I recently rewatched an older video from short game wizard Dave Pelz, that suggested the average amateur golfer three putts six times more than a pro. Think about how many strokes you throw away as a result. This stat put a bee in my bonnet, and I decided to give you a step-by-step breakdown on lag putting to reduce your putts per round.
In this post, I will explain what lag putting is, and when it is best to use it. In addition, I shall provide tips to help you become a superior lag putter for an improved two-putt record.
What does a lag putt mean?
A lag putt is a defensive golf shot that players employ when there is a limited chance of making it. Instead of producing an aggressive putt that could end badly, if you miss, you guide the ball up to the cup and ensure it stops within close range.
You will notice the game’s best-hitting lag putts when they play greens with heightened stimpmeter readings and larger surface area.
Obviously, you should still send your golf ball en route to the cup to give yourself the outside chance of sinking it. However, the aim is to keep you close should it miss. Long putts are challenging to nail, but they do go in from time to time.
My finest achievement was on the 18th at my home club, when I sunk an 80-footer from the fringe. What made it sweeter was that I topped my drive, then hit two clean 3-woods before draining my birdie putt.
The bottom line is that a lag is a defensive stroke designed to help you produce more two putts for improved consistency on the putting green.
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What are the advantages of lag putting?
Optimal Distance Control
Lag putting helps you deliver consistent speed control on long putts. Employing training exercises on the practice green helps you better understand the force required to strike putts for varied distances.
Consistently working on the long putt aspect of your game builds elevated muscle memory until every motion becomes second nature. Phil Mickelson explains how he conducts the 40, 50, and 60-foot drills to master the weight of each putt. I will teach you a drill for this later, but you can watch “Leftie” tell you all about it below.
Fewer Three Putts
Long putts are the enemy of many amateur golfers who tend to hit and pray that their putting stroke will land their ball in a position close to the cup. Unfortunately, the result is often a power drive that flies past the cup and off the green or a gentle nudge that falls well short of the mark.
Becoming a better lag putter helps you get your ball in close proximity to the hole for a makeable follow-up putt. Setting yourself up to drain the return putt eradicates three putts and lowers your strokes.
After learning about Pelz’s comment, we know that amateurs three-putt six times more than professionals. That means if a pro makes one three-putt a round, the average player does it six times.
If you could halve that figure, you would shave three strokes off your total score, which might be the difference between breaking your record score and not.
How to hit lag putts?
Grain and green reading
Long putts mean you have significant ground to cover, and the layout of the green plays a vital part in the roll of your golf ball. You’ll find that improving your green and grain reading skills leads to greater accuracy on each putt.
The first step is to look at the line between your golf ball and the cup. Is it straight and true, or is it undulated and unpredictable? If it is the latter, identify which way the slope breaks and at what point. Putts with a single break in them require you to aim to that point before allowing gravity to take over and guide the ball.
Conversely, when you face multiple breaks, aim for the first point, and let the dancefloor take over from there.
You are not done yet. The next step is to identify the grain of grass and the direction of growth. Different grass grains impact the speed and break of each putt.
For example, when you putt with the grain on Bermuda grass, the putt is firm and provides limited deviation. However, against the grain, the ball deflects in the direction of the growth, making it erratic. Conversely, bentgrass grows upwards and offers a more consistent roll, but greens with this turf break more than Bermuda.
Now that you understand how the grain and break impact your roll, you are better equipped to produce a proper lag putt.
- Look at the cup during practice strokes
Feel and feedback are essential to produce a quality lag putt. This helps you to determine how far to take your putter back and the force required. Look at the pin while swinging a few practice putting strokes to get a feel for the putt before firing.
- The dartboard effect
Picture the hole as the bullseye on a dartboard, and although you hope to land the big one, you will be satisfied if the dart is between the triple ring and the center. The cup is the centerpiece of the board, and the further away you move from the bullseye, the more difficult it is to make the next putt.
Imagine a 2-foot semi-circle past the cup, which compares to the triple compartment on a dartboard. Your first prize is draining the putt, but if you miss, this is the area you want to be in, ensuring a safe two-putt.
I like to use the dartboard analogy because it helps me visualize a refined area to shoot for should my ball miss the cup. Obviously, the intention is to sink the putt, but be realistic, and ensure you get your ball to a suitable position to drain your second putt.
