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Why you shouldn’t lag putt

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Frank Akey has been a teaching professional specializing in the short game since 1989, having taught students that ranged from raw beginners through mini-tour players, all ages, male and female. He served served as the Short Game Director for a major golf school for a brief time as well. His career prior to golf was in the weapons/tactics field, also as an instructor, so teaching accuracy seems to follow him.

I have some Core Beliefs and Absolutes when it comes to putting and the short game in general. This article is related to putting, so here are my “absolutes:”

  • Only two things can happen when you stroke a putt, no matter if it is a 1 footer or a 100 footer … you make it or you miss it, it is that simple.
  • Only two things you can have control of when you stroke a putt … you roll it on the line you intended and you roll it the speed you intended, also that simple.
  • You can make EVERY putt that you look at, no matter how long or how many breaks in the putt, BUT, not all putts will go in.
  • Imagination and feel is more important than having pure mechanics.
  • DO NOT LAG PUTT!!

Now, having said that, I can already hear the people yelling, “Blasphemy!” and “This guy is a flake/moron/idiot …” Or whatever description comes to mind, so let me expand a little on each of the above absolutes.

Let’s tackle the lag putt. This subject matter could take pages of discussion, but I will keep it short and sweet for the purpose of this article. My reasoning for teaching my students NOT to lag putt is more by definition of what most, including the majority of TV announcers, define as lag putting. When I hear someone say that the golfer is just trying to get the ball within a 5-foot circle, or that they would be happy if they kept the ball within X amount of feet, it drives me crazy! I am ALWAYS looking to MAKE the putt, no matter how many breaks, how far, degree of difficulty … I want the ball to stop within the magical 4.25” circle…the hole. There will always be a line and speed combination that will allow the ball to go in, and sometimes there is more than one combination that will work. Using the other definition, a lag putt is an intentionally missed putt that hopefully is close enough for an easy next putt. Using that logic, on a tough driving hole, do you lag drive hoping to keep the ball within 40 yards of the fairway? How about from the middle of the fairway 120 yards out, do you lag approach just trying to keep the ball within 40 yards of the green? Putting is all about confidence, and a lag putt is a lack of confidence in either your first putt or the ability to make the second putt from wherever the first putt stops.

That takes us to knowing you can make any putt that you look at, yet, not all putts will go in. That is the confidence that you build by practicing all kinds of putts, long and short, straight and breaking, uphill and downhill. Once you start seeing a lot of putts falling, your confidence starts to increase on those types of putts. Now when you have a 50 foot putt, you aren’t worried if you miss knowing you will make the next one, so you will start trying to make the longer putts. Believe it or not, they will occasionally go in … whodathunkit? It is a simple theory, but once you lose confidence in your putting, your chances of making anything dwindle dramatically. What some do not realize, is that a perfectly struck putt on a perfectly manicured green on a perfectly straight line will go in perfectly dead center … but not 100% of the time. The ball can have very slight imperfections that cause the ball to veer off line. The blades of grass are growing by the millisecond, and a small grain of sand may move ever-so-slightly and knock the ball off line. Something can make the ball take a small hop, which will change the roll and possibly alter the path. On the flip side, those same things can happen to a putt that is slightly OFF line and end up causing the ball to take the CORRECT line and go in … have you ever had that happen to you? It has happened to me.

My absolute that says only two things can happen is pretty much self-explanatory. After you strike a putt, the only results are a missed putt or a made putt. There isn’t really much than can be expanded on, so let’s look at this absolute’s cousin, only two things that you can control … speed and line. If after spending time reading the putt, you determine the line you think the ball must roll on, you can control whether or not you roll it on that intended line. Also, after determining what speed you think is necessary for the putt to go in, you can control the pace of your stroke to produce that speed. At the end of the putt, your ball rolling on your intended line on your intended speed will have done one of two things … you made it or you missed it.

The last of the absolutes is more of an opinion than a scientific fact. I believe that you will be more successful at putting if you have a good imagination in visualizing how the putt will roll, and able to use feel to duplicate that visualization. One cannot be taught either, but both can be developed. One of the methods I use in teaching imagination and visualization is to have you look at the green as if it were a hard, shiny solid sheet of granite. Seeing the undulations in the granite, if you were to roll the ball like a marble, how would the ball react to the various slopes and breaks? To help a student develop better feel, I have them stand on the green facing the hole, hold the golf ball in their dominate hand using only the thumb, index finger, and middle finger, and roll the golf ball to the hole, trying to get it to stop as it falls into the hole. After a few successful rolls, they then will take their putting stance and repeat the procedure. Some students are continually doing these things as drills when their putting goes sour.

