Five Reasons Why
Putting is Difficult
Many golfers tend to think of putting as an important part of their game, and in many cases, their reasons for doing so varies widely from player to player. Think of your own game, what you’ve seen in the media, and what you see the pro’s do. Many players (professional and club players alike) attribute.
Many golfers tend to think of putting as an important part of their game, and in many cases, their
reasons for doing so varies widely from player to player. Think of your own game, what you’ve seen
in the media, and what you see the pro’s do. Many players (professional and club players alike)
attribute the success and/or failure of their round upon their performance on the green. The famous
quote “drive for show…put for dough” from Bobby Locke offers a reason for why we (all) tend to
focus on this as an important part of the game.
Often considered a ‘game within the game’, there is an obvious difference in technique (you would
hope!) and tactics required in comparison to that required for the long game. By its very nature, this is
the aspect of the game that draws each hole (and your overall round) to a close. The combination of
these factors makes putting somewhat of a challenge, and before reading on, I want you to ask
yourself if right now, you aware of what psychological challenges of putting are?
This article brings together experiences from some of my frequent discussions and professional
experience to consider the nature of the natural challenge of putting, our predisposition towards
unhelpful thoughts and assumptions we often make when on the green. Following consideration of
five different reasons why putting can challenge the way we think, I offer a helpful counter focus,
that you can use and apply to your own game, should you find yourself in any of these five thinking
1. Our first focus is (usually) on the outcome
Other than the way by which we classify each hole on the golf course (e.g. a par 4, or a par 5), this is
one aspect of our golf performance we often define (more often than not) before we’ve even hit a
putt. Our first focus is often outcome over process.
Cast your mind back to your last round. Where you ever in a position walking up to, or standing over
a putt, thinking any of the following: ‘this for a birdie’, ‘knock it close to save par’, ‘just sink this to
avoid a bogey’. You may not consider this to be overly important (especially if you sunk each putt!),
but all of these thoughts are providing you with an ongoing challenge. Each time (whether you are
aware of it or not) focus on outcome first, challenges your ability to stay in the present. Thoughts
such as these encourage you to consider the future or reflect heavily on the past (e.g. the last missed
Putting that in perspective, you wouldn’t stand on the tee box of a par 3 and think ‘this is for a hole-
in-one’. Yet when on the green we change on our approach. Many of us will walk up to or stand over
a putt, thinking automatically of the outcome first. Often before or at the expense of considering the
most appropriate process required for the putt. A more helpful first point of focus before
approaching each putt is to opt to focus on the process first. Encourage and remind yourself to
follow a good process. In doing so, more often than not you’ll be rewarded with a good outcome.
2. We struggle to manage our expectations
When we play golf, our expectations can often influence the way in which we choose to perform.
Unlike many other aspects of the game, putting is often an aspect where our personal expectations
can become unrealistic or unhelpful, and even get the better of us. With this in mind, before reading
any further, consider the following question and make a note of your response. Don’t give it too
much thought and go with your gut instinct.
What percentage of putts (#/10) would you expect to hole from 1) 5ft? and 2) 10ft?
Before reading on. Make sure that you have made a note of your response above. Next up, I want
you to consider the question below. Again, without too much thought, consider this question.
What percentage of putts (#/10) does a PGA tour player hole from 1) 5ft? and 2) 10ft?
What were the differences in your responses to both of the questions? According to
httpss://www.pgatour.com/stats this season, from 5ft PGA tour players average between 57-94 %.
From 10ft, players average between 12-70%. Have a look back at your personal response. If your
numbers exceed that of the current performance of PGA tour players, you are either out on tour
with them (or should be!), or highlighting that you would benefit from working on managing your
putting performance expectations. A simple strategy here is to visit the website, make a note of the
statistics of your preferred player, and take these out with you onto the course (for example written
up on a scorecard, course guide, or alternative piece of kit).