- Pull the trigger
Once you have a feel for the speed, are adamant about the line, and have zeroed in on your target, it is time to pull the trigger. Take the putter back the required length, and send your ball off to the cup.
How to Improve Your Lag Putting + Lag putting drills
- Learn to read the putting surface
I explained earlier about the importance of learning to read greens and the impact grass grain has on the roll of your putt. For me, that was key in mastering the dance floor. I had little choice, given my erratic long game.
During your coaching sessions, get your instructor to teach you the ins and outs of the putting green, and apply the lessons during practice. I, fortunately, had an outstanding caddie growing up who schooled me on the subject of grass from a young age. Honestly, I owe much of my ability on the green to the great man, Edwin Ngcobo.
- Adjust your backstroke
The second step boils down to your putting stroke because it is essential to adjust the length of your backstroke for different distances. As Phil Michelson explained in his video, you must get the feeling for how far back you take the putter for a 40, 50, or 60-foot putt. In essence, you should do this even on shorter putts.
When you practice, take note of the backstroke and how far it propels the ball, and remember this position. The more you repeat it, the easier it becomes to deliver consistent distance control on all putts.
- Create a zone around the cup
The hole is your ultimate target, but, the odds of draining a long putt are low, which means you need a backup plan. In other words, where is the ideal ball position should you miss the cup. I used the dartboard example earlier, which is easy to visualize and helps you understand and refine your target zone.
However, you can use what works for you. The point is you want your ball to settle within tap-in range from the hole, should you miss the putt. Thinking like this allows you to analyze the surroundings of the cup.
For example, you do not want a quick downhill tester for your next putt, nor do you want a tricky break. The optimal second putt is straight and uphill. So, ensure that if your ball misses the cup, you have a simple follow-up putt to get down.
- Lag putting drills
The final way to become better at lag putting is the cliche advice of practice, practice, practice. It is the only way to boost your lag-putting performance. I have compiled a few drills I have used over the years to help you eradicate three putts.
Measuring tape drill
Whip out the measuring tapes and grab a buddy. Get your head out of the gutter. I am talking about measuring the length of your backstroke for varied distances. Grab a few golf balls and have a couple of putts from 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards for a better feel of each backstroke length.
Next, head back to the 10-foot mark, and extend the tape a couple of inches. Now, repeat the same backstroke you used from this distance earlier and pause at the top of the stroke. Finally, get a buddy to mark the length of your stroke on the measuring tape, and you are done.
The next time you practice, take the tape measure with you and use it to master the length of your backswing. Alternatively, you could channel your inner millennial and use a measuring app, as I exhibit below.
Manilla folder drill
The Manilla folder drill helps you improve your judgment on downhill putts with excess break. Place a folder at the breakpoint, and try to stop your ball on it. When your ball reaches this point on the golf course, gravity kicks in and guides it down to the hole.
However, if you overshoot the putt, you will reduce the curve and send your ball flying past the target.
ALSO READ: Best putting drills to eradicate 3-putts
Why is it called lag putting?
Lag putting gets its name from the calm, controlled manner the ball rolls up to the hole. Instead of an aggressive putt in which you actively seek to drain it, a lag is designed to put you in a favorable position if the ball misses the cup.
What is a good lag putt?
A good lag putt is a 40-foot effort that ends within 2 feet of the cup for an easy tap-in. The aim of these putts is to leave you close enough to the hole to tap in if your ball misses the cup.
How long is a lag putt?
You can lag putts of any distance, as it refers to the strategy rather than the distance. However, it is most common to see golfers lagging putts that exceed 40 feet.
How do you master a putt?
Consistent practice is the only way to master putting. You need to spend the time on the practice green understanding your stroke and how the conditions impact your roll.
Putting practice is one of the most neglected areas of the game, and it is why amateurs leak eye-watering strokes on the green. Make time for your putting and overall short game, and stop focusing solely on distance.
There you go. That is how you develop superhero lag-putting skills. First, you learn how the greens break, then you get a feel for how much power the stroke needs. Finally, you take the putter back to the desired length and fire.
While we would love to believe that we have the ability to drain every putt we stand over, that is far from true. That is why we must plan for the worst and hope for the best on long putts. Lag putting helps us mitigate misses by placing our ball in a favorable position for the following putt.
Now that you know how to become a better lag putter, take the drills provided above, and hit the practice green to execute. Since there are numerous ways to get the ball into the cup, I would love to hear what lag-putting drills you employ in your game.