Three Great Putting Drills

A good drill has the characteristics of a game--there's a challenge, you keep score, and you can tell when you're improving. And there is a definite stopping point, so it isn't endless. These drills have those characteristics.

Eric Armstrong

When you're playing for barbies (also known as bogeys), you accept that you're way short of perfection. If you had 8 or 10 yours a day to practice then, Ok, maybe you should expect something close to par. But if you have a life, you know that not all shots are going to go where you aim them. Some of them won't even be close! So you play for barbies (bogies).

The implications is that you're going to expect an average of one semi-disastrous shot per hole. That shot is going to cost you a stroke on that hole, so you wind up with a barby instead of a par. You might have few pars in a round. Maybe even the occasional birdie. But there will generally be a few double bogeys, or worse, to offset the great holes. C'est la vie! That's what happens in the "course" of life (of course).

Since you started out your golfing life by spraying balls in every direction under the sun, you've gotten pretty darn good at recovering from wild shots in the underbrush, in the woods, and off in the fringe. Once you're back in the fairway (or near the green), you're good enough with your wedges to give yourself a chance. All it takes now is some decent putting, and you get to collect your barbies.

These drills are exactly what you need to make it happen. They'll give you a fighting chance to save bogey, make it easier to score the occasional par, and even help you get a birdie now and then.

Of course, the most important thing to take away is that you are playing some kind game when you practice. That helps to keep you focused, and keep you working away at things long after you would have quit, without some goal you are trying to achieve. By all means, make up games of your own, or use these. They help!

It's best to do these drills on a variety of greens, with different speeds. That way you develop the touch you need for different courses. It's also helpul to do them on holes with a bit of slope--enough so it's challenging, but not so much that it's impossible. Just remember: When the green is sloping, then "behind" the hole means "downhill from the point were a ball enters the cup", not "directly behind the cup from where you're standing".

Establish Your Limits

At the outset, set limits for each drill. In particular:

Large Circle Drill

"Greens in regulation" is a great statistic, if you're playing on the tour. If you're not, then a much better statistic is "Around the green in regulation". You may not on the green, exactly, but you're no more than a chip away. This drill is for those situations.

The key here is that distance control is the most important part of putting. If you get the distance right, the next putt is virtually guaranteed. Get it wrong, and you can easily wind up playing 3, 4, or even 5 putts on a green. From 9-12 feet out, the idea is guarantee a two-putt at worst, with a good percentage of one-putts.


Using 5 balls at at time works well for me. I find that I can easily hold them in one hand, and can even pick them up with one hand, if I need to. That makes it easy to move around from place to place. For more balls, I've found that a traveling water bag for dogs works well. It folds up when not in use, and when I place it by the target, every ball I "retire" goes into the bag, so it's ready to carry to the next station.

Set Up

  1. Pace off 10 feet (3 paces and a foot) from the hole (target), and put a tee into the ground.
    That's your start position. When you get back to this point, you're done.

  2. Pace off 6 feet (2 paces), circling the hole, and put another tee there.
    I generally pace off  two feet on what I imagine to be a proper arc, put a tee in the ground, and then pace off the distance to the hole. Then I adjust the tee, depending on where my last foot fell. I don't have to be that exact, but I like doing it that way.

  3. Arrange the 5 balls on an arc between the two tees.
    They'll be 6 to 8 inches apart.


With a slightly different line, it could easily have gone in. So that putt is within an acceptable margin error. The point is, you're not aiming for perfection. Your goal is a "good" putt. You have more leeway if you miss it long, though, so that will encourage you to make a stronger stroke. But don't beat yourself up if you're a tad short. For those of us out here in the real world, that's a great putt!



Long Distance Lag Drill

I like to end every putting session with this drill. It's not quite as demanding as the circle drills, so it takes less time, and long-distance putting is something that can never get enough work (not for me, anyway).

The goal here isn't to guarantee yourself a two-putt, but rather to make sure you give yourself a good chance at one. It's for times when you had a pitch or short wedge to the green. You're far enough away that a 3-putt is entirely possible--and acceptable--but you want to give yourself an opportuntiy to get down in two, if there is any way you can do that..


Set Up

  1. Place a backstop one putter-shaft behind the hole.
    If you're on a practice green, take the flag out of the hole and use it as a backstop. That lets others know that you're using the hole. If the flag isn't removable, use a club. (A standard putter is just about 3 feet long, so it makes a good measuring stick.)

  2. Pace off 30 feet (10 paces), put the tee in the ground, and put 5 balls there.




Small Circle Drill

The goal of the 30' drill was to put you in position to make a two-putt from a long distance. The goal of this drill is increase your chances of capitalizing on a good lag.


Set Up




Practice Patterns

When I go to practice, I'll practive everything if I have time--driving range, short game, and putting. But to keep things down to a reasonable amount of time, I'll alternate these patterns:

I'll alternate the drills I use in the putting sessions, too:

Using those patterns, practices tend to last an hour or so, and the most important phases of the game get regular coverage.

I give minimal attention to sand shots. I'm not in bunkers often enough to improve my score that much, and I generally get out pretty well. (If you don't, by all means make part of your practice sessions, if at all possible.) For a fairway bunker, it's a matter of taking two extra clubs and swinging with upper body only. For a greenside bunker, it's a matter of playing it like a chip (ball back), hitting an inch behind the ball, and opening up the club for more height and less distance, or leaving it square for a standard out that runs pretty well.

Since I don't practice bunkers, I may not be anyhere near the hole when I get out. But at least I'm out. If I were a scratch golfer, it would be important to work on sand shots, to save par. As a bogey golfer, the shot I play out of the sand counts as my "extra" shot for the hole. (The one that results in bogey, rather than par.) Of course, I try not to have any more than one extra shot per hole, on average. Sometimes, it even works out that way.




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