The basic objective is to get the putt down in two, and we’d recommend trying this drill to improve your putts from these distances:
- Lay an alignment rod 18 inches behind the hole
- Use 10 balls and putt from around 25 to 30 feet from the hole
- The objective is to try to putt each ball while avoiding hitting them too short from the hole, but stay short of the alignment rod
- Repeat three times, for a total of three putts
Score yourself this way:
2 points if you hole the putt
- 1 point if you went past the hole but short of the alignment rod
- -1 point if you went past the alignment rod
- 0 point if you hit it less than two feet short
- -1 point if you hit it more than two feet short
Try to score 20 points (with 30 balls). You can adjust the score or putting difficulty as you get better with this drill.
30+ Feet Putts
Your objective here remains the same: get the hole in two putts.
In these long putts, distance control is very important, and you should avoid focusing too much on accuracy with putts over 30 feet in range.
The goal is to have an easier second putt, so put more emphasis on judging your speed right. If you misjudge your speed, it often leads to you having to come back 10 to 12 feet, which might end up costing you a lot of three-putts which will translate into a higher score.
Hit it firm, and pick the smallest target for an easier second putt.
Maintain Your Swing Tempo
The key to controlling your putting speed is to maintain your swing tempo. A study on the best player on Tour has an amazing finding: all the Tour players studied had the same swing speed from the start of the backswing to impact with all their putts.
Each of them has a different tempo, ranging from 57 to 74 BPM, but the total time of the stroke is always the same on every length put. This is apparently the secret of good and excellent putters.
If you tend to die your putters in, you should have a swing speed of around 57 BPM, while if your putts are fast, you should have low 70s in BPM.
To practice, simply download a free metronome app, and set it at 66 BPM (put the metronome in your pocket so you can still hear it beeping/ticking). Start swinging the putter away from the ball on one tick, then make contact with the ball on the next tick.
Now, change the tempo of your metronome until you find your ideal speed. You might need to change the metronome’s speed several times. Once you’ve found your ideal tempo, practice it regularly.
Improving your distance judgment and speed control on the greens are extremely important if you want to lower your scores by reducing the amount of three-putt or four-putt.
Above, we have shared some useful tips on how you can accurately judge your distance, the formula you can use to calculate your putting distance, and also some tips on how to control your putting speed and maintain your swing tempo.
Remember, however, that there’s no shortcut to those perfect putts but practice, practice, and more practice. Before you start dropping birdie putts against your golfing buddies, commit at least one or two hours to practice your putts every week.
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