Learn to Lag Putt Like the Pros

October 27, 2016

We all feel disappointed (if not dejected) when we three-putt. We know we’ve just thrown away strokes, which makes it a lot harder to post a good score. But simply tallying our three-jacks over post-round beers doesn’t really tell us where things went wrong. Instead, let’s ask a question: Which is the bigger culprit for weekend players — the first putt or the second?

Put another way, if you were paired with a pro in an alternate-shot event and your team was faced with a 30-footer, would it be wiser to (a) hit the first putt yourself, leaving the tester to the pro, or (b) take on the nervy short putt after the pro cozied up his lag?

To analyze this and similar questions, I’ve collected a large data set on amateur golfers like us. Did you choose option (a)? I would have, too. But the fact is, a weekend golfer would be better off having the pro hit the lag rather than the money putt from close range. Why? Not unexpectedly, pros sink more putts from 30 feet than recreational golfers do (about three times as many), and pros leave most of their misses within tap-in distance.

Although the best putters in both the professional and weekend-warrior ranks gain the most strokes on short putts, when it comes to avoiding three-putts, distance control is critical. From 30 feet, pros leave half their putts within two feet of the hole; everyday players leave half of their 30-footers within three feet of the hole. That’s not bad. The trouble starts with putts that finish outside three feet — they frustrate amateurs and inflate scorecards.

Here’s a fun distance-control game that can help you eliminate three-putts and save you lots of strokes. Hit a 30-footer, and if you sink it, give yourself two points. If you miss and it finishes within two feet of the hole, give yourself one point. If your putt finishes outside two feet but you sink the second putt, subtract one point. And if your first putt finishes outside two feet and you miss your second putt, take away two points. Repeat this for at least five 30-footers. Your goal? Simple — a positive point total. That’s when you’re putting in a league with the pros.