Nick Faldo’s guide to putting has 4 steps. Jack Nicklaus would add another.

Nick Faldo, Jack Nicklaus

Nick Faldo, left, and Jack Nicklaus in 2005 at the Open Championship.

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What’s the most important part of putting?

Fun one, right? The question is as old as the game, and yet, still a 19th-hole conversation starter. You probably have your thoughts, too. Thing is, there have been many credible thoughts on how to roll it right, and each of them has at least some merit. 

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Said Rory McIlroy last week at the Memorial: “Trust. I think trusting your read. Trusting your stroke. Trusting your instincts. I think one of the — I think the reason people miss putts more than anything else is indecisiveness, not committing to a read, not committing to a speed. I think being very trusting in what you’re doing, and that trust just comes from seeing the ball go in the hole more often than it doesn’t. You know, so it comes from practice. It comes from seeing that practice pay off in play, and I think that’s the biggest thing.

“And acceptance. That’s the other thing — accepting that you are going to miss putts and that missed putt doesn’t carry over into you reacting in some way to you hitting your next putt.”

Said Patrick Cantlay at the Memorial: “Putting is, at this level, I think a lot reading the greens. Reading the greens I think is an undervalued skill. After that, I mean, it’s rolling it on the line with the pace that you want.”

And so on and so on. Which brings us to Saturday at the Memorial, where CBS analyst Nick Faldo, himself a six-time major winner, and the event’s host, 18-time major winner Jack Nicklaus, were watching Denny McCarthy, one of the PGA Tour’s best putters statistically. Earlier, they had had a back-and-forth over whether or not to aim at trouble — which you can read here — and now it was on to what to do once your ball finishes on the green.  

“It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg, isn’t it?” analyst Frank Nobilo said on the broadcast. “What comes first, the stroke, or the ability to read the green?”

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“Well, there’s four parts to putting, isn’t it?” Faldo said. “You got to read them really well. For starters. If you read it a cup right, then you got to be able to line your putter up perfectly a cup right. You need a decent stroke to strike it at the middle so the ball propels. And then you got to hit the right way. And if one of them is off, out of luck.” 

“I think you got to have the right attitude to putt,” Nicklaus said.   

“That’s five then,” Faldo said. “You got no chance.” 

“I think you got to believe you’re going to make the putt,” Nicklaus said. 

“Absolutely,” Faldo said.  

“I don’t care what your stroke is, or what you do …” Nicklaus said.  

“Yup,” Faldo said. 

“If you think you’re not going to make it, you’re not going to make it,” Nicklaus said. 

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“Oh agree, so that could be No. 1 then,” Faldo said. “Got to start with the right attitude before you even start reading the darn thing.” 

“I always stood over it and said I have to make this one,” Nicklaus said. “Boom, knock it in.”

Good stuff there. Nicklaus had the McIlroy take; Faldo had Cantlay’s, though we need to note that Cantlay’s answer was in a vacuum and not part of a conversation. OK, OK, so back to the original question then.

What’s the most important part of putting?

You probably already know the answer, but … everyone’s right here. We know, that’s flaky. So let’s explain. 

Belief, as Nicklaus said, or trust, as McIlroy opined, are important, and we’ll go ahead and say probably the most so. Then again, if your putter is turned toward the water, you can believe and trust all you want — the ball is going in the water. Of course, you could be the most technically sound putter in the world, and if you let doubt take a seat, it’s going to take the steering wheel. 

Who knew taking a club a few inches back could be so complex, but here we are; this is why we play. Though if you need an additional sell on the mental side, this is also great. 

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“You had an amazing quote, Jack, which I have fun with because you said I have never missed a putt on the back nine of a major,” Faldo said on the broadcast. “Now many have come to you and said, Mr. Nicklaus, yes, I’ve watched you in the PGA or whatever and you would say, I have never missed a putt. And they say, well, I got in on video if you like to see it, mister, and you go, I have never missed a putt. The ball may have missed, but I have never thought it was going to miss.” 

“It may have bounced the wrong way or something,” Nicklaus said.  

“That was his attitude,” Faldo said.  

“You got to have that kind of attitude,” Nicklaus said. “Otherwise you’ll never make anything.”

“That’s unbelievable mental strength,” Faldo said. “That’s why you’re a special one, gifted to have that ability.” 

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at