There are two ways to sink a breaking putt: 1) Float the ball softly from above the hole so that it dies over the high-side edge, or 2) drill it over the front lip. Plenty of die putters have won multiple majors (does the name “Nicklaus” ring a bell?), while some of the game’s greatest players have favored the high-speed route (see Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods or the subject of this month’s cover story, Brandt Snedeker). Obviously, both techniques work. The trick is finding the one that works best for you.
So ask yourself: Do you typically make big-breaking putts by letting them trickle in softly from above, or by drilling them into the hole? Be honest. Forget that it’s probably safer to die the ball, because there’s less chance to run it well past the cup, leaving a tricky comebacker. Forget also that rolling the ball faster helps it hug a straighter line, which is easier to see when reading the putt. Focus only on the breaking putts you’ve holed. You may conclude that one style is right for you.
Still not sure whether to take it fast or slow? Use my test to determine which style is suited for you. First, consider the following facts from my research on breaking putts:
1. The slower you roll the ball, the more break you must read into the putt; therefore, your read needs to be very accurate. You need good speed, too, or your ball will fall off line.
2. The faster you roll the ball, the less break you need to read. Also, your read doesn’t have to be as accurate.
3. (Important!) The best way to make a breaking putt is different for every golfer.
Armed with this information, find a putting green with enough slope to produce big breakers. Choose six different putts (from 4 to 10 feet in length) and mark them with tees. Putt from all six starting positions using both techniques, first by floating the ball with lots of break, and then by rolling it faster with less break. Repeat the drill, but this time charge your first attempt from each position and die the second one. Do this three times. After a while, you’ll begin to see that one method leads to a lot more holed putts than the other. Again, either method can work. If it turns out that you’re a die putter, make sure to err on the side of reading more break than less, so you can keep the ball above the hole throughout its roll. (Putting 101: Once a ball gets beneath the hole, it can’t go in.) If the test proves that you’re a charge putter, play less break and don’t worry about the comebacker if you miss. Charge putters need to remain aggressive, even on their second putt. Find your style and stick with it. Consistency will pay off huge in the long run.