Th old adage that to improve your putting you must putt on the practice green until your hands bleed or your back breaks is herein replaced with a new motto: Play putting games in the convenience of your home during the week -- and then putt better and shoot lower scores on the weekend.
I'm not selling false hope, a magic putter that can't miss, or suggesting that you can "buy" better putting. I'm simply saying that if you play these games, your putting skills will improve. And I'm also saying that improving your putting skills is the only real and longlasting way to improve your putting.
I've been researching and teaching the short game and putting for more than 30 years. I work with a staff of the finest short game and putting instructors, teaching two- and three-day Dave Pelz Scoring Game Schools in six locations around the U.S. and one international location. We also teach one-day clinics in more than 30 cities. In addition, I have personally coached more than 100 PGA and some 80 LPGA tour professionals over the last three decades. I mention this because I want you to understand that the measurements and games described here have all been used and vetted in my schools and in my personal teaching. They work.
These games are not just based on ideas or theories. They've been used and proven effective. When golfers play them, their putting skills improve and they putt better on the golf course. So while the games themselves are not new, they are proven.
IMPROVING IS A PROCESS
One thing I've learned from the thousands of putting lessons I've given is that golfers are more successful, and learn more efficiently, when they have a clear mental image and true understanding of two things: (1) exactly what they're going to try to accomplish, and (2) what they have to do to achieve it. That is, they need to know what their goals are, and how to practice to get to those goals.
If this is your situation, you are one among many. Most golfers are willing to work to reach their goal if they know what they need to do to accomplish it. And when there's the added bonus of their work also being fun, then they've hit a home run!
THE CASE FOR COMPETITION
The absolute best thing you can do is to compete in these games with someone who putts better than you do. The better he or she putts, the more focused and intense your own putting performance will have to be to compete. And the better that will be for your future putting. It may cost you a few bets here and there, but it's worth it. The quickest, most efficient way to get yourself focused during games is the need to bear down to keep from getting your butt kicked.
The reason that competition in games helps your on-course putting is that most golfers try really hard to perform well on the course. If you also try really hard to compete in games, you're practicing exactly like you're going to play, so when you improve in one you'll also improve in the other. Play smart: (1) be honest in your game scoring; (2) make your practice strokes and pre-putt ritual exactly as you make them on the course; and (3) play against the best competition you can find.
CAUTION: Don't get stuck in a rut playing games you're really great at while ignoring the games that give you problems. And remember that you also need to get out on the course and play. Practice alone is never enough. It's the same with only playing and never practicing -- neither is enough without the other.
LAG-PUTT GAME: OUTDOOR VERSION
Amateurs three-putt way too often. Most golfers can improve more by eliminating three-putts than by holing more putts of any particular length. The goal of the Lag-Putt Game is to measure your ability to roll long putts close to the hole. Of course you'd like to make them, but that won't happen often because of the many challenges -- including green speed, green surface quality, and green reading -- that are involved. Although it's really fun when you do happen to get lucky and hole one (like my lucky 210-footer on a Golf Channel show a few years back), it's way more important to control your speed and leave your long putts close to the hole so that you can two-putt almost every time.
Choose a hole with space that allows you to putt from 40, 50 and 60 feet. Walk this direction, counting 13 large steps straight away from the hole. Place a tee or sticker-dot in the green about one foot past the toe of your farthest foot to mark a 40-foot distance to the cup.
From the 40-foot marker, take three more steps in the same direction and place another marker a foot past your farthest foot for a 50-foot putt.
Walk another three steps (plus a foot) for your 60-foot putt marker.
Putt two balls from each of the three reference distances in the following order: two from 50 feet, two from 60 feet and two from 40 feet. After you've rolled the first six putts, repeat the same six-putt cycle in the same order.
There's a 34-inch-radius semicircular "good" zone around the cup for lag putts. The good zone is measured either with a tape measure at 34 inches from the edge of the hole, or by the length of a 7-iron or a 35-inch putter shaft to the end of the grip, when the head is down in the hole. The measure of a successful lag putt is that it stops in or touches the good zone around the hole, or happens to luck into the hole.
HOW TO KEEP SCORE
Players alternately putt in the normal sequence of distances: first 50 feet, then 60 feet, then 40 feet. Each player putts twice from each distance, then repeats the cycle for 12 putts total.
The Lag-Putt Game competition is match play and can be played using either of the two scoring methods detailed below. It's important to choose your scoring method before the game starts. Whichever player scores lower on the first putt will be 1-up, the other 1-down. If both scores are the same (often true in "stroke" scoring, but seldom true in "remainder" scoring -- see below), the match is even going to the second putt. The winner is the player who wins the most holes out of 12 (ties are played off in sudden-death).
Scoring by the "Stroke" method:
Your "Stroke" score for the Lag-Putt Game is the sum total of your 12 putt scores.
Scoring by the "Putt-Remainder" method:
Scoring by the Putt-Remainder method requires the most effort, but it's the most accurate way to measure performance. A putt remainder is the distance (in inches) from the point at which your putt comes to rest at the edge of the hole (holed putts = zero remainder). Your game score by the Putt-Remainder method is the total of your 12 putt remainders.
