The art and skill of controlling the distance between you and your throw will help you lower your score and avoid missed shots. If you can successfully roll your first putt, it will take a lot of pressure off your next putt. Watch the professionals rarely let themselves go for long.
When Jordan Spieth was at the peak of his shooting abilities, his distance control was so good that the ball almost always slowed as it approached the hole, making it all too easy for it to fall into the sides of the cup. Putting technique and a true understanding of how to control distance can result in much less fatigue and more or better shots. Here’s how to get better at both.
1. Bat face
Where your club face to impact determines the starting direction of the ball, so be careful to aim your club face at your target when starting your setup. When you put the racket behind the ball, do so very carefully and with intent so that your ball starts at the line you want it to be.
2. Good alignment
Your body alignment is important when you play — and throughout the game — because it determines the trajectory of your shot. Your shoulder and arms should be relatively parallel to your intended shot line. This starts with good stance and a neutral putter position that is centered slightly forward. If the ball is positioned too forward, your body alignment tends to open up too much, causing pulls and cuts. If the ball is positioned too far back, your shoulders will tend to lock, causing thrusts and hooks.
3. Firm and stable
The position stroke must be firm and stable. You want to reduce the moving parts so that there is only one variable to control distance. When you watch good strikers, their bodies tend to be stationary throughout the movement. Golfers who struggle to control distance and direction often have too many moving parts that will appear in the form of their heads or knees moving. There are a lot of recreational players who move their bodies a lot when playing and don’t even realize it. In my lessons, this is where a simple video clip tells the story. Arnold Palmer turned his toes when he threw the ball and this helped keep his body steady.
4. Stroke and then look
To help you stay still, complete your push-up, grab your end and then turn your head and eyes toward the hole. If your putter is moving, your head and eyes shouldn’t – or at least not until soon after the ball makes contact with the ball. Staying patient and waiting to see results will result in better alignment at impact as well as improved direction and center putter face contact.
5. The back controls the distance
The length of your backstroke should control the distance the ball travels. You can try other methods, but from what I’ve seen, this is the only one that works under pressure and reliably. Shorter strokes swing slower and deliver less energy at impact; Longer strokes produce more velocity on impact, which is what makes your ball roll more. One of my favorite drills to help improve this skill is to put the balls in increments of three feet from the hole; Start with the shortest distance and work your way back up. Each stroke should get a little longer as you move further and need to cover more distance. Vary this up with uphill, downhill, and downhill routes to help develop your feel and instinct.
6. Grip pressure and percussion
Applying firm grip pressure will improve your cadence and stroke length consistency. You may be a golfer who makes your putter stiffer or more relaxed. It is up to you. Whatever it is, it shouldn’t change.
7. Read green – the big picture
In most cases, the ability to control distance takes priority over perfect reading on long pitches. But you’ll need at least a sensible read so you don’t miss out on the general rest. You can get a good idea of how the ball is spinning by going to the big picture and comparing the slope of the green and each side of the line. If you identify the higher side and dominant slant of the shot area and estimate its intensity, that may be all the information you need for the line so you can focus on speed.
8. The putter fits
Having a racquet that fits you well and allows you to have good putting is important when it comes to being able to control distance. When your putter is the right length—and not as long as many golfers I see—it allows you to get your eyes on the ball and your arms to hang in a position where your natural shoulder trajectory helps roll the ball onto target. I had the privilege of being fit for my Ping PLD paddle by Alex Webb at Ping’s Arizona headquarters. Having a putter that fits just right—which I have complete confidence in—makes getting close a lot easier.
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9. Warm up properly
You want to prepare yourself before the round to get a feel for the speed of the greens. Start with some medium length strokes that are relatively flat or slightly upward. This will give you a chance to warm up your stroke but also to get an initial feel for the pace of the greens that day. Once you have success with the distance on that starting throw, start moving around the long, rolling greens. Your only goal is to control the distance and slow your ball around the hole. Vary the strokes up and down. Once you feel confident, you are ready for the course.
10. Track your stats and practice appropriately
Tracking the stats of the mode will tell you what you need to practice. One of the biggest differences between professional and recreational golfers is three stroke avoidance. If you can get away with three putts by controlling distance, you can quickly reduce your handicap and score. This is also a part of the game that doesn’t require speed or strength – with good technique, understanding, and practice techniques, you can be great at rolling a putt close enough to you to comfortably tap it.
Controlling distance on the first hit is key to putting two and lowering your score. This is one of those skills that don’t happen overnight because you decide you’ll be good at it. You have to take the time to practice and do the exercises that will help you adjust your stroke length to be a great racket. Focused practice time will pay off, and once you become a great racket, this skill will take the pressure off the rest of your game.
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