Putting is arguably the most crucial shot for any golfer. After all, the ultimate objective of the golf game 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 focus on accuracy (and control) when practicing putts. Still, 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 in the direction we desire, and we can rotate our bodies to change the ball’s movement.
However, practicing putting distance is a different story. No matter how accurate your putts are, if you don’t have a good judgment of space, 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 pretty often the ball stops short of the cup or goes way past the cup.
It is why improving your ability to judge putting distance is the most critical aspect of improving your putting game. By correctly considering distance every time you make your putts, you can give the ball more chance to roll along with the green nature.
Admittedly, practicing distance control is difficult, especially if we can’t beat our habit of focusing more on accuracy. However, it 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
Many different factors 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 further differentiate these controllable factors into two: static and dynamic elements.
Controllable Static Factors
Obviously, your putter’s model will determine the distance of your ball. For 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 pretty easy to control. First, you need to get used to the weight/feel of your putter. Then, 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.
The general rule of thumb is the more complex 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.
For its help practice for judging putting distance, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the same model and type of ball throughout your practice and round. If you use too many different hops, it can ruin your distance-judging feel so that it might be counterproductive.
Controllable Dynamic Factors
Accuracy of putting stroke
This one is pretty self-explanatory. In that regard, the putter’s clubface (and any other golf club’s face) designs the best performance. Both distance and accuracy produce when you contact your ball’s equator with the sweet spot of your face.
While the sweet spot’s exact position might vary, it’s typically associated with the center of the clubface. So:
- A perfectly centered putt will produce the most distance
- A putt off the two will have less space 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 element. 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 more precise aim.
Swing tempo refers to the time it takes to complete a stroke. If you can putt with a consistent rhythm, then you’ll automatically improve your distance control.
If you can make your strokes with a consistent tempo, then controlling distance would be a matter of adjusting the length of your backstroke. 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. Conversely, we tend to slow down on long putts.
An excellent 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 swing tempo consistently to match the gravity, the only variable in your stroke is the length. After that, it’s your backstroke and how far you take your putter through impact.
Uncontrollable Factors Affecting Putting Distance
Certain factors will affect your putting distance over which you have no control. It mainly involves how the course is set up (especially the greens) and factors like weather.
The weather would affect the condition of the greens.
After the rain, the soggy greens will slow down the ball significantly. So you’ll naturally produce less distance than you usually would. In snowy conditions, frosty greens will also run faster than usual while slightly affecting accuracy due to skidding.
Speed of the green
The green’s ‘speed’ can vary day to day and even throughout the day. In addition, in specific courses (typically those poorly managed), the speed can vary from green to green. Speed differences will add further difficulty to distance control.
It’s scarce to find putting perfectly level greens. It intends that water (i.e., after the rain) can run off the surface rather than create water puddles, affecting gameplay.
It’s essential to familiarize yourself with the course’s slope variations if you want to perfect your distance control on the said course.
Greens with bent grass typically run faster than greens with Bermuda grass. Therefore, if the garden constructs from Bermuda grass, you might want to check the grass grain’s growth direction.
It is helpful so you can determine which way the grass blades are overlapping the edge. A dull green means the grain position 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 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 determines the type of greens you’re playing on and determines by looking at the best player. 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 explain this formula better.
Let’s say that you position 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 pretty simple once you’ve got the hang of it: 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 afoot for every inch of elevation or drop (convert the height to foot/feet instead of an 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 afoot for a 30ft-45ft putt and two feet for putts longer than that.
- For putts with many break-ins, you should add the extra distance traveled into your calculation.
- For very short putts 5 feet and under, you don’t need to use this formula and use the listed value for distance estimation. Except if the slope is quite significant, where you should add/subtract the hill 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 judge distance properly, then use the right putting speed to get this distance. It 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: First, 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 spot.
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:
Die It In
You might be familiar with this putting approach since many 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. So you might get a putt approaching the spot from the front or sides, and it still goes in, essentially making the target bigger than it should be if you hit the putt firmly.
When you hit the putt firm and hard, you will miss the hole if you incorrectly judge the distance and hit too long.
The secret to the die-in technique is combining the proper distance judgment with the right ‘trickling’ speed. With this technique, since you will hit the putt slowly and gently, you need to add a little more to your distance estimation. It is because the putt expects 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 tend to hit your putts short, so distance control is significant with this technique.
This technique is excellent, especially for downhill putts and putts that break left-to-right (assuming you are a right-handed golfer).
Hit It Firm
Tiger Woods especially popularize this technique in his prime. As opposed to dying it in practice, you’ll rarely hit it short with this technique. The key to this approach is 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 put:
- 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 minor 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 minor pauses 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 the 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 your objective is 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 spot dramatically falls.
So, don’t overestimate your ability, and focus on speed from further distances rather than trying to hit the hole every time. It 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 spot. Please 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 about shots on the way back.
15-30 Feet Putts
For these medium-length putts, you should judge various factors in evaluating your distance and controlling speed.
The primary 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 ten balls and put from around 25 to 30 feet from the hole.
- The objective is to put 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 significant. 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 emphasize judging your speed right. If you misjudge your speed, it often leads to you having to come back 10 to 12 feet, which might cost you a lot of three-putts, translating into a higher score.
Hit it firmly, 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 a fantastic 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. It is the secret of 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, 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). Next, start swinging the putter away from the ball on one tick, then contact 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 perfect beat, practice it regularly.
Improving your distance judgment and speed control on the greens are extremely important. You want to lower your scores by reducing the amount of three-putt or four-putt.
Above, we have shared some valuable tips on how to judge your distance accurately. In addition, this formula you can use to calculate your putting distance. Finally, it shows you 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. So before you start dropping birdie putts against your golfing buddies, commit at least one or two hours to practice your putts every week.