You're probably very aware of lines when you putt. I'll bet you ask yourself questions such as, "What line should I start on?" and "How much will it break?" Yes, lines are important in putting, but sometimes they're all golfers think about on the greens. And this takes away from your touch.
To improve your putting, worry less about lines and more—a lot more—about speed and distance. Your touch (your ability to control the speed of your rolls) affects how much your putts break and how fast your ball moves as it reaches the hole. Speed has a huge impact on putting. When you don't match your speed to the break you've read, your putts won't break the correct amount, and you'll miss. And when your putts don't approach the hole at or near the optimum speed—ideally, you want your misses to stop 17 inches beyond the hole—they'll either be deflected offline by footprints (rolling too slow), or lip out (rolling too fast).
Proper speed is what good putting is all about, and that goes both for the Tour players I work with and the everyday players in my schools. It lets your ball break the right amount and hold its line as it trundles over imperfections on the green, and it minimizes lip-outs.
To develop good touch, play a game called "17 Inches Past." Challenge a friend or rival—oh, and add a little wager to amp up the pressure.
I’m playing "17 Inches Past" in the photos above, taking on my son, Eddie. As you can see in the left photo, I've stroked a 20-footer; the yellow ball represents where my putt came to rest—hole high, a couple of inches away. Not bad. But Eddie's putt (white ball) rolled past the right edge just beyond the hole, curving slightly as it stopped, so he wins this hole. Why? Even though my ball is closer to the cup, his putt had better speed, had a chance to go in, and was closest to the optimum 17 inches past distance (signified by a pink dot).
Add this game to your practice routine. If you can't find an opponent, play a few holes on your own to see how close you get to the target. It's a great warm-up that also grooves your distance control. I know hundreds of drills, and "17 Inches Past" is one of the best to hone a silky putting touch.
PUTTING GAME "17 INCHES PAST”
• On a practice green, two players face off on nine "holes" of match play. Choose putts of varying distance, between nine and 30 feet.
• Alternate who chooses the putt, with each player taking only one putt per hole.
• A made putt wins the hole. If you both knock it in, the "win" carries over to the next hole.
• If you both miss, the player whose ball stops closest to a point that's 17 inches beyond the hole wins.