Having trouble controlling the distance your putts travel? The most important element of putting is being able to control distance. Why? Because “Distance Controls Direction.” A putt that travels beyond the hole will curve less, while a putt that is barely making it to the hole will curve much more. That’s why you should seek to control the distance of your putts first.
A simple way to do this, one that most tour professionals use, is the Ladder Drill. Simple to set up and simple to use, it provides the feel for various length putts and can be used before a round at a golf course you have never played to gauge how fast or slow the putting surfaces will be compared to what you are accustomed to.
Find a straight, slightly uphill putt to a hole on the practice green.
From the hole, pace off 10 feet and mark that spot with a tee or other item. Continue to mark off 10 more feet from there, until you have placed two more tees in the ground from 20 and 30 feet.
From each distance, go through your putting routine, including lining up the put from behind the ball. Stroke at least three balls to the hole, attempting to get the ball in the hole, or slightly behind the hole (about 8-10 inches — you can use the removed small flagstick as a backstop, as in Photo 1), but never short of the hole. In Photos 2-4, I'm going through my progression, short to long.
Repeat this process from each distance, making the proper backswing adjustments to insure the ball gets to the hole but does not come up short, or runs by too far.
What you will find when you first use the Ladder Drill is there may be a distance that you have trouble with, while the other distances you are fairly accurate with. Identifying those weak distances will help you better prepare for a round as well as assist you with feeling the distances of putts while playing.
As you continue to use the Ladder Drill and become consistent with your distance control, experiment with downhill and side hill lies to provide you an opportunity to see how the pace of your consistent putting strokes will affect putts from all angles and distances.
John Hughes is a PGA Master Professional based in Orlando, Florida. Contact him at www.johnhughesgolf.com