Practice does NOT make perfect

The way you practice has a bigger influence over how you perform under pressure than anything else. If you are like most golfers you get to the golf course half an hour or so before you play, putt a few balls across the practice green, and try and work out whether they are fast or slow and whether you are putting well or not today. If you are going to take your putting to another level then we need to dig a bit deeper

Practice does not make perfect – it only creates habits.  If the practice is good quality then this will help you under pressure, but if the practice is poor quality then it normally will not help


Pay particular attention on what you are trying to learn, and practice specific aspects of putting. Most golfers think just hitting short putts or moving around the putting green from hole to hole is all that is needed. If your hope is to master a skill and commit it to memory, either intellectually or physically, you should make a conscious effort to understand the procedures of competence for the skill. With a focus on the procedures of the skill, combined with the intention to “learn” through practice, the procedures get committed to long-term memory faster.

In putting, there are many specific procedures; reading putts, setting up squarely, taking your grip, placing and aiming the putter face, picking an intermediate target, keeping a good tempo, etc. Most “drills” are ill-suited to help you focus on these essential aspects of putting, because they are designed to “get you a result” without letting you work out how to get the result.

As you practice, you will build up a resistance to maintaining focus, so you need to take breaks to stay sharp and keep the learning process from breaking down. People who persist too long in practice without a break start to quit paying attention, lose focus, and find themselves just going through the motions for periodic stretches of the session. If you want to putt for two hours straight, you probably need at least one ten-minute break somewhere around the end of the first hour.

As I mentioned earlier, habits are not necessarily good, and bad habits have to be eradicated before good habits can function properly. Practicing indifferently creates indifferent habits, whereas practicing either specific aspects or practicing intently as if on the course creates useful habits. If you find yourself wondering what specifically you should be working on in putting, you should use a PGA Coach’s guidance with this


To score well, you should emphasise the most common situations you face in the game. Putting strokes account for nearly one half of all strokes in a round, and yet hardly any golfers spend half of their practice time on putting. Many short-knockers have shown that keeping the drive in the fairway and getting the approach somewhere on the green is frequently sufficient to keep pace with the long-knockers who don’t have the same skill with the putter.

Similarly, you should practice the length of putts that matter most. A typical first putt when you reach the green in regulation is 20 to 30 feet. A typical first putt when you chip on is three to eight feet. Any second putt from either of these ranges ought to be a tap-in, so those are irrelevant. Accordingly, many pros advise practicing from within 8-feet as well as some long ones, and forget the middle-range putts. In addition, long putts are much better for teaching distance control and line precision, so it probably would not hurt to tilt the balance of putt lengths to the long range. You should never miss any putt inside of 3-feet, so if you do, you should hit lots and lots of very short putts for confidence and competence under pressure.


During the session you should not use more than two practice balls. The balls should be the same every time if possible, and you should vary the putts constantly. With three balls (or more), golfers “putt and rake,” focusing almost totally on whether the putt goes in or gets closer than the last, instead of focusing on your awareness or what you are working on technically.

If you have a schedule to adhere to, you probably find that as the end of the time for practice draws near, you start to rush your putting and can’t stay in the moment. Still, you have to end on a positive note.

Beginning golfers should probably spend as much time on long and short putting practice as they do on all other aspects of the game. More accomplished golfers should practice twice a week for at least an hour, and one two-hour session in advance of any important game or tournament. Serious putters practice daily, or very nearly so, for anywhere up to two hours a day, six days a week


About Glenn Whittle

Glenn Whittle is an AAA PGA Member and Head Coach of the NSW Institute of Sport, Golf Program. He was also the 2008 NSW PGA Teacher of the year. To book a putting session personally with Glenn, phone The Ridge Golf Course and Driving Range Pro Shop on (02) 9541 4960 or visit


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