By Bryan Padua
GolfTEC Coach, PGA Member
GolfTEC San Jose
San Jose, CA
Every great player in golf has their own individual putting style, however, the true masters of the game understand the simple picture: how to get the ball in the hole.
If you’re ready to take your game to the next level it’s best to start backwards—from the green to the tee box. In the press room after any Sunday round on Tour you will hear each champion proclaim that they hit “solid putts” leading to their victory. It’s no coincidence. You don’t score well unless you putt well.
Every great putter has the ability to strike the sweet spot with consistency. In fact, Roger Maltby found that the average Tour player strikes the golf ball within a 0.25″ circle on the putter face, regardless of the length of putt. Striking the sweet spot of the putter face with consistency is a sure path to greater success on the putting green. Now clearly, your setup and putting stroke play a significant role in your ability to consistently find the sweet spot. But what you may not realize is that the putter itself is just as important. To hit the sweet spot with consistency, it is important to understand three angles in putting: loft, lie and face angle.
Loft Angle: Too Much vs. Not Enough
Most putters are made with 2–4 degrees of loft on the putter face. But loft is determined by more than just the specs of the putter itself. The shaft lean at impact—how much the shaft leans towards or away from the target—combined with the loft of your putter, is what produces the effective loft angle at impact. And that’s what ultimately affects your distance control and the time it takes for the golf ball to start rolling on its line.
Most amateur golfers strike the ball with too much loft because their hands are slightly behind the putter head through impact. On the other end of the spectrum, players like Phil Mickelson actually deloft the putter through impact. In fact, Mickelson has been known to experiment with up to 6 degrees of loft on his putter to compensate for his forward shaft lean at impact. In both cases, you can see that the shaft lean a player creates at impact is vitally important to creating the optimal loft angle.
Without enough loft at impact, the ball will smash into the ground, generating too much backspin. With too much loft at impact, the ball will pop up into air and bounce excessively. Both of these scenarios make it difficult to control distance and direction. A good rule of thumb in putting is to try to have your shaft angle at impact look the same as your shaft angle at setup. One other consideration is the type of greens you normally play on. Smooth, fast greens typically require less loft, while rough, slow greens require more loft. The real key, though, is creating the optimal loft angle at impact by matching the loft of your putter to your setup and stroke.
Lie Angle: Upright vs. Flat
The lie angle of your putter is the angle at which the shaft comes out of the putter head when sitting flat. An upright lie angle means the shaft sits more upright (closer to vertical) when the putter rests flat on the ground. A flat lie angle means the shaft sits flatter (closer to horizontal) when the putter rests flat on the ground.
If the lie angle of your putter is either upright or flat, you will struggle to consistently strike the sweet spot and/or start the ball on your intended line. That’s why it’s so important to get your putter fit so that that it rests flat on the ground when you set up to the ball correctly. One other factor that affects lie angle is length. A putter that’s too long plays upright, causing putts to miss left. A putter that’s too short plays flat, causing putts to miss right. So make sure that the lie angle and length of your putter match up with your setup, ensuring that the putter head rests flat on the ground. You’ll strike the sweet spot with more consistency and have better success at starting the ball on your intended line.
Face Angle and Weight
The face angle of the putter at impact is a critical factor in how well you putt. Open or closed even the slightest amount, and you have little chance of making the putt or leaving it where you intended.
In addition to your setup and stroke mechanics, the weight of the putter head has a big impact on your ability to strike the ball with a square face. Few golfers realize that the optimal weight for a putter head varies by the putter length. There isn’t just one weight that fits your stroke best. It depends on how long your putter is. In general, the shorter the putter, the heavier the putter head should be, and vice versa. The reason is that a longer putter exaggerates how heavy the putter head feels during the swing, while a shorter putter has the opposite effect.
For example, let’s say your putter is 35 inches and you find out that a 32-inch putter is actually the proper length for you. You really like your current putter, so you simply cut it down three inches and think you’re good to go. But as pointed out above, by shortening the length of the putter, the swing weight of the putter head is diminished. In other words, your putter now feels lighter, and this can cause all kinds of problems with your putting. Your feel, speed, tempo and many other parts of your stroke can all be thrown off completely. Point is, whenever you make a change to the length of your putter, make sure you adjust the weight of the putter head accordingly.
Are All Three Angles Optimized on Your Putter?
The answer to that question can be the difference between consistency and inconsistency with your putter. Combine a proper setup and stroke with a putter that optimizes all three angles, and you’ll have success on the putting green. Get even one angle wrong, and you’ll continually struggle to find consistency.
If you happen to be playing a custom-fit putter but you’re not sure if it’s truly the best fit, it’s worth taking a second look. You might find that making a few adjustments could save you strokes. And if you’re like most golfers who play an off-the-rack putter, you’re leaving strokes out on the green. With a putter that precisely fits your setup and stroke, you’ll strike the sweet spot, control your speed, and ultimately, find the bottom of the cup with more consistency.