Next time we will go into the hot topic of standard vs. belly vs. broom/long putters and how to determine which is best for you … if the USGA will let us. Until then.

Click here for more discussion in the “Instruction & Academy” forum.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. md

    Jul 4, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    I think he’s just refering to putting here not your entire course management. And all he’s really saying is if you believe you can make every putt you will try to make every one. If you do that, the result will be that you will generally be within that 3 foot circle alot more often. Its just the principal of setting specific goals not general ones.

    • Leroy Potgieter

      Dec 15, 2017 at 12:17 pm

      The point of lag putting for me is more about speed control. One should always go for the hole, but with precise power management so that misses become tap ins

  2. nwri

    Jun 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Lag Putting = Hitting Irons to the middle of the green imo. Some pins you just do not go for. Just like some putts you have to respect.

  3. cwang

    Mar 10, 2012 at 6:16 am

    But isn’t there a big difference between leaving yourself 3 feet uphiller breaking toward you and a 3 foot downhiller breaking away from you? There’s a reason pros like to leave it below the hole on long putts…

  4. Techvan4Life

    Mar 9, 2012 at 12:51 am

    I don’t know if I would agree with much of this article. The author asks if you would “lag” on a tough driving hole or “lag” from 120 yards out. Yes I do both, I’m not afraid to grab a 3 wood on a tough driving hole, or aiming away from a sucker pin to the center of the green. Shot placement from anywhere on the golf course is the equivalent to lag putting, I am intentionally not hitting the ball directly at the pin. Lag putting is an important part of the game that every player should know how to do successfully. It doesn’t have to be a complete putting philosophy but if you remove it from your game you better be ready for some three putts, and the skill has saved my ass in a couple pressure situations. Since the author hates lag putting and calls the shot an intentional miss I can only assume he never plays a shot that could be considered an intentional miss. He goes for it in two on every par 5, never pitches out of trouble, hits low percentage shots all day long, and never lays up to a position, angle, or yardage that he might like. He aims directly at the pin, hits it and hopes that it goes in, like he said he is hoping the ball lands in the magical 4.25″ circle.

  5. teddyt

    Mar 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    I think you may have a career in sports psychology … in teaching putting, the jury is still out.

  6. David Fayard

    Mar 6, 2012 at 1:09 pm

    LOVE the article… I hope people keep believing to “get it close/LAG it” so I can keep beating them….

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Instruction

The 3 different levels of golf practice

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“I would have practiced as hard, but I would have made my practice more meaningful. I would have worked more on my short game and putting. I would’ve done a lot more drills to make the practice more meaningful, and I would’ve added pressure to the practice as much as possible.” — Lee Westwood

Now here’s the rub. Practice is not monolithic! I approach practice as having three different, distinctive and separate curriculum and criteria.

  • Level 1: Basic
  • Level 2: Advanced
  • Level 3: Extreme

Basic Practice (Level 1) by definition is “repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.” Basically, it’s doing the same thing over and over again to get better at it. My favorite skill that requires practice is the 76-yard “flighted wedge.” I do it, and I recommend it be done at every range practice session. Additionally, I identify and then practice as many different “skills” that are required to hit different golf shots. I have found that a non-pressurized environment is the best way to practice in a basic model.

It goes without saying that golf is not played in a pressure-free environment, so basic practice doesn’t help us play golf. The prime objective of Level 2 Practice (Advanced Training) is to take what you do in Basic Practice to the golf course.

First, create on-course situations that require you to hit the shots you have practiced. There should be rewards for demonstrations of competence, and there should be consequences for demonstrations of incompetence

“When you practice, try to find a situation to fit the shot you’re trying to practice.” — Ben Hogan

For example, a major problem is the unevenness of the lies you will encounter during play as opposed to the lies you used for your drills. From marginal to extreme, lies are difficult to replicate on the practice tee. So, play a round of golf and move the ball into the most undesirable lie that is very close to where you are.