3. We aim to avoid certain behaviours or outcomes
“Don’t leave it short… No three-putts… Don’t canon it past.. Leave yourself a putt… Just don’t hit it
off the green…Don’t leave yourself the next putt…”. You may well have experienced thoughts similar
to any of these, which is very common in this game. All of these thoughts are very normal in a
task that encourages, and even distracts us, to focus on the outcome! (see reason 1 for a recap).
Approaching the green planning to avoid a specific outcome or behaviour, can by its very nature lead
us to execute the exact behaviour we are wanting to avoid!
An example of that is the infamous 3-putt. If you visit almost any clubhouse on a Saturday or Sunday
afternoon and you are guaranteed to hear a tale of woe about someone’s disastrous three (or more)
stab that cost them their round. The harsh reality here is that we all make three putts! So why do we
feel a need to avoid them? Even the Pro’s do make them. If you don’t believe me, revisit the
statistics via httpss://www.pgatour.com/stat and have a look for yourself.
It is not helpful to view the 3-putt as something to be feared. It is far more helpful to consider your
next 3-putts an opportunity. An opportunity to see how long you can go until your next! Flip this
avoid behaviour on its head, use it to your advantage. Start to log your ‘2-putt’ streaks. Hole by hole,
round by round, course by course, month by month (if you get there1). When a streak is over, your
personal competition gets back underway. You’ll soon learn to harness this situation and turn what
others can’t into a competitive advantage.
4. We can get overly technical
Given the (comparably) smaller movements required for an effective putting stroke (in contrast to
the full swing), many players (just like you) are aware that a combination of putting mechanics,
green reading, selecting (and executing) start line, and pace control are highly linked to putting
success. Given this, many golfers choose to work on some or all of these areas, in an attempt to
improve their performance and lower their scores.
Whilst almost all (specialist) putting coaches would suggest these factors are key to success on the
greens, they do also pose a potential problem. When practising, focusing on some or all of these
aspects of putting is highly useful, and undoubtedly the source of many players performance
improvements. However, within choosing to focus on the same (some or all of these) factors when
out on the course, can encourage us to get stuck thinking technically. Often in the hope that we
achieve a stroke that produces the desired putt, and our intended outcome.
This can work well if you sink your putt. But if you miss, the same process (if not careful) can lead you
to reinvest attention into manipulating technical aspects of the stroke until you find success. A
process you may continue within until the end of your round.
In an instance where you find yourself getting bogged down in the technical detail, at that moment it
would be far more helpful to focus on a small controllable factor for your next putt. Putt a good roll
on it by choosing to focus on a specific, small, part of the ball to ensure you impact (e.g. the number,
a coloured dot, the logo etc.). Control your attention by choosing to focus only on striking the ball.
5. We (often) forget that every putt we face is for the first time
How many times have you (or a playing partner), called out what a putt will ‘do’ before being stood
behind the ball and reading the green? Like many golfers, familiarity is something that goes hand in
hand with playing regular at a home course. In many cases, a working knowledge of the course is
really, really useful. However, sometimes even strength can become a weakness. When it comes to
putting, our knowledge of the course conditions, how the green is laid out, and how the ball with
react (e.g. “putts from here always break off the left”) can lead to us to assume knowledge, rush, and
not check for insight.
The reality you face when standing on the green is that EVERY putt you make is for the first time.
The conditions, your experience level, the temperature, the situation you are in (etc.) are all
different. Treat every putt as though it’s the first time you’ve seen it. In doing so, you’ll likely slow
down, and apply an approach (swing, line, pace etc) better suited than if you trust your gut, and just
hit the putt like you always have.
Think Clearly by embracing the challenge
All in all, putting by its very nature is difficult. But it’s not all doom and gloom! An ability to
recognise if you are falling into any of these five traps, before, during, or even after your round, can
have large impacts in your game. This awareness can impact your ability to think clearly or perform
with an absence of thought (if this is your preference). Consider each of the points made within this
article ahead of your next round, and revisit them on a regular basis as and when your performance
on the greens is something you want to improve. Think clearly is a skill and is something that
requires practice. If you find yourself already thinking in a helpful way, then great. Keep it up!