How to Make Long Putts

By Jim Thomas
Dave Stockton was one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.
Dave Stockton was one of the best putters on the PGA Tour.

There are two general approaches for trying to make long putts. One is to try to roll the ball into a three-foot diameter circle around the cup. This is the lag theory of long putts in which the primary goal is to prevent three-putts. The more aggressive approach is to focus on making the putt, regardless of length. Putting instructor Geoff Mangum argues that the two theories are like comparing apples and oranges. He says golfers should "learn fine distance control" to avoid three-putts, while trying to die the ball at the cup, since a slower moving putt has a better chance of catching enough of the cup to drop. This should be done "without altering your targeting focus on sinking the monster." As the late, great teacher Harvey Penick would put it: "Take dead aim."

Read the break correctly. Writing for "Golf Digest," former LPGA Tour player Annika Sorenstam said former PGA Tour player Dave Stockton taught her to divide long putts into three parts -- the starting line where the break is minimal, the second portion where the ball reaches the apex of its curve and the third portion when the ball is rolling the slowest and consequently breaking the most. Sorenstam advocates reading the overall break from behind the ball and then judging the speed by standing at the midway distance of the putt. Getting a feel for how fast the ball should be rolling at the midpoint gave Sorenstam a good idea of the overall pace of the putt. She then walked back behind the ball and made a practice stroke while looking down the line to further visualize the pace.

Keep the same rhythm for long putts as you do on shorter ones, but make a few adjustments in your setup to take a longer stroke. Place your feet slightly wider than on a shorter putt, just over shoulder-width apart. Keep the ball in the front-center of your stance. Stand a bit more upright than on short putts. This allows your arms to swing more freely for a longer back swing and follow through.

Make a longer, slower stroke, according to famed instructor Butch Harmon. This gives the head of the putter time to gain momentum from the longer back swing. Allow your wrists to react to the weight of the club by hinging them a bit. This prevents you from rushing the back swing and making a "short, stabby motion. The result is poor contact and a putt left short," says Harmon.

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