Another example would be duplicating the creativity that is sometimes required during actual play. The prime example of that would be the sensation of “being in-between clubs.” I would suggest that you play an occasional round of golf using only half of your clubs. Take two wedges instead of four. Take only the “odd” or “even” numbered irons. Look at not taking the driver, or not taking all of your fairway clubs. I have not taken my putter, which forced me putt with my sand wedge!

A third example would be to play a round of golf and deliberately miss every green in regulation. Should your ball accidentally finish on the green in regulation just move it off into the rough, a bunker or whatever else could use the extra attention. You can create games where your opponent moves your ball off the green into something that would be advantageous to him.

Level 2 Practice is conducted on the practice ground as well as on the course. What I do and recommend is to take each of the shots, skills and drills used in Level 1 and add some accountability to the range experience. I have my students and clients use a “Practice Book” to schedule activities and to keep track of improvement.

Author Note: I will send you a sample practice book page that many of my players actually use. Request it at edmyersgolf@gmail.com.

Please be advised that Level 2 Practice can feature games, wagering or other forms of friendly competitions because they should only activate the lesser emotions of irritation, annoyance, anticipation, anxiousness, joy, pleasure and disappointment. Dealing with these feelings in practice will help you recognize and deal with the minor stresses experienced by most recreational golfers.

Stress is the major cause of “CHOKING.”

Stress, by definition “is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Stress can ruin our ability to perform when we experience the major emotions such as fear, anger, shame, humiliation, euphoria, ridicule, betrayal, doubt and/or disbelief.

Level 3 Practice (Extreme Preparation) is on-course training sessions best suited for very serious competitive golfers. The more a player is able to compete in a simulated or controlled environment that accurately replicates the actual “pressures” that produce the kind of stresses that can effect performance, the better the player will perform when stressed in actual tournaments or events. Please be advised that Extreme Practice DOES NOT feature games, gambling or “friendly” competitions. They don’t control the conditions of play sufficiently to replicate the type of pressure that would induce “stress.”

“Simulation, which  is a technique (not a technology) to replace and amplify real experiences with guided ones, often “immersive” in nature, that evoke or replicate substantial aspects of the real world in a fully interactive fashion.” For many years now, the medical profession has used simulations to train doctors, the military has used simulations to prepare troops for the realities of the battlefield and aviation has used simulators to train pilots. Simulating has the added benefits of being cost and time effective while producing verifiable results.

If it’s possible for airlines to replicate every possible scenario that a pilot could experience in the cockpit by using simulations, then why isn’t it possible to replicate situations, and subsequent emotional responses, that a competitive golfer could experience on the golf course? Let me give you an example of what I mean.

“I got nervous all the time, as nervous as the next guy. It’s just that I caught myself before it became destructive.” Jack Nicklaus

Recent events at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play gives us some evidence of the destructiveness of uncontrolled emotions. Justin Thomas said that he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind of becoming the No. 1-ranked player in the world should he defeat Bubba Watson in the semi-finals, which he failed to do.

“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said. “And that really sucked. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest.”

Then there was Ian Poulter being told that with his win over Louis Oosthuizen he had earned a spot in this years’ Masters tournament only to be told 10 minutes before his next match that he had not actually secured the coveted invitation. With elation, joy and satisfaction jerked away and replaced with disappointment, and possibly anger, the Englishman went out and got whipped by Kevin Kisner 8 & 6!

I concede that Justin Thomas’ and Ian Poulter’s situations were so unique that simulation-based practice and preparation techniques may not have been available to them, but now they both must know that their performance was effected negatively by mental stresses. And with that knowledge they may want to get tougher mentally. Level 3 Practice does that!

Not all that long ago, I was approached by a PGA Tour veteran for some on-course, one-on-one training. He was experiencing severe “choking” in pressurized short-game situations. So I took him out on the course and we replicated the exact shots he had problems with in the past. He demonstrated that he could perform each and every shot in a stress-free environment. We went into a “low-stress” training environment and his performance began to suffer. Then, at his urging to get “real,” we went into a “high-stress” practice mode and he melted down. Without going into details, he became so angry that not only couldn’t he hit golf shots, he tried to run me down with the golf cart as he retreated to the safety of his car.

Now, that’s not the end of the story. A few hours later, after some soul searching, he apologized for his lack of self-control and acknowledged that he had recognized the early signs of stress growing internally as we worked. We went back out onto the course and got back to work.

