Most great players in the world–people like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer–have a well-defined philosophy about how to approach putting. Whether you are a professional or an amateur, you too should have a philosophy of putting to guide your behavior on the course. It’s like having a game plan. Your philosophy about putting might influence your freedom when putting and thus help you avoid the yips.
Most players have one of two basic philosophies of putting. One style of putting is aggressive, with the player “charging” the cup and hitting the ball into the back of the hole, keeping the ball on its intended line. Another style is the “die” or lag method of putting. A player using this style hits the ball with just enough speed to “die” the ball into the front or side of the cup. Now, let’s examine these two styles of putting and see which one best fits your game…
An aggressive style putter thinks, “never up, never in” and strokes putts boldly enough to hold them on line. This type of putter does not worry about making a two- or three-foot putt coming back if the ball misses the hole. Conversely, a lag putter uses gravity to increase the chances of the ball falling into the hole.
Simple physics dictates that a ball is more likely to drop into the hole when it rolls over the lip of the cup if it is moving slower. Putts that are moving faster when they hit the side of the cup are not as likely to fall into the hole. The advantages of lag putting are: (1) if a putt hits a part of the hole, it has a better chance of going in, and (2) if you miss, it will be closer to the cup. Usually, a lag putter will have an easier second putt because the ball stops closer to the cup. The disadvantage of lag putting is that it is harder for a ball to stay on its intended line when traveling slower. Thus, on bumpy or spiked greens the ball will lose its line easier and stray off course.
Do You Lag or Charge?
Some great putters like Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite were advocates of lag putting, whereas other great players like Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Greg Norman prefered the “charge” style of putting.
The approach a player adopts usually depends on his or her personality, general style of play, and mental approach to the game. Players who are generally aggressive with other aspects of their game usually carry that style of play into their short game.
If you play aggressively like Greg Norman or John Daly, and shoot at pins tucked behind bunkers, cut the corners of doglegs on your tee shot, and go for par five’s in two, you most likely putt with the same boldness. You take more risks that might lead to good scoring, but you also run the risk of shooting some high numbers when the gamble doesn’t pay off. If you putt aggressively, you must have confidence in your ability to make the putt coming back. The “charge” method is a live-and-die-by-the-sword attitude.
More conservative players, who hit three woods and irons off the tee, play for the middle of the green on approach shots, and lay-up on par five holes, most likely will have the same approach on the green. A deliberate and calculating player like Nicklaus avoids the risk of hitting the ball too far past the hole. Again, there is a tradeoff. A conservative player does not take as many chances, but he may not get into trouble as much as an aggressive player. Lag putters most likely leave some putts short of the cup, but they probably three-putt less than aggressive putters.
In some situations, a die putter must charge the hole and a charge putter must lag the ball to the hole. On shorter putts, a die putter may need to hit a putt firm enough to take out any break and “hold” the ball on its line. Similarly, on very fast greens or when playing long, downhill putts, a charge putter may need to lag putt.
An aggressive player like Tiger Woods doesn’t worry about having to make a three-footer coming back. He accepts the risk of rolling the ball past the hole to give himself a better chance of making the putt. He is confident that he will make the next putt no matter where the ball stops. This attitude says “go for it” and accept what happens.