What Facet Of The Game Should You Spend The Most Time Practicing?

If you guessed short putts, you’re a winner.

The often-overlooked fact is that putting is a critical 40% of the game. This is true of all golfers at every level.

The average PGA Tour player needed 29 putts to shoot an average score of 70.6 (41% of strokes). The average 17-handicap golfer needs 34 putts to achieve their average score of 89 (or 38%). This number would be greater than 40% of average golfers putted everything out.

Clearly, not many of us have the physical skill to drive the ball like a Tour player, but almost anyone can putt like a Tour player with the right equipment, technique and practice. There’s been a lot written about equipment and techniques for better putting. What’s surprisingly not talked about as much is an approach for practicing this all-important skill.

For guidance, I studied our database recorded at a 17-slope adjusted differential (this was the 12,000+ rounds we have for golfers that actually played exactly to their 17-handicap). The data shows us that a 17-handicap male golfer’s average round includes:

Long Game

  • 5.3 greens in regulation with an average putting distance of 27 feet.

Short Game (shots within 50 yards of the hole):

  • 9 chip/pitch shots, of which 7 successfully hit the green to an average putting distance of 15 feet. The other two are errors or missed greens.
  • 2 sand shots. When Mr. 17 successfully hits the green, which is only 65% of his sand attempts, his average putting distance is 18 feet.


  • 34 total putts, including:
    • 1-Putts = 3.2
    • 2-Putts = 11.8
    • 3-Putts = 2.3
    • 4-Putts = once every 20 rounds.

50% Make Distance: The distance from which our prototype will make 50% of putts is 5 feet. (By comparison, the PGA Tour player’s 50% make distance is 8 feet.)

2-Putt Range: The distance from which the prototype average will 2 putts is 16 feet. This means that outside of 16 feet, our 17-handicapper will 3-putt with a greater frequency than 1-putt. (The PGA Tour’s 2.0 distance is 34 feet.)

I used our data to project recommended practice distances. As you can see below, 68% of the average golfer’s putting opportunities are from 15 feet and closer and 41% are from 5 feet and in.

The chart below displays our average 17-handicapper’s 1-putt and 3-putt percentages by distance range.

Finally, I charted 1-putt percentages from 3-10 feet for the average 17- and 10-handicap golfer.

Practice Recommendations

  • How much time to devote? Putting is worth 40% of whatever amount of time you spend practicing golf.
  • 70% of your practice putting time should be devoted to increasing your 1-putt percentages on short putts and expanding your 50% make distance.
  • 30% of your putting practice time should be spent improving your distance control on lag putts in the 20-50 foot ranges and extending your two-putt distance.

The “Star Drill”

I was taught this practice drill by a young professional over 30 years ago and Phil Mickelson has been seen using it in his practice sessions.

Place 5 tees a given distance from the hole in a star pattern. I recommend starting with 3 feet. A slight slope will provide a slope from each direction as shown below.

After a warmup, work around the star twice and see how many you can make of the ten attempts. When you can make 9 of 10 from 3 feet, move the tees to 4 feet. When you can make 7 or 8 of 10 from 4 feet move to five feet.

Make sure to practice your set-up routine with each putt and make it real. 

Distance Control: Lag Putts

Place a tee 20 feet from a target or hole. Use two or three balls and practice lagging them back and forth until you can consistently get the balls to the target, but no farther than 2 feet past the hole.

Repeat the drill from 30 and 40 feet trying to leave the putts no farther than 3 feet from the target.

Peter Sanders is the President and a founding partner of ShotByShot.com, the system SwingU uses for its Versus product.

Peter has worked with PGA Tour players and major champions such as Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Smylie Kaufman, Zack Sucher, Sepp Straka, Dylan Frittelli and Michael Thompson to analyze and interpret their data for game improvement.