Technically, a golfer may use a putter anywhere on the course. You’re welcome to use it on every shot, if you like, but unless you’re playing miniature golf you won’t score very well with that strategy. While putters are designed for use on the green, they may occasionally come in handy from other locations near the green but not on it.
In Appendix II of the standard Rules of Golf a putter is defined as “a club with a loft not exceeding ten degrees designed primarily for use on the putting green.” The fairway is “the closely mown area between the tee and green,” PGA pro Mark Blakemore explains. There is typically an area between the fairway and green called the “fringe,” in which the grass is shorter than the fairway’s grass but taller than the green’s. Because the putter contains so little loft, using it from the fairway is generally not practical unless the ball is very close to the green.
Putting from off the green is known as the “Texas Wedge” shot. If you have a good lie on the fairway or the fringe and there are no obstructions between the ball and the green, many players prefer putting the ball rather than playing a chip shot. Golf writer Steve Newell notes that putts are much less likely to be mis-hit than chips. You’ll need to hit the ball a bit harder than you would for a putt of the same distance from the green, depending on the amount of longer grass you’re hitting through to reach the green. Newell suggests standing a little taller than your normal putting stance “to facilitate a longer, freer swing of your hands and your arms.”
When Not to Putt from the Fairway
Even if you prefer long putts to chip shots, there are times when putting from off the green isn’t a good idea. If the ball is in the rough rather than the fairway, you may not be able to strike the ball properly through the longer grass. If the grass is wet, even if you’re on the fringe the moisture may slow the ball too much, making it difficult to judge how firmly to hit your stroke. Newell recommends against using a putter if you’re more than 20 yards from the green because you’ll have to swing so hard that a mis-hit is much more likely.
On the Fringe
It’s typically much easier to use a putter from the fringe than the fairway. However, a ball on or near the back edge of the fringe -- just a few inches from the fairway or the rough -- may present a special challenge because the line of your putt leads through the longer grass. Golf instructor Butch Harmon suggests that when you take your putting stance you allow your left hand to drop to the left knee (for a right-handed player) before taking your grip. This lowers your front shoulder and allows you to swing down at the ball and avoid the taller grass.