LAG-PUTT GAME: INDOOR VERSION
To play the Lag-Putt Game indoors, you'll need the help of a training aid we developed called the Touch Tutor. Like all of my training aids, the Touch Tutor is built on the concept of easy access to playing games and receiving the feedback necessary for learning -- and getting both on a regular and consistent basis during the week while you are at home.
Set up putts like you did on the previous pages, set the Touch Tutor into its "LAG" mode and aim its aim line along the intended putting direction line (photo, right) and drop a pillow a few feet in front of the Touch Tutor. Position cans or bottles at each of the three reference distances of 40 feet, 50 feet and 60 feet down a hallway as markers. Place a ball on the Touch Tutor and after a good preview stroke, putt it to the 50-foot target. The ball should roll into a pillow directly in front of you.
Play and score the game as you did in the outdoor version. The Touch Tutor will measure the distance your ball would have rolled on a perfectly level putting green of 10-foot green-speed, and report your stroke score on its LCD. It will also report the miss-distance of your putt, allowing you to score the game using the Putt-Remainder method. Easy, quick and fun.
LAG-PUTT GAME: BACKYARD VERSION
Same setup and execution as on the previous pages, but performed in the comfort of your own backyard! Most golfers don't have time after work to drive back and forth from a golf course, take lessons from the pro, and then practice on the putting green. To do all of this often enough to make a difference simply does not fit into most golfers' lifestyles. And this doesn't even address the issue of the expense it takes to consistently mount such an effort to improve your putting.
Would you like to play a few putting games at home in the evenings this week, without driving anywhere, and have this practice time to improve your putting next weekend on the course? Sure you would. I recommend a visit to www.golf.com/pelz for an inside look on how to make a backyard practice station a true reality.
TWO MORE GAMES: EASY ACCESS TO IMPROVED PUTTING
1: AIM GAME
The goal of playing the Aim Game is to train and improve your ability to aim your putter consistently and accurately along the line on which you want your putts to start on short and makeable-length putts. To set up, choose a putting spot that allows you to aim at three different target distances and place a sticker-dot there. Set three Phony Hole targets (or soda bottles or cans) at three distances: 10, 15, and 5 feet. (Place a book as a blocking plate in front of your putting spot so your putts won't hit and move your targets.)
You'll need two items to finish setting up this game. The first is an aim scale, which you create by marking lines on a cardboard strip in one-inch increments (photo, above). Set the scale on your first target (putt at 10 feet first, then 20 and then 5). The second item is a Teacher Pointer (available at pelzgolf.com), which you attach directly onto your putter. TheTeacher Pointer makes it easy for your partner to determine the direction in which you've aimed the putterface. All he or she has to do is align a string held in front of his or her eyes with the red straw on the Teacher Pointer and note where it crosses the scale (top photo).
To play the game, address the putt, aim the putterface and, when you "think" you're aiming directly at each of your targets, have your partner observe and record where you're actually aiming (inches left or right of center). Try each distance twice, then repeat the same cycle of six to complete the game. Your Aim Game score is the average of your 12 individual aim scores.
2: FEEL-FOR-SPEED GAME
The intent of the Feel-for-Speed Game is to enhance your ability to feel small differences in speed that your strokes impart to putts. This is accomplished by engaging you in many repetitions of a single speed-critical putt, while providing you with feedback to fine-tune your mind and body's speed-control muscles.
Each game consists of 12 identical putts from 15 feet, 20 feet, or 10 feet. You select which distance to putt to each time you play a game. Use a Phony Hole (below) so you can play this game anywhere on the practice putting green and indoors. (This game works best on seriously breaking putts, where the line depends more on the speed at which the ball rolls.) In addition to the putt distances, mark a point precisely at the end of the extended putt line 17 inches past the Phony Hole, which is where you expect the perfect optimum-speed putt to come to rest.
You and your opponent alternately putt from each of the three distances. A perfect putt will roll over the center of the Phony Hole and stop on the sticker-dot 17 inches behind the hole's back edge. (The Phony Hole is required for this game so you can see how far putts that would normally be made roll past the hole before stopping.)
Here's how to score: "Made" putts (score = 1) are those that roll at least half the ball over the Phony Hole and stop in the good zone (34-inch-deep semicircle) behind it. A score of 2 is given to putts that miss the Phony Hole but stop in the good-speed zone. Putts that stop outside of (not touching) the good-zone but within 68 inches of the Phony Hole receive a score of 3. Those that end up between 68 and 102 inches from the Phony Hole get 4, and those beyond 102 get 5. Total the scores -- as you can guess, the low score is the winner. A perfect score is 12 -- good luck!
EVEN MORE WAYS TO IMPROVE -- AND HAVE FUN DOING IT!
Dave Pelz's Putting Games (Gotham Books, $30) is Dave Pelz's first book dedicated solely to improving your putting in the convenience of your own home. In it you'll learn how to play more than 20 fun and competitive games to improve your feel, speed and technique. It's the ultimate practice primer for golfers serious about making more putts. Available wherever books are sold.