You’re looking over a long, breaking putt, and in your mind you start drawing a picture of the ball snaking its way to the hole. What’s wrong with that image? Nothing, as long as you don’t forget about speed. Speed is the biggest factor in putting. Good speed with a bad line almost always puts you closer to the hole than bad speed with a good line. Think about that.
“If you use an aiming point, make sure it’s beyond the hole.”
What you need is a way of combining those two elements. You probably already pick an aiming spot on long putts. For a lot of golfers, that spot is the high point of the break, which might be halfway down your line. If that’s what you do, don’t be surprised if you’re leaving putts short—you’re aiming at something halfway to the hole!
For better speed control, try this method. First, estimate the high point of the break, then draw an imaginary line through that point to a spot even with the hole. Second—and this is the big one—move that spot a couple feet farther out on the same line (below). Why? Because you want the ball to have a little roll left when it approaches the hole. To quote Yogi Berra: “Ninety percent of putts that are short don’t go in.”
Here’s one more image to help you get putts to the hole: Picture one of those annoying speed bumps three or four inches before the cup. You want to hit the ball with enough pace to get over the bump. You can even practice this concept with an alignment stick on the green.
The best part about getting the speed right is, you become a better green-reader. You’ll have a mental database to access when you’re reading a putt. The more putts you’ve hit with proper speed, the more experiences you have to guide you. Putts hit with poor speed poison the database.
Michael Breed is Golf Digest’s Chief Digital Instructor.