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Winning Ways: Here’s what it takes to become a winner in Junior Girls golf

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Every competitive golfer strives to win, and I want to help them achieve their goals. Recently, I wrote a story highlighting the statistics behind winning in junior boys golf, and how they can do it more often. Now, we set out to examine the data on winning in junior girls golf, and provide ways they can improve. The data is based on an analysis of tournament results from all events during the 2017 year from the Junior Tour of Northern California. We then asked stats guru, Peter Sanders, Founder of ShotByShot.com, to provide the stats related to the winning scoring numbers that we found. Finally, we discuss ways that juniors can practice building skills and work towards becoming tournament winners.

The Winning Scores

In 2017 the Junior Tour of Northern California held 26 tournaments with 850+ members. According to our data collection based on information available on the website, the average girl’s tournament course measured 6145 yards. The average winning score for girls was 146 (36 holes), or 73 per round. Ten of the 22 tournaments where won with scores of 144 or better and the low 36 holes total was a whopping 133! In the data collection we also collected the average 10th place scores girls. The average 10th place score for girls was 159 or 79.5.

The Winning Stats

We provided the numbers to statistics expert Peter Sanders. Peter’s company has been providing Strokes Gained analysis for golfers for the last 29 years. Peter is the founder of ShotByShot.com, a website that provides golfers at all levels with Strokes Gained analysis, pinpoints specific strengths and weaknesses and highlights improvement priorities. Since the launch of ShotByShot.com in 2005, Peter has collected over 317,000 rounds. Accordingly, Peter has agreed to share the numbers, below, for a typical female player who averages 73. There are two important points to consider when reviewing these statistics:

  1. In order to have a complete picture of the puzzle that is golf, one must consider the ERRORS, or lack thereof, that play such an important role in scoring at every level. Even the 650+ PGA Tour stats ignore these important miscues. Shot By Shot has included them in their analysis from the beginning and they are highlighted in the infographics below.
  2. The data provided represents only tournament rounds. As such it will primarily represent the high school and college programs that use ShotbyShot.com

Infographics Created by Alexis Bennett

The Winning Preparation

Junior girls are encouraged to use these stats as a benchmark against their own performance to determine where they might need to improve against the “typical 73 player.” After identifying gaps in their game, they can then create practice plans to help improve. For example, a junior might notice they have more 3-putts than the model. To improve, they could work put more time into practice, as well as playing games on the golf course like draw-back and 2-putt.

  • Drawback is a game where after your first putt, you draw the second putt one putter length away from the hole. This often changes a shorter putt (> 2 feet) to a putt of between 3.5 – 5 feet. This putts significantly more pressure on your putting.
  • You may also play Two-Putt, a game where when you reach the green, you (or your playing competitor) tosses the ball away from the hole. You must 2-putt from that spot to move to the next hole (even if it takes a couple attempts!).

Others reading this article might find that they don’t hit enough greens. Improving this area will require more consistent strikes, which may require further technical development and block practice, as well as working on the golf course. To start, I would recommend that every junior implement the yardage rule. The yardage rule works like this; figure out the distance to the very back of the green. For example, this number may be 157. Then figure out what club ALWAYS flies 157, which might be 6-iron. Then choose 7-iron for the shot. This way your best shot will not fly the green, your average shot will likely be in the middle of the green and your less-than-perfect shot will hopefully end up on the front of the green.

During practice rounds, play competitive games with yourself to sharpen your ability to hit greens. For example, if you normally hit 7 greens per round, in practice your goal might be 9. You would track your results over a month and then see your progress.

Beyond building individual skills, like hitting greens or working on putting, junior golfers need times to play competitive rounds on their home golf courses. Ideally, these rounds are played against other people with similar skills and done under tournament like conditions with consequences (loser buys winner a coke or cleans their golf clubs). Playing hundreds of rounds at your home golf course under these conditions gives you a unique opportunity to sharpen your game, learn your tendencies and build skills such as endurance and mental toughness. Most importantly, it teaches you to win and shoot under par!

Please also keep in mind building these skills may take months (or even years). In my own personal experience, when I set out to improve my birdies per round, it took nearly 4 months and 75+ rounds and significant practice to begin to see a change. Depending on your schedule and access to resources like a golf course and instructor, some changes might take a year or more. Regardless, don’t ever worry; building a solid foundation in golf will always lead to rewards!

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Instruction

PNF Drills: How To Turn Onto The Golf Ball

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In this video, I share a great drill to help you turn onto the ball. This will help you rotate through impact.

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