Short-game guru’s system to improve distance control — and stop 3-putting

gary woodland hits putt during the masters

Three-putting is a surefire way to halt momentum in your round.

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Golf instruction is ever-evolving, but the best advice stands the test of time. In GOLF.com’s new series, Timeless Tips, we’re highlighting some of the greatest advice teachers and players have dispensed in the pages of GOLF Magazine. This week, a series of drills from Dave Pelz to help improve your distance control from the November 1990 issue. For unlimited access to the full GOLF Magazine digital archive, join InsideGOLF today; you’ll enjoy $140 of value for only $39.99/year.

Three-putting is a maddening mistake. It turns potential birdies into bogeys, and those bogeys into “others.” If it’s taking you three whacks to get the ball in the hole on the greens, you have little chance to score well.

It’s been shown that the best way to limit three-putts is by improving your distance control. Starting your putts on the correct line is nice, but dispersion patterns are typically larger front-to-back than they are left-to-right. With that in mind, it merits a healthy amount of work dialing in your touch.

Training on the greens isn’t mindless work. Like every other aspect of your game, you need to have a plan when heading out for practice. Luckily for you, we have a few drills that you can use to dial in your speed, courtesy of short-game guru Dave Pelz. Check it out below from the November 1990 issue of GOLF Magazine.

Dave Pelz’ putting drills

Think back to the first time you stood on a putting green. Whether you were a child or fully grown, you probably held the putter awkwardly as you stood over the ball, knowing you wanted to send it toward the hole but not really knowing how to go about it. So on your first attempt, you probably did one of two things: Either you hit the ball no more than half the distance to the hole or you knocked it well past, maybe even off the green. 

The point is, feel for distance is not born but learned. And you can begin learning and perfecting it at any point, even if you’ve not been a good putter up till now. 

The best way I’ve found of developing a feel for distance is through drills that you practice on the putting green. Work on these drills and your feel for putting distance will improve very quickly. 

Putt blindfolded

Most players with poor distance control on the greens think too much about technique, not enough about touch. They have so many tips floating around in their heads that they can’t feel the proper action and ingrain a good motion into their muscle memory. I’m not saying you shouldn’t rely on keys. But think of only one before you start the stroke, then let feel take over. 

One way to clear your head of extraneous keys while learning to judge distance on the green is by practicing putts of different lengths while blindfolded. From a number of distances, place a few balls on the green, glance at the hole then close your eyes or tie on a blindfold. Try to hole the putts. You’ll sense if your body is moving, your grip pressure is comfortable and your hands are working as a unit throughout the stroke. 

Work on this a few times and you’ll return to the course thinking only about feel — not mechanics. 

Lag-putt drill

This drill will help you on long putts when you want to minimize the worry of reading the line and concentrate on the correct speed. 

Putt three balls from 40, then 60, then 50 feet away from the hole. You want to stop the balls four, then six, then five feet away, respectively. Repeat the sequence twice more so you’ve putted 27 balls in all. 

Finally, putt three balls from 60 feet away. If all three finish within six feet of the hole, you’re finished. If any one is more than six feet away, putt the final three again until they’re all within the six-foot range. 

This drill will help turn your three-putts into two-putts — with the occasional long one finding the hole. 

20-foot drill

If you were to chart your putts in a single round, you’d probably find that many of your first attempts are from roughly 20 feet away. So it makes sense to feel confident over 20-footers. Here’s a drill to help. Mark two spots, 20 feet from opposite sides of the hole. From the first spot, putt in groups of three balls until you can stop them all within one putter-length of the back of the cup, without leaving any short. Having done that, go to the mark on the other side of the hole and repeat the drill. Keep putting this way for 15 minutes or until you can stop 10 in a row.

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