If you’ve been around golf long enough, you have probably noticed the little straight line that is printed on each golf ball. As trivial as it may seem, I have spent years and years debating with myself whether or not I should be using this line to line up my putts??
A few years back, I finally came to a consensus, and wanted to share the process that I took in order to determine whether or not lining up my putts was right for me.
Lining up Putts on the Professional Tours
Back when I was learning the basics of the game, I spent a lot of time on YouTube trying to figure out which tour pros lined up their putts, and which pros didn’t. Unfortunately, there are not many videos that reveal the putting methods of various tour pros.
Sure, there were a few videos that clearly pointed towards one method or another, but I couldn’t find any consistency!
For example, Tiger Woods lines up his putts, while Phil Mickelson doesn’t:
Brad Faxon lines up his putts, but Lexi Thompson doesn’t:
I kept going back and forth without ever finding a clear favor towards either method.
After years and years of experimentation, I realized that there was no answer to this question. Many tour pros lined up their golf ball on the greens, while another group of pros didn’t.
Although I knew that there wasn’t a “correct” answer to this question, I was determined to find the correct answer for MY game.
What does “lining the ball up” mean?
For those reading who do not know what I mean by this concept, I would like to clarify.
When I say “lining up the ball,” I am referring to the method of putting where the golfer draws a straight Sharphie line on the golf ball, and then aims that line at their aiming point on the green.
Here is a short video illustrating what I am talking about. Michael Allen uses the line on his ball a little bit differently than most, but the general concept is the same:
Linear vs. Non-Linear Golfers
Although there isn’t any scientific proof that I can write out for you, it has become quite clear to me that there are two different types of golfers when it comes to putting.
As I wrote about in my post about this topic, some golfers see in straight lines, while others see in curves. How they aim their putter entirely depends on their orientation in this respect.
I just so happen to be a non-linear putter, meaning that I see the break of my putts in curved lines.
If I attempt to aim my putter at a spot left of the cup (for a left to right breaking putt), I actually end up aiming even further left of that aiming spot.
So my speculative theory is that linear putters will benefit more from lining up their golf ball than non-linear putters.
The Exception to the Rule
Of course, there are plenty of non-linear putters who line up their putts, and plenty of linear putters who do not.
That is entirely okay, as long as they understand HOW to be effective with this method.
The Dos and Donts of Lining Up Putts
Over the many years that I have experimented with this technique (although I no longer do), there were a few things that appeared critical to making it effective while on the greens.
Learn how to read greens
The first thing that is unbelievably important is being able to read the greens correctly. If you cannot read the greens with above average accuracy, you will end up lining your ball up in the wrong spot, standing over the putt feeling awkward, and making a timid putting stroke.
You also may struggle to get the ball rolling end over end (i.e. the line on the ball wobbles) thanks to your subconscious stroke compensations as a result of misreading the green.
This is a fairly common mistake that golfers make while lining up their putts. They line the ball up 2 inches left of the cup, and then pull their putts another 2 inches to compensate for their under-read.
In his book, The Putting Bible, Dave Pelz reveals a study that he did on amateur golfers.
This study showed that nearly 100% of amateur golfers under-read their putts.
To solve this problem, he created the Putting Tutor, which is used by various tour pros, including Phil Mickelson.
Here is a post that I wrote about this device, which explains how you can use it to improve your green reading.
Another way to ensure that you are reading the greens accurately is by using the Aimpoint Express green reading system.
Don’t Get too Obsessed with the Line
Many times, a golfer will begin lining up their putts, and find that it distracts them from their original goal of actually making the putt. They spend so much mental energy trying to get the putter lined up perfectly with the line on the ball that they no longer have target awareness.
If you do choose to line up your putts, it is important to practice it frequently enough until it becomes natural. In order to make it effective for your putting game, there should be ZERO thought about the line while putting. It should be used as a confidence booster, not a distraction.
The problem that you might face in the beginning is feeling as if the ball is not lined up correctly at the hole.
This is especially common in non-linear putters. If you fall into this category, and still choose to line your putts up, I recommend aiming your putter face up with the line, but when you go through your routine, look up at the hole instead of the aiming spot. It might feel more natural to you.
If you are a linear putter, you may not experience this feeling of not being lined up to the hole, but if you do, there is a good chance you have read the putt wrong.
Be Cognizant of Speed and Your Chosen Line
Another issue with green reading is matching your speed to the line you have chosen. It is important to determine if you prefer to die the putts in the hole, or charge them into the back of the cup (I personally believe that all amateurs should learn to die the ball in).
Regardless of whether you are a die putter or a more aggressive putter, you must learn to match the speed to the line, and hit your putts with consistent speed.
If you decide to hit a downhill 15 footer with die speed on the 7th hole, and the same exact putt with a faster speed on the 9th, then your confidence and green reading will suffer. Without speed consistency, you will constantly have to alter the amount of break you are reading for each putt.
Obviously, you aren’t going to hit uphill and downhill putts with the same pace, but maintaining consistency in how you read greens is crucial to your success when lining your putts up.
What if I can’t get the ball to roll correctly?
Sometimes, a golfer might not be able to get the ball to roll “end over end,” which could be caused by a number of things.
Most of the time, it is a result of subconsciously learning to pull or push putts on to the intended line.
For example, let’s say that you have never lined your putts up before, and have always putted by “feel.” When you finally decide to begin lining your putts up, you notice that immediately after the ball is hit, the line starts to wobble, and the putt misses the hole by a wide margin.
For the purpose of this example, let’s assume that you have read the putt perfectly given the speed that you are hitting it.
In this case, it is entirely possible that your putting stroke is naturally programmed to pull or push the ball. For all these years, you haven’t actually been reading the greens correctly, but rather subconsciously pushing and pulling your putts so that they start on the true line.
Unfortunately, this will cause some frustration when you initially begin lining up your putts.
You may have to go through several weeks/months of “stroke repair,” troubleshooting some of the reasons why you can’t get the ball to roll end over end.
Fortunately, putting is the simplest motion in the golf game, and can be mastered by anyone. You simply need to re-train your mind’s eye to see what a properly aligned putter looks like, and what a proper stroke feels like.
There is no “right” way to stroke a putt, but in order to make a putt, you must return the putter-face square to the target line upon impact. It doesn’t matter if you have an out-to-in or in-to-out putting stroke, as long as the face returns squarely to impact, you will see your line rolling end over end.
So be patient with yourself in the beginning, and get a LOT of reps in.
What Color should the line be?
Most golfers use a black line, but Dave Pelz found that a red line actually improves your ability to line the putter face up with the ball through various controlled experiments.
I have tried both, and didn’t notice a difference, but there is no reason to not use a red line! It can only help 🙂
If I line up the ball, how should I practice?
One of the big dilemmas for me when I was deciding whether or not to line up the ball was practice.
It seemed like such a chore to bend down and line up my ball for every putt on the practice green, but I knew that if I didn’t practice the method, it wasn’t going to work on the course!
If you do decide to line up your putts, I suggest practicing in a ratio of 80/20 on putts inside 10 feet, and not worry too much about putts outside of this distance. Outside of 10 feet, your chances of making the putt becomes exponentially lower, therefore, your focus should be those shorter putts.
When practicing inside 10 feet, you need to become comfortable reading the putt, and matching your speed to that line, so this is why I suggest lining up at least 80% of your practice putts inside 10 feet.
Now, if you are doing work with your stroke, or using a training aid, you do not need to worry about spending the time to line up each putt. As I talk about in The Weekend Warrior’s Practice Manual, repetition practice is about quantity more than it is quality. During this type of practice, your goal is to alter your muscle memory, which takes hundreds of repetitions to do.
Another Way to Line up Putts
Since not everyone will have success and/or prefer lining up putts on the course, there is another method that I use.
Jack Nicklaus used this method, and I have seen several other golfers of a high skill level use it as well.
Instead of pointing the line on the ball at your target, you simply line it perpendicular with your target. This gives you a general sense of where you are going without the distraction of trying to get the putter face perfectly aligned.
Hopefully I have covered everything that you might wonder about lining up putts on the greens!
Once again, if you haven’t read my post about linear/non-linear putters, or about the Putting Tutor/Aimpoint Express (green reading), I urge you to do so! Your putting game will begin to make a lot more sense, and the putts will start falling again.